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It's hard to believe that humans appeared on earth hundreds of thousands of years ago, and since then have progressed in the knowledge of the world, has landed on the moon, haven discovered nuclear fusion and the secrets of genetics, but still have not been able to find out the meaning of life, of death, and especially of premature or sudden death. We tend to treat death and mourning as taboos. But Elisabeth Kubler Ross has changed the world, more exactly, has changed the way humans understand themselves from the perspective of death.
We can admire the courage with which this author dedicated her life to understanding this taboo subject: the psychology of the dying, thus, she reverses a prejudice largely spread in the consumer and 'be happy' world, that of denying the existence of death, of considering it a mistake made by others instead of confronting it and preferring to reduce it to silence instead of listening to the confessions of the dying. However, there is no better teacher than a dying person. (p. 21)
Elisabeth Kubler Ross became famous because of her book Death and Dying where, as a result of her clinical observations, establishes stages in the elaboration of our own death, stages which we can find in any trauma. There in a time of denying, when we continue to plan our lives as if we hadn't heard the diagnosis, or when, after the funeral of our beloved, we are waiting for them to come home, there is a time of rage, a time of negotiations, there is a time of sadness and resignation, and still, there is a time of acquiescence, especially if there is help in the elaboration of these stages.
We can sometimes talk about death without any fear even in front of children, for example when a mother knows that she is dying, she will tell her children, so that they can say goodbye, the mourners must be able to share their pain. Nothing is as painful as silent suffering and the lies with which one tries to hide a grievous event. That is what the fourth chapter of the book deals with.
The book is a collection of four essays on the theme of life after death. It stresses the conclusions the writer has reached in her career, sitting near the dying.
There is no death, says the author. Death is similar to the moment when a butterfly comes out of its cocoon, just like when the soul leaves the body that it gave birth to. Thus, death is the beginning of eternal life, a kind of birth to a higher self conscience.
The arguments she brings in favor of her plausible hypothesis about immortality are the results of the testimony of 20,000 people all over the world, of all cultures, religions and ages who have gone through clinical death.
According to the testimonies in the first moments of death there is an extra sensorial perception, that of leaving the body accompanied by an awareness of body completeness. For example blind people are able to see people around the operation room, and can give details regarding colors, deeds, but when they return to their bodies, they become blind again. So all our senses are entire, we are in a perfect shape.
It is important to know that nobody dies alone because in the moment of our death we are welcomed by those who have died previously, those who preceded us in death even if by little time. Interestingly, the dying often didn't even know about the death of that relative. How is that possible if not through the existence of our soul even after death?
All the patients speak of serenity, of equanimity, of being welcomed by more love on the other side. Then comes the experience of passing through a tunnel or over a bridge, the experience of a place dedicated to passage, accompanied by the recollection of everything we had done, said or thought during our life. And we see things both from our point of view and from those who are around us: how much joy and consolation and how much suffering we have caused. It is important that there is no other judge than ourselves, we are the ones who blame ourselves for not giving the joy when we had the chance to do it. At the other end of the passage a bright, dazzling light is waiting for us and it is perceived as the unconditioned love that created us and to which we return after learning the lesson of life. Those who were in clinical death did not go further this light, but they felt the unpleasant feeling of being put back to their bodies.
What can we learn from these testimonies for our life? The meaning of death as an experience is serenity, peace, trust in an experience of unconditioned love which is waiting for us as a fulfillment on the other side; and probably that's why many readers who were mourning expressed their relief and equanimity after reading it. Man has a choice to become a Nazi monster if he wants, or a comforting soul as Mother Theresa from Calcutta. The way we live our life, the degree in which we give unconditioned love and consolation will be remembered in the moment of our death, where we will be our own judges.
Another conclusion of the book is that we must not fear death because fear hinders us from loving unconditionally, from learning everything we need to understand this life. When death comes by itself it is a passage to a higher state of conscience where there is perception, smile, love, happiness. And our sufferings are meant to help us grow.
And, above all, the meaning these experiences have for life is that one should not be afraid to love, to love unconditionally, without expecting anything in return, one should try to bring as much love and consolation to those around one as possible. Do not postpone it, do not be afraid, love!
© 2008 Lucia Teszler
Lucia Teszler is a PhD Student in Philosophical Hermeneutics at University of Turin