The evolution of death and dying

The New Yorker has a wonderful article on the psychology of death and dying which is carefully woven into the curious life story of psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the originator of the ‘stage’ model of grief.

If you only read one popular article on grief, you’d do a lot worse than reading this carefully researched and sensitively written piece which journeys through both the social and cultural rituals of dying and how psychological theories have changed over the years.

It also tackles the fascinating life of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross who was responsible for the influential but now discredited ‘stage’ model that suggested that both dying and grieving people experience denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Subsequent studies have not supported these stages but Kübler-Ross was a pioneer in encouraging clinicians to address death with their gravely ill patients and her first book, On Death and Dying, opened up the practice of bereavement counselling for people who feel they need help coming to terms with their own death or the loss of loved-ones.

Kübler-Ross later became interested in a range of, it must be said, fairly flaky practices, such as mediumship and ‘channelling’ the dead, and she fell out of favour with the medical mainstream.

Late in life, she was disabled by a stroke and had a great deal of trouble coming to terms with her own mortality although the experience helped her write her final and widely regarded book, On Grief and Grieving, where she reflects on her own death and her life’s work.

The New Yorker article looks at Kübler-Ross’ legacy, but much more than that, examines a great deal of what we know about the process and how it is being integrated into modern medicine. Highly recommended.

Link to New Yorker article ‘Good Grief’ (via @mocost).

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