When discussing a case in her book, On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross states that her patient had “anger displaced in all directions and projected onto the environment at times almost at random.” She discusses this patient’s feelings of “anger, rage, envy, and resentment.
But more importantly, she says this next:
“The problem here is that few people place themselves in the patient’s position and wonder where this anger might come.”
Did you ever stop to think about this?
I’m not the nicest person when I’m at the dentist office… I’m fearful, probably in pain when I arrive, projecting into the immediate future, worried, did I mention in pain?
How often do we stop to think about how someone is feeling and how it might be justified, to them? Not right or wrong. And I’m not even saying that we have to condone it, just…. wow, I can see how she might feel this way… I wonder what that’s like for him…
We live in a world where it is too easy to throw some sort of label on them. . . denial, angry, non compliant, depressed, borderline, etc. And don’t get me wrong, I know people have life threatening problems that need help. . . there is no denying that.
But what happens when we are more concerned with treatment planning than we are than attending to the person from whom we sit across?
I have to believe, no matter how long I meditate, no matter how many chants, prayers, or hands I have to hold, I might feel anger if I knew that my death was coming.
And let’s look at when Kubler-Ross was working with patients… before I was born. Think about the de-institutionalization that happened just in the 80s because we thought people’s care was not humane.
This was the end of the 60s, when doctor’s didn’t have to have informed consent. When they didn’t tell their patients what was going on with them or their test results. This is when people did whatever their doctor’s told them to; no finding a second opinion.
These were people who were gravely ill, who weren’t given treatment options… let alone anyone saying to them, you know, you could go home with these people called hospice and be comfortable at home with your loved ones and die peacefully.
We judge these words by our world today, that has come a long way, in some respects.
I’ve read some angry accounts of Elisabeth’s work and I feel badly for those people who have written them. No, I don’t agree with some of the things she has written and I certainly don’t understand how she could have helped to write On Grief and Grieving on her death bed when there was already so much confusion about her work.
But I do know this… we could still be in that dark place if not for her “at the time’ pioneering work. And given that most doctors today still don’t need to have a course in death and dying, I would prefer that they have Elisabeth’s work in their bag of tools than just what big pharmacy tells them about magic pills and new techniques to try.
If you are a caregiver of any kind, the next time you start to feel yourself tighten because of the anger, frustration, annoyance, or other difficult emotion from the person you are caring for, think of this:
Elisabeth suggested that this was the patient’s “cry, “I am alive, don’t forget that. You can hear my voice, I am not dead yet!” And when you think of it, think about how many quote the lines from the poem, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas.