“When my son Gabe was about to be born, I wanted to understand how to bring his soul into the world. So I signed up for a workshop with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the renowned psychiatrist from Switzerland who was best known for her groundbreaking work on death and dying. She had helped many leave this life; I figured she might teach me how to invite my son into his.
Elisabeth was fascinated with the idea and took me under her wing. She invited me to attend more programs over the years, although she didn’t give me much instruction. I’d sit quietly in the back of the room and learn by watching the way she worked with people who were facing death or grieving tragic losses. This fundamentally shaped the way I later accompanied people in hospice care.
Elisabeth was skillful, intuitive, and often opinionated, but above all, she demonstrated how to love those she served, without reservation or attachment. Sometimes the anguish in the room was so overwhelming that I would meditate in order to calm myself or do compassion practices, Imagining that I could transform the pain I was witnessing.
One rainy night after a particularly difficult day, I was so shaken as I walked back to my room that I collapsed to my knees in a mud puddle and started to weep. My attempts at taking away the participants’ heartache were just a self-defense strategy, a way of trying to protect myself from suffering.
Just then, Elizabeth came along and picked me up. She brought me back to her room for a coffee and a cigarette. ‘You have to open yourself up and let the pain move through you,’ Elizabeth said. ‘It’s not yours to hold.’ Without this lesson, I don’t think I could have stayed present, in a healthy way, with the suffering I would witness in the decades to come.”
From the Introduction: The Transformative Power of Death
Page 6 – 7
The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully
by Frank Ostaseski