If you’ve ever lost a loved one or know someone who has, you’ve probably heard of the ‘five stages of grief.’ But do you know the woman who came up with that revolutionary theory?
Her name was Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. She was a Swiss-American psychiatrist whose words and theories continue to help us understand the challenges of grief.
Elisabeth was born in Zürich, Switzerland, in 1926. Elisabeth was first introduced to the realities of death when she was hospitalized for pneumonia at the age of 5 and witnessed her roommate die peacefully. It was an experience that taught her death was an inevitable part of life.
When Elisabeth was only 13, she worked as a laboratory assistant for refugees during World War II. At 16, she left home against her father’s wishes to become a doctor and began working as a doctor’s apprentice.
She volunteered in hospitals and gained a lot of medical experience. Elisabeth learned how powerful compassion was during this time.
When World War II ended, Elisabeth continued to volunteer and help others through rebuilding and relief work projects. In 1946, she visited the Majdanek concentration camp in Poland, which greatly impacted her career and her life’s purpose.
Elisabeth returned to Switzerland to study medicine at the University of Zürich and graduated in 1957. There, she met her husband, fellow medical student Emanuel Robert Ross.
After graduation, Elisabeth moved to New York the following year and began her psychiatric residency at the Manhattan State Hospital. There, Elisabeth started creating treatment plans for terminally ill patients, which proved to be highly effective.
In addition, she began noticing how neglected mentally ill and terminally ill patients were in hospitals and catered directly to those patients.
In 1964, Elisabeth became an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine. She started teaching students about the psychological treatment of terminally ill patients and wanted to work towards changing the care approaches for these patients.