The Wheel of Life: A Memoir of Living and Dying


Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D., is the woman who has transformed the way the world thinks about death and dying. Beginning with the groundbreaking publication of the classic psychological study On Death and Dying, through her many books and her years working with terminally ill children, AIDS patients and the elderly, Kubler-Ross has brought comfort and understanding to millions coping with their own deaths or the deaths of loved ones. Now, facing her own death at age seventy-one, this world-renowned healer tells ...
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Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D., is the woman who has transformed the way the world thinks about death and dying. Beginning with the groundbreaking publication of the classic psychological study On Death and Dying, through her many books and her years working with terminally ill children, AIDS patients and the elderly, Kubler-Ross has brought comfort and understanding to millions coping with their own deaths or the deaths of loved ones. Now, facing her own death at age seventy-one, this world-renowned healer tells the story of her life and explores her ultimate truth - death does not exist. Written frankly and with warmth, Kubler-Ross's memoir traces the intellectual and spiritual development of a destiny. "If I am opinionated and independent," she writes, "if I am stuck in my ways, if I am a little off center, so what? That is me." Her trademark conviction, one that has taken on dogma, prejudice and skepticism, was present as a girl in Switzerland, where the young Elisabeth observed the injustices of the world and vowed to change them. From her work in war-ravaged Poland to her pioneering counseling of the terminally ill, to her legendary seminars on death and dying at the University of Chicago, to her eye-opening discussions with those who had been revived after death, each experience provided Kubler-Ross with a piece of the puzzle. In a culture determined to sweep death under a carpet and hide it there, Kubler-Ross consistently defied common wisdom to bring it into the light and hold it there for us to see and not be afraid. Driven by compassion, undeterred by obstacles, she shows the reader through the story of her remarkable life that free will is our greatest gift and that our goal is spiritual evolution.

"...a memoir from the woman who wrote the classic, `On Death & Dying'...a look back at her marriage; her professional career; and her work with terminally ill children, AIDS patients, and the elderly...inspiring and insightful."

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1969's On Death and Dying, psychiatrist Kbler-Ross was the first to sytematically ask dying patients what it was like to be terminally ill, and to identify what came to be known worldwide as "near-death experiences." Until then, Kbler-Ross contends, the medical establishment had not only ignored the subject of death, but had actively avoided it due to its implication of medical failure. Now, after ten books that empathetically tracked our culture's ways of dealing with sickness, death and spirituality, Kbler-Ross offers her own story in what she says will be her final book. The firstborn of triplet girls, she describes a childhood surrounded by mountains, wildflowers and a loving family in Switzerland. She shares stories of her marriage and motherhood, her deep desire to help others and to restore humanity to medicine, her explorations of out-of-body experiences and encounters with spirit guides, and the extreme resistance to her never-realized plan of caring for AIDS babies on her Virginia farm. Kbler-Ross seems to have lived several lifetimes in one, but a series of strokes has slowed her down to the point of declaring, "Death is a wonderful and positive experience, but the process of dying, when it is prolonged like mine, is a nightmare." She says the one question that everyone must answer at the end of life is, "What have you done to help?" Having faced universal questions of life and death, having offered comfort to countless others, Kbler-Ross now awaitsto use her own metaphorher transformation from cocoon to butterfly. June
Library Journal
Kbler-Ross's landmark On Death and Dying (LJ 7/69) influenced much of today's work with the terminally ill. Now in her 70s and facing her own death, the renowned psychiatrist recounts here the story of a life spent not only endeavoring to understand dying but also "explaining that death does not exist." Against her father's wishes, the Swiss-born author went to medical school and studied psychiatry in New York after marrying an American physician. Drawn to end-of-life counseling, Kbler-Ross developed her techniques into professional workshops, the basis for her earliest and most influential books. Falling in with a channeler of dubious background, Kbler-Ross claims to have undergone out-of-body experiences, meetings with spirit guides, and visions of fairies. Unfortunately, this book is a puzzling combination of hastily sketched reminiscence and the worst of New Age ramblings, providing little insight into the author's character. A disappointment. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/97.]Karen McNally Bensing, Benjamin Rose Inst. Lib., Cleveland
In this book the renowned new age death and dying expert confronts her own mortality, and tells the story of her life. She firmly believes that death does not exist, and her memoir traces her intellectual and spiritual development which has prepared her to understand human death as an illusion. Through the tales of her life, she advises readers to live fully, love, and to remember that spiritual evolution is the ultimate goal here on earth. No index. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
From the Publisher
Richard Hoffman New Age Journal An inspiring account of exploration, conviction, and service....This book chronicles a life lived passionately, compassionately, and well.

Bill Williams The Hartford Courant This absorbing account of her life shows a strong-willed woman willing to challenge authority and convention at every turn. Part of the book's charm is that Kübler-Ross is a marvelous storyteller.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684193618
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 6/1/1997
  • Pages: 286
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.57 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, MD, [1926–2004] was a Swiss-born psychiatrist, humanitarian, and co-founder of the hospice movement around the world. She was also the author of the groundbreaking book On Death and Dying, which first discussed The Five Stages of Grief. Elisabeth authored twenty-four books in thirty-six languages and brought comfort to millions of people coping with their own deaths or the death of a loved one. Her greatest professional legacy includes teaching the practice of humane care for the dying and the importance of sharing unconditional love. Her work continues by the efforts of hundreds of organizations around the world, including The Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Foundation:
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Read an Excerpt

There Are No Accidents

Maybe this will help. For years I have been stalked by a bad reputation. Actually I have been pursued by people who regard me as the Death and Dying Lady. They believe that having spent more than three decades in research on death and life after death qualifies me as an expert on the subject. I think they miss the point.

The only incontrovertible fact of my work is the importance of life.

I always say that death can be one of the greatest experiences ever. If you live each day of your life right, then you have nothing to fear.

Maybe this, what is certain to be my final book, will clear that up. It may also raise a few new questions and perhaps even provide the answers.

From where I sit today in the flower-filled living room of my home in Scottsdale, Arizona, the past seventy years of my life look extraordinary. As a little girl raised in Switzerland, I could never, not in my wildest dreams -- and they were pretty wild -- have predicted one day winding up the world-famous author of On Death and Dying, a book whose exploration of life's final passage threw me into the center of a medical and theological controversy. Nor could I have imagined that afterward I would spend the rest of my life explaining that death does not exist.

According to my parents, I was supposed to have been a nice, church-going Swiss housewife. Instead I ended up an opinionated psychiatrist, author and lecturer in the American Southwest, who communicates with spirits from a world that I believe is far more loving and glorious than our own. I think modern medicine has become like a prophet offering a life free of pain. It is nonsense. The only thing I know that truly heals people is unconditional love.

Some of my views are unconventional. For instance, throughout the past few years I suffered a half dozen strokes, including a minor one right after Christmas 1996. My doctors warned, and then begged me to give up smoking, coffee and chocolates. But I still indulge in these tiny pleasures. Why not? It is my life.

That is how I have always lived. If I am opinionated and independent, if I am stuck in my ways, if I am a little off-center, so what? That is me.

By themselves, the pieces do not seem to fit together.

But my experiences have taught me that there are no accidents in life.

The things that happened to me had to happen.

I was destined to work with dying patients. I had no choice when I encountered my first AIDS patient. I felt called to travel some 250,000 miles each year to hold workshops that helped people cope with the most painful aspects of life, death and the transition between the two. Later in my life, I was compelled to buy a 300-acre farm in rural Virginia, where I created my own healing center and made plans to adopt AIDS-infected babies, and, though it is still painful to admit, I see that I was destined to be driven out of that idyllic place.

After announcing my intention of adopting AIDS-infected babies in 1985, I became the most despised person in the whole Shenandoah Valley, and even though I soon abandoned my plans, there was a group of men who did everything in their power short of killing me to get me to leave. They fired bullets through my windows and shot at my animals. They sent the kind of messages that made life in that gorgeous spot unpleasant and dangerous. But that was my home and I stubbornly refused to pack up.

I had moved to the farm in Head Waters, Virginia, ten years earlier. The farm embodied all my dreams and I poured all the money I earned from publishing and lectures into making it a reality. I built my house, a neighboring cabin and a farmhouse. I constructed a healing center where I held workshops, allowing me to cut down on my hectic travel schedule. I was planning to adopt AIDS-infected babies, who would enjoy however many days remained of their lives in the splendor of the outdoors.

The simple life on the farm was everything to me. Nothing was more relaxing after a long plane flight than to reach the winding driveway that led up to my house. The quiet of the night was more soothing than a sleeping pill. In the morning, I awoke to a symphony of talking cows, horses, chickens, pigs, donkeys, llamas . . . the whole noisy menagerie, welcoming me home. The fields rolled out as far as I could see, glistening with fresh dew. Ancient trees offered their silent wisdom.

There was real work to be done. My hands got dirty. They touched the earth, the water, the sun. They worked with the material of life.

My life.

My soul was there.

Then, on October 6, 1994, my house was set on fire.

It burned down to the ground and was a total loss. All my papers were destroyed. Everything I owned turned to ash.

I was hurrying through the airport in Baltimore, trying to catch a plane home, when I got the news that it was ablaze. The friend who told me begged me not to go home, not yet. But my whole life I had been told not to become a doctor, not to talk with dying patients, not to start an AIDS hospice in prison, and each time I had stubbornly done what felt right rather than what was expected. This time was no different.

Everyone goes through hardship in life. The more you go through, the more you learn and grow.

The plane flight zoomed by. Soon I was in the backseat of a friend's car, speeding along the dark country roads. It was nearly midnight. From a distance of a few miles away, I spotted the first signs of smoke and flames. They stood out against a perfectly black sky. I could tell it was a big fire. Close up, the house, or what remained of it, was barely visible through the flames. I compared the scene to standing in the midst of hell. The firemen said they had never seen anything like it. The intense heat kept them at bay all night and through the morning.

Sometime late that first night I sought shelter in the nearby farmhouse, which had facilities for guests. I made myself a cup of coffee, lit a cigarette and considered the tremendous personal loss inside the raging furnace that was once my home. It was devastating, staggering, beyond comprehension. The list included diaries my father had kept of my childhood, my personal papers and journals, some 20,000 case histories pertaining to my research into life after death, my collection of Native American art, photos and clothing . . . everything.

For twenty-four hours I was in shock. I did not know how to react, whether to cry, scream, shake my fists at God or just gawk at the ironfisted intrusion of fate.

Adversity only makes you stronger.

People always ask me what death is like. I tell them it is glorious. It is the easiest thing they will ever do.

Life is hard. Life is a struggle.

Life is like going to school. You are given many lessons. The more you learn, the harder the lessons get.

This was one of those times, one of those lessons. Since there was no use denying the loss, I accepted it. What else could I do? Anyway, it was just a bunch of stuff, and no matter how important or sentimental the meaning, nothing compared with the value of life. I was unharmed. My two grown children, Kenneth and Barbara, were alive. Some jerks might have succeeded in burning down my house and everything inside but they were not able to destroy me.

When you learn your lessons, the pain goes away.

This life of mine, which began halfway around the world, has been many things -- but never easy. That is a fact, not a complaint. I have learned there is no joy without hardship. There is no pleasure without pain. Would we know the comfort of peace without the distress of war? If not for AIDS, would we notice our humanity is in jeopardy? If not for death, would we appreciate life? If not for hate, would we know the ultimate goal is love?

As I am fond of saying: "Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms, you would never see the beauty of their carvings."

I admit that October night three years ago was one of those times when the beauty was hard to find. But during the course of my life, had stood at similar crossroads, searching the horizon for something nearly impossible to see. At those moments you can either hold on to negativity and look for blame, or you can choose to heal and keep on loving. Since I believe our only purpose for existing is to grow, I had no problem making a choice.

So a few days after the fire, I drove in to town, bought a change clothes and got set for whatever was going to happen next.

In a way, that is the story of my life.

Excerpted from THE WHEEL OF LIFE: A MEMOIR OF LIVING AND DYING, by Elisabeth , Ph.D. Copyright © 1997 by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Excerpted by permission of Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents


1. There Are No Accidents

Part I -- "The Mouse"

2. The Cocoon

3. A Dying Angel

4. My Black Bunny

5. Faith, Hope and Love

6. My Own Lab Coat

7. My Promise

8. A Sense of Purpose

9. Blessed Soil

10. Butterflies

Part II -- "The Bear"

11. Home for Dinner

12. Medical School

13. Good Medicine

14. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D.

15. Manhattan State Hospital

16. Living Until Death

17. My First Lecture

18. Motherhood

19. On Death and Dying

20. Heart and Soul

21. My Mother

22. The Purpose of Life

23. Fame

24. Mrs. Schwartz

25. Afterlife

Part III -- "The Buffalo"

26. Jeffy

27. Life After Death

28. Proof

29. Channeling the Other Side

30. Death Does Not Exist

31. My Cosmic Consciousness

32. The Final Home

33. AIDS

34. Healing Waters

Part IV -- "The Eagle"

35. Service Rendered

36. The Country Doctor

37. Graduation

38. Manny's Signal

39. The Butterfly

40. On Life and Living

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2004

    understanding why we are on earth

    I was impressed ,how this book was so easy to understand what the true meaning is of loosing someone you love and the understanding way that there is more after we have finished what we have done on earth. No matter what you did good or bad,young or old there comes a time to leave and fly further.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2004


    A great great book, makes you change your perspective about life after death. It made me think that maybe death is not the last step we take

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2001

    Brilliant and honest as always

    Excellent book that chronicles the life of this wonderful woman. Takes you from her being born one of triplets, to current. I will read it twice.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2010

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