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Life Lessons: Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach Us About the Mysteries of Life and Living

Life Lessons: Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach Us About the Mysteries of Life and Living

4.2 15
by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, David Kessler

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Ten years after Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s death: “An inspiring…guide to life, distilled from the experiences of people who face death” (Kirkus Reviews)—the beloved classic now with a new introduction and updated resources section.

Is this really how I want to live my life? Each one of us at some point asks this question


Ten years after Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s death: “An inspiring…guide to life, distilled from the experiences of people who face death” (Kirkus Reviews)—the beloved classic now with a new introduction and updated resources section.

Is this really how I want to live my life? Each one of us at some point asks this question. The tragedy is not that life is short, but that we often see only in hindsight what really matters.

In her first book on life and living, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross joined with David Kessler to guide us through the practical and spiritual lessons we need to learn so that we can live life to its fullest in every moment. Many years of working with the dying have shown the authors that certain lessons come up over and over again. Some of these lessons are enormously difficult to master, but even the attempts to understand them can be deeply rewarding. Here, in fourteen accessible chapters, from the Lesson of Love to the Lesson of Happiness, the authors reveal the truth about our fears, our hopes, our relationships, and, above all, about the grandness of who we really are.

Editorial Reviews

Patricia Devine
"This is a thought-provoking book, one which in my opinion should be made compulsory. It is insightful, inspirational, intelligent, soothing, emotive, and informative about our seemingly arbitrary existence."
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Blending the words of two authors is a precarious undertaking, particularly when the two voices are as strong and well-known as those of K bler-Ross and hospice-care leader Kessler (The Rights of the Dying). Given the similarity in their viewpoints as experts on death and dying, this collaboration seems logical, but unfortunately the alternating entries result in repetitive, rambling prose that lacks punch. The "lessons from the edge of life" culled from the authors' patients include letting go of anger, guilt and fear; learning patience; mourning and accepting loss; playing, laughing and enjoying life; and surrendering to what can't be changed. Although some of the brief personal stories are poignant, the underlying precepts are not new. Kessler and K bler-Ross offer only familiar aphorisms: "live every day to its fullest," "each of us has the power of the universe within us," happiness is a state of mind we can choose, suffering is an opportunity for growth, "life is a school, complete with individualized tests and challenges." Such lessons may be true and useful, but here they come off as trite. K bler-Ross has been ill for many years, suffering two strokes that left her partially incapacitated and may have made writing difficult, but the brief glimpses into her personal journey through illness and near death cry out for elaboration. Mentions of coping with a home health-care worker who stole from her, a nurse who labeled her "combative" and friends who must help this previously vigorous woman navigate the world in a wheelchair indicate a much fuller, richer story than the expanded platitudes offered here, which are unlikely to widen either author's readership. (Nov.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Here, Kobler-Ross (On Death and Dying) and Kessler (The Rights of the Dying), two of the most renowned leaders in America's hospice movement, tackle the big issues--love, power, anger, and forgiveness and offer wisdom gleaned from their own lives and those of their clients. Their ideas flow together well as they present a dynamic and integrated philosophy. Moreover, they both share their own unique stories and viewpoints to illustrate the ideas presented in each chapter. K bler-Ross's authentic, down-to-earth manner unabashedly reveals her own triumphs and weaknesses, especially after a debilitating stroke. A spiritual theme underlies many of the lessons, but the authors avoid the controversial issues presented in Kobler-Ross's previous work, The Wheel of Life. (There, Kobler-Ross claims to have undergone out-of-body experiences, meetings with spirit guides, and visions of fairies.) As in each of their previous individual works, the authors provide useful and accessible information and will find ample readership in public as well as academic libraries. Annette Haines, Central Michigan Univ. Libs., Mount Pleasant Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A sometimes inspiring, sometimes quotidian guide to life, distilled from the experiences of people who faced death. Most of what the dying discover (about themselves and about their lives) is"usually too late to apply," according to Kübler-Ross, best known for On Death and Dying (1991). She and hospice-worker Kessler (The Rights of the Dying, not reviewed) hope to motivate readers to work on"unfinished business" before they approach the end. Based on their experiences, case histories generally take the form of"I walked through the valley of the shadow of death and learned a lesson. . . . " These are the lessons, 15 in all, ranging in subject from love and loss through fear, anger, patience, and happiness. Many of them are variations on familiar, almost trite, themes: find your authentic self, express your anger, learn to receive as well as give, remember that forgiveness is good for the soul. Others challenge very basic assumptions: it is not true, we are told, that children learn to love from being loved by their parents—in fact, most children are not loved so much as rewarded for good behavior. Kübler-Ross's own experience of pain (she is now partially paralyzed as a result of a stroke) adds depth to these lessons: she describes how she struggled with—and vehemently expressed—anger over her fate and is still unable to forgive some who took advantage of her helplessness to steal from her. Over-the-counter remedies for spiritual malaise—but sometimes plain aspirin works better than more sophisticated prescriptions.

From the Publisher
Patricia Devine The Irish Independent This is a thought-provoking book, one which in my opinion should be made compulsory. It is insightful, inspirational, intelligent, soothing, emotive, and informative about our seemingly arbitrary existence.

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Read an Excerpt


A Message From Elisabeth

We all have lessons to learn during this time called life; this is especially apparent when working with the dying. The dying learn a great deal at the end of life, usually when it is too late to apply. After moving to the Arizona desert in 1995, I had a stroke on Mother's Day that left me paralyzed. I spent the next few years at death's door. Sometimes I thought death would come within a few weeks. Many times, I was disappointed that it did not come, for I was ready. But I have not died because I am still learning the lessons of life, my final lessons. These lessons are the ultimate truths about our lives; they are the secrets to life itself. I wanted to write one more book, not on death and dying but on life and living.

Each of us has a Gandhi and a Hitler in us. I mean this symbolically. The Gandhi refers to the best in us, the most compassionate in us, while the Hitler to the worst in us, our negatives and smallness. Our lessons in life involve working on our smallness, getting rid of our negativity and finding the best in ourselves and each other. These lessons are the windstorms of life, they make us who we are. We are here to heal one another and ourselves. Not healing as in physical recovery, but a much deeper healing. The healing of our spirits, our souls.

When we talk about learning our lessons, we're talking about getting rid of unfinished business. Unfinished business isn't about death. It's about life. It addresses our most important issues, such as "Yes, I made a nice living but did I ever take time out to really live?" Many people have existed, yet never really lived. And they expended tremendous amounts of energy keeping a lid on their unfinished business.

Since unfinished business is the biggest problem in life, it's also the primary issue we address as we face death. Most of us pass on with a great deal of unfinished business; many of us have at least some. There are so many lessons to learn in life, it's impossible to master them all in one lifetime. But the more lessons we learn the more business we finish, and the more fully we live, really live life. And no matter when we die, we can say, "God, I have lived!"

A Message From David

I have spent a great deal of time with people at the edge of life. This work has been enriching and life expanding. I can trace much of my growth, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually, to my work with the dying. While I am deeply grateful to those I have worked with and who have taught me so much, my lessons did not begin with them. Instead, they began many years ago with my own mother's death and continue to the present as I lose people I love.

During the past few years I have been preparing to say good-bye to a teacher, mentor, and dear, dear friend, Elisabeth. I have spent a great deal of time with her, being taught final lessons. Having taught me so much about my work with the dying, she was now facing death in her own life. She shared how she was feeling -- angry a lot of the time -- and her views on life. She was completing her last book, The Wheel of Life, and I was writing my first, The Needs of the Dying. Even during this challenging time of her life she was profoundly helpful to me, dispensing advice on publishing, my patients, and life itself.

Many times, it was enormously hard for me to leave her house. We would say our good-byes, both believing that this would be the last time we would see each other. I would walk away in tears. It is so hard to lose someone who has meant so much, yet she said she was ready. But Elisabeth did not die; she slowly got better. She was not finished with life and it was clearly not finished with her.

In days long gone, the community would have gathering places where children and adults listened as the older men and women told stories of life, of life's challenges and the lessons that can be drawn from the edge of life. People knew that sometimes our greatest lessons lie in our greatest pain. And they knew that it was important to the dying, as well as to the living, that these lessons be passed on. That is what I hope to do, pass on some of the lessons I have learned. Doing so ensures that the best parts of those who have died will live on.

We find many things on this long, sometimes strange journey we see as life, but we mostly find ourselves. Who we really are, what matters most to us. We learn from peaks and valleys what love and relationships really are. We find the courage to push through our anger, tears, and fears. In the mystery of all this, we have been given all we need to make life work -- to find happiness. Not perfect lives, not storybook tales, but authentic lives that can make our hearts swell with meaning.

I had the privilege of spending time with Mother Teresa a few months before she died. She told me that her most important work was with the dying, because she considered life so precious. "A life is an achievement," she said, "and dying, the end of that achievement." Not only do most of us not see death as an achievement, we don't see our lives as achievements -- and yet, they are.

The dying have always been teachers of great lessons, for it's when we are pushed to the edge of life that we see life most clearly. In sharing their lessons, the dying teach us much about the preciousness of life itself. In them we discover the hero, that part that transcends all we have been through and delivers us to all we are capable of doing and being. To not just be alive, but to feel alive.

Copyright © 2000 by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Family Limited Partnership

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: EKRFoundation.org.

David Kessler is the coauthor of Life Lessons: Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach Us About the Mysteries of Life and Living. On his own, he is the author of The Needs of the Dying, which received praise from Mother Teresa and has been translated into eleven languages. He is a nationally recognized leader in the field of hospice and palliative care.

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Life Lessons 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
readtolive_livetoread More than 1 year ago
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler write an amazing journey through death! What lessons this can bring to each of us! Each providing insight through their experiences, assists the reader in working through their own beliefs. This book will impact you emotionally. It is very well written! Each chapter easily read and is presented as a lesson with a theme such as living authentically, dealing with anger, releasing guilt, facing fear and learning to surrender. The chapters are as powerful on their own as they are if we read them cover-to-cover. It is very useful for our live lives to its fullest. This book is very easy to understand. The author used a lot of true examples of our lives to explain the definition of the live. For example, meet the car accident, gets the disease, and face the challenge, this situations usually happen and relate to us. The author gives us the advice how to reduce the mental obstructs. They shared their experiences how to deal with the death and dying. Second, in the book, it told us what the most important thing in our lives is. It's live life without regret, without fear, with inner peace. It helps us to set up the plan step by step to build our beautiful future. It helps us see that things happen for a reason. It really touches my emotional source. The author told us learning giving and receiving the love. From this viewpoint, we can realize love is the source of the happiness. Finally, learning forgiveness also is the important part of the book. That is the best way to heal wound. Highly recommend this spiritual read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend that everyone read this book. If you know the author (Kubler-Ross) and her seminal work and distinguished career focused on death and dying, you know that her discourse speaks the truth. Regardless of how old you are or how much you've lived, there's the opportunity to learn so much more in this book, not just about life, but about people and the intricacies of the ways of the world.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Life lessons for a life more fulfilled and fewer regrets
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just finished the first read through. No skipping around or skimming. I've come to the conclusion that this is a book that goes beyond reading. It should be studied at length! It is my intention to do just that. This time I'll be marking crucial (to me) passages with a highlighter, to go back and reference later. I have a paperback copy but will be adding the digital version to my readers soon! Losing my oldest son, Ryan, very suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 28 to pulmonary embolism September 3, 2011 sent my world spinning out of control. This book and others by K¿bler-Ross and Kessler brought sanity, serenity, tranquilty and peace to a life turned on it's ear by tragic loss. I highly recommend this book to anyone coming out of the "Why did this happen?" phase of grieving and entering into the "Where do I go from here?" phase of living on!
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lifeisshort More than 1 year ago
This book is written by the world-known physician/author Dr. Kubler-Ross("The Stages of Death and Dying")and David Kessler. To talk about dying is to talk about living ,therefore, life lessons is a guide that deals with issues in living your daily lifei.e. relationships,anger, forgiveness etc. It is a great reference to have.If given as a gift it will keep on giving.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I give this book as a gift to all those for which I do premarital counseling.....If a god continues to inspire writers on how to live a happy, productive life, this would be a good example....certainly makes much more sense than anything you may find in the bible!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book everyday i the mornings. This is my Bible!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Life Lessons is an inspirational book about the many lessons in life. After reading the book I realized how much I didn't know.I now have a different point of view when I look at people. All in all I think that Life Lessons is a great book to read. If your looking for something inspirational to read, this is the book for you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Life Lessons is an absolute must read for people who enjoy self-reflection. The lessons focus on every aspect of living. Many stories are shared within the lessons which help the reader to get different perspectives other than their own.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a very well written book by two experts on death and dying. The lessons are timeless. Provides you with a lot to think about. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys self reflection.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book help one look at death and life differently and live life more fully.
Ming33 More than 1 year ago
I worte at least three letters to you and no answer at all. I ordered three books and only received on of them. I paid for three! Somebody please help me! This is outrages! I need my books! Or my money back!!! Order number: 126341861 Ming Crandell