Friday, December 10, 2010

Elisabeth, Butterflies, and the Empty Chair

Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
I felt a heavy weight in my heart as I watched the news Tuesday on the various Pearl Harbor Day remembrance events. It is difficult to imagine all those families at the time, happily preparing for the holidays, not knowing that tragic day would leave empty chairs at many dinner tables.

As much as I love this time of year, I know it can be difficult for families who have lost loved ones. For me, I have found the work of Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross inspirational and healing in times of grief. Her legacy includes foundational work in hospice care, bereavement, and the Kubler-Ross model, what we know as the five stages of grief.

Elisabeth spoke of the end of life with quiet strength and truth. She has helped countless families overcome the empty chair. Some of her most profound interviews involved her work with children during the Holocaust. She understood, in a seemingly visceral way, that death is a natural process – and even tragic death can eventually be understood with healing and acceptance in time. In these interviews, she described the prison walls of the Nazi camps as being covered with drawings of butterflies, drawn by children who felt hope and peace in those happy images.

Butterflies, like dolphins and dragonflies, are symbols of the transition from life to the next point on our spiritual journey. Those children didn’t know that, yet butterflies were everywhere. I feel confirmation in that bittersweet story, proof of the spiritual connection we all share.  As difficult as it is for the heart to hear, I do encourage you to take the time to listen to her interviews. Her words are simple, honest, healing, and life-changing. She helps us embrace the empty chair and fill it with memories and butterflies. A true gift at this time of year.

"The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.  These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassions, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

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