Ken Ross | Rolling the Dice & Preserving the Legacy of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross


Ken Ross has a theory for the way he lives his life and, it didn’t come to be without the influence of his mother, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.

Ken and I dig deeper into his life experience growing up in a home where grief, death, and dying were a daily part of life and the topic of conversation. His mother, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s first book, On Death and Dying, was the conversation starter for society to take a deeper look into the dying process and all of the feelings one goes through. She started a hospice movement and became known as the founder of The Five Stages of Grief™️, which we also talked about in this episode. Aside from his mother being the pioneer of grief and dying education, his father was a neuropathologist. It wasn’t unusual to have a human brain sitting at the kitchen table while his mother brought terminally ill children his age to the house for a visit.

Growing up around death, dying, and grief set the stage for Ken to understand the fragility of life and not live with regrets. His mother, Elisabeth, was also a huge proponent of living life outside of the box, as she very much expressed in her own life. One of her several final books, The Wheel of Life: A Memoir of Living and Dying, is the story of her extraordinary life as she prepares for death, in her words.

We also discuss Ken’s mission to preserve his mother’s work and legacy so future generations can learn, too.



Victoria Volk 0:08
This is Victoria of the unleashed heart calm, and you’re listening to grieving voices, a podcast for hurting hearts who desire to be heard. Or anyone who wants to learn how to better support loved ones experiencing loss as a 30 plus year griever. In advanced grief recovery methods specialist, I know how badly the conversation around grief needs to change. Through this podcast, I aim to educate gravers and non gravers alike, spread hope and inspire compassion towards those hurting. Lastly, by providing my heart with yours and this platform, Grievers had the opportunity to share their wisdom and stories of loss and resiliency. How about we talk about grief, like we talked about the weather? Let’s get started. Thank you for tuning in to grieving voices. today. I’m very excited to have my special guest can Ross. He is the son of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross, the founder of the ek AR foundation in 2006. And President and he’s also served on the board of the Elisabeth Kubler Ross center from 1989 to 2005. Ken was the principal care provider for his mother in the last nine years of her life until her passing in 2004. His responsibilities include handling over 80, publishers of Dr. Kubler-Ross’s work in 43 languages, public relations, copyright and trademark issues website maintenance, developing international Kubler Ross chapters, developing strategic partnerships as well as preserving her archives. While growing up he traveled with her extensively while on her numerous foreign trips witnessing her lectures and workshops. Ken has lectured on his mother’s legacy for hospices and various conferences in South America, Asia and Europe. There are several film projects that Ken is currently a consultant on including a major motion picture, a television vision series and various documentaries both foreign and domestic. He is a professional photographer by trade and he has photographed 102 countries. He is also the author of real taste of life, a journal by Ken Ross and Elisabeth Kubler Ross from 2002. And tea with Elizabeth, thank you so much for gracing me with your presence in fireside today. It wasn’t awful, but it you’ve led a very interesting and fascinating life, as has your mother, I started to dig into her book, the wheel of life and a memoir of living and dying. I felt drawn to that one of all of all the choices that are there out there. I think just because I have had recently gone through end of life doula certification, I think the the dying process and just the end of life experiences is kind of fascinating me at the moment. And I’ve picked some stuff out of the book that I would like to talk about at some point. But Sure, thank you, thank you so much for being

Ken Ross 3:03
my pleasure. That’s what I’m here for.

Victoria Volk 3:06
So let’s start with you. As I kind of mentioned at the beginning, before we started recording, we could make this whole podcast episode about your mom, there’s lots of content out there available about your mom, but I am curious and interested in learning about how having Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross, as a mom has shaped you into the person you are today. And the impact that Her work has had on your life.

Ken Ross 3:32
You know, you don’t see things as are happening, right? You never realized what’s happening as it’s happening. You have to go back and go, Oh my God, that’s why I did this. That’s why I did that. So, you know, at the time, I had two parents growing up who are doctors, and they both worked with dying people or dead people. My father was a pathologist. So my father was bringing home human brains into the kitchen, leaving them you know, because I had to go to new hospital next day. And my mom’s bring home day and people who are my age, sometimes younger, sometimes older, but you know, dying people coming through the house. human brains are sitting in the kitchen, it was very unusual childhood. And so you know, death was something we heard about, if not every week, every day, and we heard at the dinner table. And I met people who are my age who are dying, so certainly made a big impression. And every time I went on a trip with my mother, you know we’re meeting dying people backstage after our conferences and at the workshops and you know, people stopping over in the airports and so forth. So it was death death death made me quite paranoid neurotic about like every little bumping, no, no, I had on my body. But so at the time, you know, it kind of freaked me out because I heard about it too much. But it did impress upon me that life is short and precarious for many people. And even for people who live a full long life. It still seems short because I’m meeting people in their 70s and 80s who are dying in their Like Ken My God, like you know just a few minutes ago I was a kid like what happened like, life went by in a blip and so they’re like yo really go out and really think about life just don’t take it for granted. You know really seize this opportunity you have and you have beautiful opportunity with your mother to do things that a lot of people don’t get to do and kids don’t get to do so anyway, my dad had his National Geographics, and I thought Wow, well if life is short and precarious You know, this would be an amazing way to spend your life these photographers go out and see all these tribes and hang out you know of helicopters and climb mountains, they meet movie stars, that seems like an amazing way if life is so short to go out really live it big. And I was very shy very quiet. And so I thought oh well with a camera I don’t really have to talk I can still be in my shy comfortable space. But I can go out and photograph landscapes nature and meet tribal people and and that would be amazing way just to see the world which is kind of a mysterious place. So I set out to go to 101 countries and that’s what I did. But I studied banking just as a backup because my father was a traditional family guy. And he didn’t want me going off on some flaky concept of being a National Geographic photographer. So state of banking like a good Swiss boy my mom was Swiss. So I thought well that’s my backup you know I can be a good Swiss banker but what I really wanted to do was travel and take photographs and my mom really pushed me to be like a gypsy basically and live my life outside the box. Whereas my father wanted me in the box so constant struggle between the parents right and my father did not believe in life after death my mother did so a lot of conflicts growing up between the parents because you respect them both. They’re both geniuses know their stuff, but you know, you’re kind of pulled in two directions at the same time. And that was a little challenging.

Victoria Volk 6:55
I want to circle back to that the opposite belief system but first I just want to say that I like just when I was a kid, I wanted to be a National Geographic photographer. Oh, and I was my dad was diagnosed when I was six with cancer and I watched him you know slowly decline over the next two years and he died when I was eight and so I had that first early exposure and people my grandma had died too in that time of cancer and so I had been exposed to death and dying and you know, maybe not really not necessarily understanding the the fragility of life how fragile it is, but are really grasping that idea but I grew into that wanting to this urge to travel was in me if it wasn’t a National Geographic photographer, I wanted to be an airline stewardess. I mean, you know, like the idea was to get out and get away and traveling. Yeah, yeah, participate in like yeah, see what else is out there beyond my own four walls? No, did you actually shoot for National Geographic or that was just something that sparked your

Ken Ross 8:03
I wanted to be a National Geographic, you know, kind of photographer I wanted to go out and travel like hardcore. Yeah, get into, you know, remote villages in Africa and South America and, and so I didn’t shoot for them. But I have sold them a number of photographs over the years as stock photography.

Victoria Volk 8:19
Can I ask then how that experience because when you started doing that, and you were on this excursion of 101 now 102 countries, how did that morph into the work that you’re doing with death and dying? And how did that actually in being exposed to those different cultures? What have you taken away from what you’ve learned,

Ken Ross 8:40
so I was doing photography as a hobby as a kid, I was shooting concerts and, and things like that, and traveled with my mother. And when she was given a workshop, I would go take pictures, right? So because she is working for 810 12 hours a day, so I go shoot and at the end of the day, I’d hook up with my mom and then we’d be meeting you know, shamans and Eskimos and fortune tellers and Zulu witch doctors and you name it because my mother loved indigenous people he thought these people really get life and death and are not like hung up on death and they really see it everything as a circle. So she really wanted me to meet all these people, you know, and I saw tables floating in the air and everything you can imagine that’s all building up inside of me. And I’m traveling with mom and going off to college and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I was like, Well, you know, bankers realistic but photography is really fun, so and getting exposed to death more and more. And I’m still traveling with my mom even after I got out of school and trying to figure out which way I was going to go. So anyway, I did become a professional photographer. I moved to Australia and then moved to New York and I ended up living in like 13 cities and poor countries. No, because my mom was never like go out and be a gypsy and be crazy and you know, not only live outside the box, but just realize there is no box right? Let’s do it all. And, you know, being a photographer, I’m climbing mountains, I’m going To discos in Beirut, I’m hitchhiking in Zimbabwe, and really living what I think is a fantasy life for most people, even with no training as a photographer, I just did it. So that was great. So as as all about counting your fears, right? And having the perspective that life is short, you know, don’t live your life with regrets. So most people, I think 90% plus of their regrets are things they didn’t do versus things they did do, right. So we have to remember like, all these regrets are things we didn’t do. We lived our lives fear based, we were afraid to tell these people we love them. Embrace people we had fights with you name it, you know, the time to make amends is now the time to take chances. Now, you know, I just went to Iraq for a vacation, right? I mean, that’s a little unusual, but I’m challenging my fears. I’m challenging the preconceived notions of Iraq is a dangerous place. You know, I’ve read about it. I’ve embraced different cultures. I love diversity. And, you know, I just found my rhythm and just I went there, I had a great time, I had no hassles. And so just, you know, and also seeing my mom and the press, I just see how much the press kind of misrepresents things, they focus on the negative, you know, and when I go out, yeah, I’d have an amazing time when I travel, like, I’ve rarely had any problems in 102 countries, I’ve been to nine countries, the Middle East, and done all sorts of crazy things, and met strangers and ended up sleeping in their house in Africa and Asia in different places. And I never had a problem, really. So you know, I just don’t focus on that negativity that we’re fed so much, like, we’re just fed all this fear. I hate that. Because I just find like, a very positive experience. It’s not meant to be perfect. But you know, you can take any experience, and you can find a positive outcome from it, even from death and grief, it can help you grow and learn and embrace love. Even more and more, I did that for, I don’t know, maybe 2530 years. And then, as you may know, my mom’s house was burnt down when she was trying to start a hospice for abandoned babies. And so I brought her down to Arizona, and I ended up taking care of her for nine years, that was crazy, difficult experience. And then after she died, we had people writing us everyday from around the world. So again, it wasn’t my plan. But, you know, after taking care of my mother, I was handling all our business affairs, realizing how complicated it was, and how a lot of people are, you know, misrepresenting her work and abusing her and cheating her and, you know, all the stuff that goes along with the theme and having a brand. So as a son, it really bothered me. And so I began working with all our publishers, and all the press and all the stuff that I wasn’t used to and had no experience with. And then I started the foundation, thinking the foundation would do all the work and get to be a photographer. So now it’s been 16 years or so. And I realized that’s not how foundations work. still kind of figuring out how foundations work after 16 years. But yeah, I’m slowly getting better at it. And last three years been great time for the foundation. We’ve grown a lot internationally as been some nice big press articles on mom, they’ve named a couple of streets after mom and hpcl just had a nice memorial to mom, they have a whole exhibit on her and their headquarters in Washington. And then American Journal bioethics just devoted his entire issue to her that’s donated all my mom’s papers to Stanford are going to develop a digital library. So very exciting. And mom’s legacy, even though she’s not around. Yeah,

Victoria Volk 13:29
I, like I mentioned before we started recording, it’s like you hear all the time on TV and the news and different things, it’ll save five stages of grief, you know, and that’s what people seem to latch on to. And in all of her amazing work that she is accomplished and did in her life. And I was just listening to something this morning that talked about, was talking about, it was about mindfulness. And the one thing that in mindfulness at the end of life, it was like research that was done, and they interviewed people at the end of life. And all these people, every single person had said that their greatest regret was that they had not lived true to themselves, right? And

Ken Ross 14:09
you’re not driving the right car, you’re not the right neighborhood, or the right friends or whatever I like, you know, it’s like society imposes all these guilts and fears and expectations on you, which are so artificial.

Victoria Volk 14:21
And there’s this part in her book, where in the wheel of life where she had talked about where she quit her job because she had decided to work with dying children. Someone had just asked her the question, why don’t you work with dying children? She’s like, you know, good question. Why don’t I you know, but she had quit her job. And then that’s what really led her because they wouldn’t allow her to kind of counsel people who couldn’t pay. And she says, I was not about to stop that practice. If you hired me, you also get what I stood for. There’s like conviction that I you know, I feel that sense of conviction and what she said there and that’s what led to her doing the lectures. But that’s what I also hear what she’s kind of passed down to you and that nope this is what I’m going to do I don’t want to live put myself in a box I don’t want to limit myself and that’s a beautiful gift she gave you I think

Ken Ross 15:11
yeah it’s been amazing it’s been exactly my fantasy when I was a kid I like did everything just about he could possibly do that’s you know the cause it reasonable what’s up so yeah I feel like you know I want to live a life that I wouldn’t mind doing 100 times over and not be bored ever you know you want to live that dream life right and it’s never going to be a dream there’s going to be heartache and sorrow and betrayal and everything else but you know you embrace it and just move past it

Victoria Volk 15:42
so what do you think do other cultures have a one up on us when it comes to death and dying then than we do here in Western society?

Ken Ross 15:50
I think it’s kind of like 50 years ago my mom you know began our official work with death and dying is that we hide death in a closet right now old age homes so we can like not see people get old because we don’t want to deal with it just stick them in a home and hide them away so you know we don’t have to face it you know and funerals you know used to be at home dying people used to bring your uncle home and leave them in the living room for a couple days so that you could see him and have that death be a part of your life and now you know it’s like oh we’re gonna hide them in the hospital we’re gonna hide them in old age home we’re gonna hide them in a whatever a hospice whatever so that’s the problems that we hide death right?

Victoria Volk 16:30
Yeah they would even take pictures with those deceased loved ones

Ken Ross 16:34
you know and they and they make a body so look like they’re artificially they had the rouge and pretty up to here and you know make death look like it’s they’re just sleeping You know? So that’s the problem I was problem 50 years ago and it’s still the problem 50 years later like in other countries, you know, death is a part of life you see it, you know, in front of you. They don’t really hide it the way they do in Western culture,

Victoria Volk 16:58
other cultures Do they have their own rituals and their ways of doing things and I think that’s like with our rituals in the West here with funerals we’ve kind of gotten away from being participants as family members right in the process and you know, we we hire a funeral home to basically handle everything for us and handle the details

Ken Ross 17:19
that made my mother critic closed casket like come on, you got to like say goodbye to the person who can’t say goodbye to a box. Think right? Saying goodbye.

Victoria Volk 17:28
Right? What is your most favorite part of of all the work that your mom had done and accomplished in her life? What is been your favorite piece of it?

Ken Ross 17:38
That’s a tough one. So I’ve got my cat here is going to be pushing against the screen here. Um, you know, I love the way my mom brought in humor to you know, her work, you know, everyone thought, oh, Kubler Ross must have been really serious, right? You know, you look at Radio labs Instagram page right now. And their last photograph they published was my mom wearing an ETL fit, right? She’s in a wheelchair, but she’s still an ETL fit. Like, given people call it the finger because she had chronic pain syndrome. So she didn’t like being hugged. So she’d given the finger like, 80. But yeah, she brought a lot of humor into her work and lightheartedness. And, you know, even though it’s you’re working with dying children all week long, she was totally funny and totally full of life. And, you know, just give you energy, right? So she just showed that it doesn’t have to be depressing and sad, you know, I mean, it is to some degree, of course, but, you know, you can also refocus your energy on life. Two,

Victoria Volk 18:39
so you mentioned that there was this difference in opinion of life after death between your mother and your father. And how did that play out? Ultimately,

Ken Ross 18:52
it was challenging because my father had, I don’t know how he had like, 200 brains in his office, like in a room, right? And he’s, you know, he changes director of his department at Loyola in Chicago. He’s writing all these papers and doing lectures and you know, he was you know, they’re gonna name NEMA library after him, right? The guy was a smart guy he studied. You know, he went to medical school in German, he didn’t speak German. So imagine going to medical school, the language you don’t speak. I mean, that is a driven, intelligent person, right? So, you know, he knew what he’s talking about. And so to my mother, all right, she’s the world’s leading expert on death and dying here talking to those genius neuropathologists you know, it’s hard for the kids. Why do we say like, nothing we can say it contribute to that conversation. But you know, they, they didn’t fight. they disagreed, but they disagree. politely. No, no, Elizabeth, it’s this chemical and that chemical in this and that and this was like, No, we had a blind person come in, and they could tell you how many people were in the room and what color they were wearing, and And so, you know, as like, as like a no win this agreement, so they just agreed to disagree. And that was fine. It was just like that a father had a great sense of humor, and they both kind of laughed about it. So it wasn’t a big deal. But you know, it left us both going home, I went went to a kinesiologist. And they did their little, you know, kind of Hocus Pocus thing and they said you are conflicted between your parents because you respect them both. You love them both. But they were in different energies. I’m like, wow, this person is really good. Pick that up.

Victoria Volk 20:34
So your dad’s opinion of that never changed. never wavered

Ken Ross 20:37
didn’t waver. But of course, there’s this famous rose story that goes along with my mother, that when my sister was like six or seven years old, he said he’s gonna send her flowers on the first snowfall after he died. And that’s basically what he did. He sent flowers, and he died that afternoon. And then next day, my sister got flowers on her front doorstep in the snow. You know, 2530 years later. So what did that mean? Right? So my mother’s like, I told him. My mother think she’d won that argument. Did she? I don’t know. We’ll find out.

Victoria Volk 21:13
There was a beautiful story about a boy named jeffie. And in her book, The Wheel of Life really, like, moved me. But jeffie was a boy that she had worked with and he was had leukemia much of his life. Are you familiar? Do you remember the story?

Ken Ross 21:30
I remember the name, but I can’t remember that particular story. Because I’ve heard like, 10,000 structure.

Victoria Volk 21:35
He had the tricycle or the bicycle. He had gotten a bicycle for his birthday. And he told his dad or

Ken Ross 21:41
one with a brother. Yeah, yeah. Right. Right. The beautiful thing

Victoria Volk 21:45
about her work is that she helped families. I mean, she gave the family a beautiful gift in that in this boy too, because he wanted to go home. And he helped him he helped him communicate that to his parents. And so they took him home, because there was nothing more he didn’t want to do. And he didn’t want to do any more chemo, he was done. So they took him home. And then he said to his dad, because he had gotten this brand new bicycle, but he never got to ride it. He told his dad take this bike down. And he said in you, Dr. Ross, you’re gonna hold my mom back. Right? Because he knew that she could not not, you know, ride with him and hold him and make sure it doesn’t fall and or something. Yeah, he ended up giving the bike to his brother for his birthday because he knew that he was going to pass away. But even before they left the hospital, he told Dr. Ross he had said to her, you know, cuz she said, Well, I don’t have time to go home with all my patients or, you know, all the all the children I help. And he’s like, Don’t worry, it’ll be 10 minutes, like he knew he was going to go home and die. But it was just a beautiful story. It truly truly touched me. But I just think that that’s the beautiful thing about her work is that she assisted so many people in having good deaths.

Ken Ross 22:54
My mother was a master at kind of pulling out symbolic, nonverbal language. So what she called it and said, like a very important part of our work is that my mother, she had like antenna and she could just pick up things that were not said verbally, but she could pick up things and she has new like, she’s like head Oh, radar station on her head, she was picking up all the stuff, nonverbal communication, and she could just find out stuff about patients in seconds, and go Okay, all we got to talk here because this person’s about to go. Or this person needs to say something that’s gonna be a big breakthrough. And she was just a master at that. And she did it to me too, which made me crazy, couldn’t keep any secrets from my mom, cuz she just pick up stuff.

Victoria Volk 23:40
very intuitive and empathic, likely to

Ken Ross 23:44
incredibly, like just the stories that, you know, I heard about my mom picking up stuff or just out of this world.

Victoria Volk 23:50
I mean, that’s just one little blip of her work of what she did

Ken Ross 23:54
hundreds and hundreds of stories I’ve heard just on that particular topic. And I have my favorites. But I mean, you know, everyone I talked to, oh my God. He said, assuming your mother did, I’m like, Oh, yeah, she does that all the time every week.

Victoria Volk 24:06
Give me one of your favorites. my very

Ken Ross 24:09
favorite I heard after she died. I heard it from her best friend in the late 60s was this the hospitals are really mad at her or doing this work with dying patients. So they assigned her this big, like six foot three African American priest, who turns out was also a Black Panther. Right? So here’s my mom, five foot tall Swiss accent with a six foot three African American Black Panther priest come down the hallway. It’s quite the scene, right? In the 60s, that was pretty heavy duty. Yeah, so anyway, within a few weeks, the priests like like fell in love, not romantically but with my mom and her work and said, Okay, I’m not going to stop her. I’m going to protect her. So if any doctor got my mom’s face, this, you know, six foot three guy said, you get out of here or else it’s going to be trouble. And so they weren’t about to get in a fight with a priest so they’d head out and Elizabeth would do her work. But anyway, he said, like one time we came into a room and this woman had cancer of the jaw and throat and had her mouth wired shut. And we sat down. And he said, Your mother seemed to have an entire conversation with her, even though she could only grunt and you could not understand a single word. The woman said, Your mother understood her and was answering her. And a woman would grant your mother would talk the woman grant. And this went back and forth for a few minutes. And then your mother turned to me and said, Get this woman an apple and walked out of the room with no explanation. He said, Well, why would I get a woman whose mouth is wired shut, and Apple didn’t make sense. They said, Your mother’s very famous. And he didn’t say no, your mother. So I went down to the cafeteria, got swollen and apple and she started crying. And so I said to her, can you please explain what transpired between you and Elizabeth? If I get a piece of paper and a pen? Can you write down what happened? And she wrote that she had been school teacher, and she wanted to get one more Apple like our students used to give her before she died. And and disguise like, she did not say a word like you cannot. How did Elizabeth come up with this? That’s just unbelievable. But your mother does this? Did this like every day? It’s incredible.

Victoria Volk 26:10
Wow. Wow. That’s a good story. Yeah. That’s a good story.

Ken Ross 26:15
Yeah. I mean, he has lots of and she did it in our workshops every week to just craziness. Like, there was 100 people sitting around in a workshop, and one person wouldn’t participate. And my mother wouldn’t allow that. So I brought the guy into the circle, and said, Look, I’m homeless, I only came for the food. Somebody gave me this as a gift. I appreciate what you’re doing. But you know, there’s nothing you can do or say, to get me to participate. I am dead inside. So my mother sat there for like, 15 minutes, not a word. And the staffs like, Oh, this guy is stumped Elizabeth finally. And so she said, Let’s sing a song. And my mother picked a song. They also 100 people started singing it and this guy broke down crying uncontrollably. And when he composed himself, he said, that’s a song. I used to sing to my son before he died. He was 16. How did Elizabeth pick that song? Right? I mean, unbelievable.

Victoria Volk 27:06
Yeah, I literally have goosebumps.

Ken Ross 27:10
It’s like, you know, she had the hotline to the big guy upstairs.

Victoria Volk 27:15
Wow. I wonder someday she’ll be a saint and be a sainthood.

Ken Ross 27:21
Saint and devil. She was naughty, but nice.

Victoria Volk 27:26
So what is it? You know, that’s the thing like she seems like this feisty, like, don’t you’re no one’s gonna stop me. Oh, yeah. You know, like, very driven. And where does that come from? Where did that come from?

Ken Ross 27:38
From her father. Her father was incredibly stubborn. And she was constantly butting heads with her father, because she was stubborn, too, naturally. But I think her father was like the thing like, who was going to be more stubborn? And so yeah, my mother’s is driven from day one. She was doing things which were totally ridiculous. And no one was going to stop, right? I mean, when she was a kid, she had a pet monkey. Nobody in rural Switzerland in 1930s had a pet monkey. My mother had a pet monkey had African dolls. Swiss girls didn’t play with African dolls. Where did that come from? You know, my mother went to one of the neighbors who was dying and asked him what it was like to be dying, which was like seven years old. Swiss girls didn’t do that. No, but my mother did. Right? I mean, just everything was always focused on like, inquiring want to know what life’s about what’s death, about what you know, I want to know, I want this. Don’t get my wife. She would beat up the school bully if you picked on like her sister. Yeah. And she was tiny. So she was just driven from day one.

Victoria Volk 28:44
Do you have any doubts that when we come into this world, that the path is kind of laid out in front of us? And yes, it’s our freewill to choose and follow those insights or follow those intuitive things that Barker interest or our curiosity. But do you believe that that is just something that like she knew her path? Like she just followed the her curiosity wherever it led her?

Ken Ross 29:09
Yeah, absolutely. I think she said, You know, we’re all here to figure out what our path is. And most people don’t really find it, or they find pieces of it, but they don’t really find the center of the river. And my mom was like, you know, in the center of the river from day one. She just knew what she had to do. And she was always striving for more and more and didn’t matter if it was realistic or possible. She just did it.

Victoria Volk 29:32
Well, and she didn’t listen to the naysayers even as a young child, right? she just, she could have felt like when someone said to her well, who has a pet monkey? Well, oh, yeah, that’s kind of weird, you know, and, you know, but she didn’t she continued on like, she marched to the beat of her own drum. Oh, yeah, I mean,

Ken Ross 29:50
her stubbornness is like legendary during her one of her last Tia strokes after the fire, like I’m sitting with her, and she’s In the middle of having a stroke, right, and I’m trying to get her to go to the hospital and she’s like, no, get me a cigarette, you know. You’re having a stroke. Yeah. Okay, get me a cigarette like him have a stroke who asked for a cigarette in the middle of a stroke? I mean, you don’t take me to the hospital, they’ll kill me. You know, I mean, just insane.

Victoria Volk 30:22
Do you mind sharing what her last words for you were?

Ken Ross 30:25
Well, it’s really interesting. It wasn’t her like very last word. But you know, for nine years, I took care of her. And you know, she was angry to some degree, and then she gets bashed for that too. It’s like, Okay, well, let’s say your house has burned down. All your research labs research has burned down. Your favorite animal shot, the police declare an accident. You know, you have paralyzing stroke. He can’t garden you can’t do your work. You can’t do anything. You sit in a chair. Why would you be angry? Like, oh, she’s a human being. So she was expected to be like, you know, Buddha or something. But, so for nine years, he’s like, you know, if he was angry, he can see on the Oprah interview. It’s on YouTube, but her version of angry is like, you know, she’s so like laughing and smiling too. So it’s not like he’s like wow, with a knife. But anyway, she said, Oh, I want to die. I want to die. Shot suicide. Oh, she’s like, okay, I’ve done all my work. I’m ready to check out it’s no big deal. Let’s just go so after nine years of saying she wants to die, she’s ready to die. Like out of the blue. I’m in a room as Kennet. I’m not ready to die. I don’t want to die right now. I’m like, What? So I’m like, What did you say? And then to change the subject, like, go get me talk or something, or just totally like, oh, give me some flowers? Or I’m like, wait, no, what did you say? She would not go back to it. And I’m like, What did that what was that after nine years. And then a few weeks later, she died. And it took me like two, three years to realize that, oh, my mom learned her final lesson. That’s what she’s always saying, when we learn our lessons, we’re allowed to graduate, which means die, make our transition. And so when my mom like over all of her anger, and learned her final lesson to let people love her and take care of her, not being the one in charge, and she was allowed to graduate, right away is like, Wow, it was totally right. That’s exactly what she said her whole life. And she learned her final lesson, she was allowed to make her departure

Victoria Volk 32:30
that reminds me of I did a podcast interview with a medium who mentioned one of her most memorable clients was mother who had lost a son to suicide. And the mother was so concerned that the son was not in heaven, because like he was really being his soul was tormented or whatever. And the medium told her, Well, the son told the medium and the medium communicated that. No, he’s in school, because he didn’t learn his lessons in the physical plane that he had to learn it. You know, his soul had to learn it after. And so that he was in school, learning his lessons. So it made me think of that. And so what I’m curious then to like, what the lessons that your mom has passed on to you about the afterlife, what has stuck with you, mostly?

Ken Ross 33:22
in that department, I have to say, I’m torn between my parents because my father did not leave life after death. Mm, smart guy, genius. Great guy, mother? Absolutely. You know, I saw any number of things that have no rational explanation. So I guess I kind of take a hybrid view of both my parents. And my only concern is like, what’s now today? I have no interest. Like if you had a fortune teller medium, who could? Who was absolutely you knew was like the real thing and tell you everything. I would have zero interest because I love the surprise. I don’t want to know. And I don’t think pragmatism is the right word. I don’t know what the word is. But I’m just like mother taught me is that whatever happens is, what happens is fine, it’s like, everything’s fine. That’s what’s gonna happen. You know, my only fear, I guess, is, I have no fear of death. I only fear like, the things that I can control. So I can’t control death, but I can control how I live. My fear, I guess would be like wasting my life or not living to the max, right? So that’s my only fear is like, oh, I’ve got to use every opportunity, I’ve got to look for the clues. Because that’s what I can control. I can control if you know, a meteor falls on my head. I’m not worried about that. I’m not worried the planes gonna crash or, you know, I’m gonna die or whatever, because I have no control over that. So I only fear the things I can control the things that are in my power. I have no interest in life after death, in that, whatever happens can happen and that Nature and I totally embrace whatever, whatever is real. You know, in the afterlife. That’s great. If there’s no life after death, that’d be great. There’s life after that great if there’s reincarnation, that’s great. I just, I just totally maybe as Buddhist I don’t know, I just whatever happens, I accept, because that’s what, that’s the nature of the universe. And so I accepted 1,000%. So I’m not, I don’t care what happens. Does that make sense? Yeah, yeah. Like I just like, at peace with the reality of what is

Victoria Volk 35:35
very much you’re in the present. And that’s a lot. That’s a very big problem for a lot of people. And so I congratulate you for that. Because, I mean, like, either a lot of people are stuck in the past, or they’re stuck in the future, they’re always thinking ahead. And they’re always, you know, planning for the, for tomorrow or next week in the next year, but yet, they can’t like just be still in the moment, you know? Yeah, it was a good wake

Ken Ross 35:58
up. And I have this thing called the dice theory, like, every day, I want to like roll the dice, meaning, I want to make something happen. Right? I don’t know what it is. Sometimes, you know, I feel like Oh, you know what I should call 10. People today, call 10 people and see what they’re doing. Maybe they’ll give me an idea. Or maybe I’ll give them an idea. Maybe call 10 strangers go on LinkedIn and just contact 10 people and see what happens. It’s like I’m just rolling the dice of life going, Hey, let’s make something happen. Well, let’s let’s go and take a drive and move on discover new restaurant or new thing. Or maybe I’ll meet somebody or so it’s my dice theory, like everyday, make something happen just by chance, or by feeling the groove like, you know, today, I think I should work on my mom’s tapes are my mom’s books or call some publishers and just make something happen. So I have a everyday I want to throw that dice to like make things happen, because a dice will bump into other dice, and start something you wouldn’t have expected had you not throw the dice, or create a chain reaction. I’m going to call my group and prove and see, hey, maybe we can come up with an idea just by having a talk. So I’ve worked my dice theory every day.

Victoria Volk 37:12
I absolutely love that. Is that how you connected with me on LinkedIn? Yeah, rolled the dice.

Ken Ross 37:19
Part of the dice theory,

Victoria Volk 37:20
and I rolled the dice right back at you. Well, I’ll take that as a handshake, leave you my podcast. Yeah. Here we sit, right?

Ken Ross 37:27
That’s totally the dice theory, right? Like if I didn’t like reach out, then we wouldn’t be here today. And maybe you’ll meet somebody else from my mom’s family. And you’ll have something that’s not only for me, it’s for other people, I

Victoria Volk 37:39
impact roll it for,

Ken Ross 37:41
for the universe and for everybody and to make things happen for everybody. Also, for other people,

Victoria Volk 37:48
I love that.

Ken Ross 37:49
I have the dice series as my

Victoria Volk 37:52
maybe that’s a book title.

Ken Ross 37:54
That isn’t dicey living your life.

Victoria Volk 37:57
Yeah, you better not chop that down. I get the first copy.

Ken Ross 38:02
Okay, you’re part of a dice theory. So right, it works. You’re here. I’m here. And this is like, you know, but every day I want to roll the dice and like, I still want to sit back and wait, you know, if you sit back, and maybe it’ll happen, but if you throw the dice, then you’re participating. It’s like, and you know, it’s like, I walk down the street and I talk to people in countries where I go and things happen. Oh, here’s the dice theory. I had two weeks off, and I bought a one way ticket to Chile. I got the first night hotel and and I had no plans. I didn’t study a book. I didn’t make no idea what’s happening in Chile or Santiago. I just flew down there one way. That’s it, I’m walking down the street first hour, nice doorway, I take a selfie. An hour later, somebody on Facebook says, oh, I’ve been writing you from Colombia for three years. I wanted to meet you. Can we have dinner tonight? I’m now in Santiago with my boyfriend. I’m like, yeah, cuz I have no plans. I’m just throwing the dice. So she said I’m going to bring a translator on speak English. So we met for dinner. And she had my mom’s beliefs tattooed on her arm, right? So like a hardcore mom fan. He said, I want to start a foundation in Chile. I go great. Well, I mean, you got these tattoos you’re like, seem like you’re really a lovely person. You’re really like enthusiastic. I said, if the board doesn’t agree within the next 90 days, I will just give you permission to do it. Because I feel this is right as part of my dice theory. Right? So within 90 days, the board said yes, she started a chapter. And her dream was to start the first pediatric hospice in Chile and Santiago. So he kr initiated the first pediatric hospice in Chile, because of the

Victoria Volk 39:38
dice theory, because he took a selfie in front of a picture that someone

Ken Ross 39:41
because I just bought a one way ticket to Chile, I thought, Oh, I just feel like I want to do this. I need to do this. So this is a nice theory. Like there’s a pediatric hospice being built out in San Diego because of the dice theory, right? It’s like,

Victoria Volk 39:52
Ah, yes. Amazing. Yeah, it’s following the intuitive hits. Like you get this intuitive thought like Oh, just book it. It’s One thing to have a thought it’s another thing to follow up and take action on that thought. And how many thoughts in a day do we let just slip by us? You know, just picking up the phone and telling someone, Hey, how are you doing? I’ve been thinking about you. I do that a lot.

Ken Ross 40:14
You know, maybe next week, they died in a car accident, something but at least you reached out and like, you didn’t have unfinished business. So I’m saying like, Don’t die with unfinished business.

Victoria Volk 40:24
So we stay in grief recovery, too. Yeah, so that was a thing

Ken Ross 40:27
I like in the 70s. Her workshops. Were all about dealing with your unfinished business. Right? Oh, so you can have a good death? Yeah, yeah. So I just went to Kurdistan in northern Iraq, right? And I’m like, Well, okay. It’s as nice as for me, but it’s kind of, not maybe not hedonistic, but it’s like, okay, I want to give back to. So I reached out to a board member who travels a lot. And I said, Do you have any contacts in Iraq? He said, Oh, yeah, I know, an oncologist in the eastern part of Kurdistan. So I wrote her. I didn’t hear back. And when I got there, I thought, I’m gonna try one more time. I reached out. She said, Oh, yeah, well, can we have a meeting tomorrow morning? I’m like, Yeah, great. So I went there. And we had an hour long talk, I tour the hospital, it was very depressing. It was the best hospitals, supposedly in Iraq. And so should we really need help? So I said, Oh, well, we’ll give you our palliative care trainings from the foundation, if that would help, right. And so then I reached out to the board member who connected us, I said, we need to help this woman. So he’s connected her to this worldwide palliative care group. So I’m hoping that will lead to things too. But it’s because of like, Oh, I should, like, do something for mom and the foundation while I’m in Kurdistan, right. So it’s also part of the theory of just like, I was like, you know, it’s great for me having a nice trip and my photography, but let’s like, it works better with karma, if it goes both ways, and I do something for other people. So, so that was a nice example, too. It’s like, we’ve just given them 11 classes, and we’re gonna be sending them to more classes. And I tried to connect them some people to get some more trainings, and they have a lot of problems there with money and lack of pain medication, and so forth. And that I can’t do anything about but at least we can help train their doctors,

Victoria Volk 42:19
which will be huge. So the ripples impact? Yeah. Oh, I love that. The dice theory, I want to kind of come back to something, you know, that I asked earlier about your mom, and at the end of her life? Have you had any moments of where you felt like, Oh, that’s my mom, like, tapping me on the shoulder. Oh, after she passed,

Ken Ross 42:43
Oh, yes. I have a drum set. I’m part time drummer. Because I don’t do enough. And my mom had sense of humor. So three or four times, within the first year after she died. Every time I bend over to tie my shoe, the snare drum would hit just once. I mean really loud. And it would scare the bejesus out of me. Only when I’m bending over, like, you know ones, like maximum freakout effect in the house by myself and bang,

Victoria Volk 43:16
undeniable, right? Yeah, that’s like,

Ken Ross 43:19
mommy gonna give me a heart attack. And then once I was in my bedroom closet, my cat had kittens sitting on the floor with my girlfriend at the time. And I clearly heard my mom’s voice say hello with her Swiss accent. I’m like, wow, I totally projected mom’s voice that time. I was like, I was the loudest I’ve ever heard my mom’s voice. And I look up and my girlfriend’s like, what was that? There’s a woman in here. Like you heard that? She’s like, yeah, there’s is a housekeeper in here. I’m like, is Sunday night at 11? What would a housekeeper be? Like? Like, know that? I think that was mom. Because Yeah, she had an accent. I’m like, yeah, that was mom.

Victoria Volk 43:59
Wow, that was weird. So that still hasn’t swayed your her thoughts on afterlife? Oh, no,

Ken Ross 44:05
I totally not saying it’s not. But if it is, I don’t know what form it is. You know, is it the Buddhist idea is that the Christian idea is, you know, I mean,

Victoria Volk 44:17
yeah, beautiful mystery, right?

Ken Ross 44:19
It’s not like, saying I don’t care sounds too irreverent. But it’s like, whatever it is, is like, you know, I certainly I’m not saying there’s not I’m saying, I don’t know, 100% maybe I know 99%. But the only thing I know 100% is I’m here today and and that’s great. And I just work on today and what I know and what I have and throw those dice and when I get to that point, then I’ll know that for sure. Yeah,

Victoria Volk 44:45
do we ever really know like till battle. It doesn’t matter.

Ken Ross 44:48
To me if there’s life after death, or it’s not or it’s in this form or I come back 100 more times. You know, I just accept it because that’s what it is. You

Victoria Volk 45:00
brings to mind a thought I have just in bringing that up. It’s because for a lot of Grievers, or people who are bereaved and had to say goodbye, and maybe it was a traumatic death or whatever they have, you know, unfinished business with that person or whatever it is, to feel that connection with someone to know that there’s a connection or that there is something after can bring people a lot of comfort. But But I can imagine, though, and just in knowing who your mom was in the work that she did, like, you feel connection with her and everything that you do, I imagine.

Ken Ross 45:38
Oh, yeah, I mean, you know, I mean with especially with my mom, because I’m totally spoiled because I have, you know, her two dozen books and I have 100 audio tapes. And I have 100 videotapes, and I have her on YouTube and I have an everywhere I go, like on the planet, people like Oh, I know your mother, I make our mother like, you know, like, everywhere, it’s like, and I hear these, I keep hearing new stories, like how many stories can there be how many people have met on this planet? Like, Everywhere I go, it’s like wow, like is is like she lived 10 lifetimes or something because it’s not possible that one person did so much in such a short amount of time. You know, I mean, she basically started when she was 40 years old, and retired in her 60s and she wrote two dozen books and hundreds of chapters and did hundreds of workshops around the world and started the hospice movement to some degree and started the belif Kermode son degree and she you know, I mean she was seeing patients she had a working farm she was a mother she was answering hundreds of 1000s of letters she was you know cooking for the workshops she didn’t have enough to do and you know is just insane how much he did as I say impossible that one person did all this but she did

Victoria Volk 46:55
do you think she had any regrets or did she ever voice any regrets?

Ken Ross 46:59
She was just pissed off about her paralysis at the end but I was out of her control yeah was out of our control so other than that pin boys any

Victoria Volk 47:10
you know like wishing that she would have started sooner like oh if I just started my 20s I would have had you know this many more years to

Ken Ross 47:19
you know, at the end she said yeah, Kenneth is Do whatever you want if you want to do my work great if you don’t want to do my work great. Do whatever feels right. And destroy no guilt. No expectations. No. pressure.

Victoria Volk 47:31
I was a gift to Yeah. So Kim, if you if you were to summarize her life in five minutes or less sure. What what has I mean, just do a rundown list of like, over life over work.

Ken Ross 47:53
Um, so I think the the main overview, the umbrellas fabric, would say that she was trying to fight the depersonalization of the dying, the the dehumanization of the death process and of patients, you know, because she said, patients are just like, numbers in a bed is disgusting, like, treat these people as individuals, right? You know, and, and respect them and at least give them a few minutes of personal dignity. Just don’t treat them like okay, this is the cancer patient, this leukemia patient, that’s the whatever, you know, so she was fighting the dehumanization, and a medicalization of, of dying, right? So that’s her big thing was treating people as human beings not as patients and in numbers of beds and things. Right. And, and fighting for hospice because she really wanted people to die at home with their families with proper care and pain medication. She said, No one should ever die in pain. It’s ridiculous that, you know, in the late 19th century and 20th century and 21st century, we haven’t made more progress with this. said there’s pain medications, why are people dying in pain in Africa? Why did I go this hospital in Kurdistan? There’s no pain medication in the 21st century. It’s just outrageous. It’s about her talking about the the four quadrants was really big for her. Nobody talks about but everyone uses but think they don’t realize I think it came from my mother is that imperative care, we have, you know, the balance of the emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual. I think this idea came from my mom, which she got it I think, from young but not used in palliative care. But in early 70s, my mother was saying you need to treat patients with the four quadrants. If you just treat the physical you’re not healing a person you need to deal with the emotional and intellectual and the spiritual, as well as the physical right so the four quadrants was huge for my mother, I was part of everything in my mom’s world was a circle a wheel right. So The four quadrants of of health is the basis of palliative care, but I think no one realizes it came from most of this work. And then what else externalizing our emotions. Learning to everything in life is perspective. Her work is very much like logotherapy she was friends with Viktor Frankl you know, they really do their work was very tied together. challenging your fears, embrace embracing unconditional love. bioethics, listening hope. I think these are the wheel that makes up Elizabeth work.

Victoria Volk 50:35
Yeah, I actually had Dr. Chris Kerr, who was he’s been studying end of life experiences in the surviving death series on Netflix, I had him on the podcast and, and that, and again, like that just comes back to the end of life training that I had, we that’s what we talk about is the whole person. Because when you when you die, you come into this world, a whole person, and you go out a whole person spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally, like all of those things, right? So yeah, it’s very important that the all the whole person is addressed. Right? So they can have a good death is really what it comes down to.

Ken Ross 51:15
What else that’s and learning, of course, to listen to symbolic verbal language and symbolic nonverbal language is also extremely important. When you’re a death doula or end of life worker doctor working with dying patients, really learning about the symbolic, non non verbal language of people is hugely important because a lot of people don’t have the words children don’t have the words they don’t have the vocabulary. Older people are beginning to lose over vocabulary. But they give you science, like look for the science.

Victoria Volk 51:45
Absolutely. What is, I mean, can you just kind of quickly go over like, because I know her life has been it? You just you kind of touched on it at the very beginning. Like just the all the stuff that she did? What’s the highlight reel?

Ken Ross 52:05
highlight reel? another tough question. For me, it’s like, you know, the day World War Two ended, she joined a peace group. And you know, living in Switzerland, comfortable food, no dangerous, no, nothing, you know, she could have just easily stayed there and lived a happy, comfortable life. But she she needed to go out and always help the underdog. And so she joined a peace group. And her father said, If you leave the house, you’re never going to come back. And my mother said, I don’t care. Like, this is the right thing to do. People are suffering, and we’re so comfortable. How can we sit here and not just be horrified how, you know, we have all the stuff and everyone else is suffering around us in Europe. So she hitchhiked you know, through France and rebuilt the village. Right. And you know, she was starving. I mean, she was like, you know, looking for scraps of bread on on the ground when she could have been comfortable at home. And then she went up into Denmark, she almost died. And then she went to Germany, and she almost died there from burns from a pot that broken boiling oil spilled on her legs, you know, and then she went to Denmark, Sweden, went into Poland, she worked in a camp, she lived with the gypsies, she went to the concentration camps. I mean, those two years alone are just, you know, beyond belief, what she did, and so brave, and risking her life over and over and over just to help, you know, dying people and people who are just barely hanging on with nothing. And so that was amazing by itself. And then she, she snuck in a German convoy. They put her in a box of vegetables, and locked it up. And she snuck through the Russian lines, and went back to Berlin where she caught a train back to Switzerland. So it was crazy. And then, you know, she went to medical school when women were not going to medical school. And she didn’t have the money she needed to have the proper accreditation. But because of her relief work during World War Two, after World War Two, I kind of let her slide in Wow. You know, went to America and then you know, the whole story with the University of Chicago and fighting the establishment and having doctors spit on her in the hallway and people leaving nasty notes. How do you talk to dying patients, you know, your vulture should be ashamed of yourself. I’m going to try to take your license away horrible, you know, just for trying to lead dying patients have a chance to say goodbye to the families.

Victoria Volk 54:45
so incredible. And that wasn’t even that long ago. And I think about this grand scheme of things.

Ken Ross 54:51
Yeah. And she has so many stories that, you know, patients dying and their families literally 10 footer in the hallway and because it’s not visiting hours, they don’t let the family To say goodbye and the patient dies alone in a room because of the hospital rules. And also, she was also fighting against the hospital rules and the rules that they can’t bring in children and all these ridiculous things that were going on around this kind of sick death culture in America,

Victoria Volk 55:14
what do you think, helped change that the most? I mean, just because what was there something a part of her work that really changed that aspect of the dyeing process,

Ken Ross 55:25
you know, she shined the light on it, between her book and that article in Life magazine, you know, a millions of people read about it. And here’s this woman willing to talk about death in an open and honest way. And no one was doing that, I mean, almost no one that was doing that anyway. And my mother had a capacity to kind of use a simple language, in part because she was a foreigner, and didn’t have a big command of the English language. But she had this way of just communicating way that people could understand whether it was a doctor or a patient or anybody. And, you know, this Life magazine article is shine so much light that they could no longer deny that there was this huge problem happening in America. And you know, in Western culture, Europe, and elsewhere. So, so much light shined on it, that they could no longer like, hide it. So they had to face it.

Victoria Volk 56:17
So in the midst of COVID, in the process of ways that people have not been able to be with their loved ones, and the impact that has on the bereaved and those dying, and what do you think your mom would have said to that? And do you think that that has actually highlighted how far behind we are?

Ken Ross 56:42
I think it has, because there’s been a lot of articles talking about Elizabeth and, and the stages of grief and all that more than usual. But I think my mother would compare COVID to the AIDS crisis, because she said it was just like a crisis, and that there was so much misinformation, so much fear, there’s so much anger that was being mis directed at things which had nothing to do with the conversation. But people were angry, fearful, there was like, a lot of attacks, all these things going on, which is very similar to COVID. Right? You know, people’s fear, you know, death and a brings out their fear of death, right? And that comes out in various ways and hostility and all this air rage and all these things going on now is misdirected anger over their fear of COVID and death. So, you know, she was a great parallels because, you know, the whole age crisis was a big thing for my mom and demonstrating how the society had so much further to go with the conversation about death and dying. And grief and facing an honestly and, and dealing with our unfinished business. Right. So just, you know, COVID, again, demonstrates we haven’t dealt with our unfinished business.

Victoria Volk 57:55
Now, many of us. And you since you brought it up the five stages. Can we go there? Can we talk about that a little bit?

Ken Ross 58:05
Speaking of anger,

Victoria Volk 58:08
yeah. Tell me what, tell me really lay the truth out today.

Ken Ross 58:14
Talk to 10 people get 10 versions of the truth.

Victoria Volk 58:17
Yeah, yeah. Get it from the horse’s mouth, like I guess. Yeah.

Ken Ross 58:21
My version of the truth. So we have on death and dying of the real book, right? Yes, my my dummy copy. If we go to page 251, I believe Yes. Sophie, look in the actual book, right? So we look here, we see that Elizabeth clearly writes about 10 stages, right? It says 12345. And yet those 10 boxes. So I think to some degree, the publisher, kind of when they were putting together the manuscript kind of focused it into five stages. I’m guessing it’s a guess, because my mom did an entire chapter on hope. But why isn’t hope, a chapter big? You know, a sage because she does a whole chapter on anger or chapter on bargaining. denial. There’s a whole chapter on hope, but they didn’t consider that a stage or why not? I don’t know. It doesn’t make sense. But anyway, basically, Elizabeth was trying to say that grief is complex. And back in the 60s, grief was this monolithic thing. And Elizabeth was trying to say that grief is made up of different components, right? So it’s very ironic that people say to me, oh, you know, Elizabeth didn’t get it right. Because grief is complex, and it’s not made up of five stages. I’m like, Well, okay. The point is that she was saying that grief is made up of individual emotions. That you know, it’s not one thing you can add anxiety you can add, you know, my mom talked about preparatory grief which is the same as anticipatory grief, right, which became Kind of trendy to talk about, I think the last two years, because that’s part of COVID this anticipatory grief, but Elizabeth mentioned it in on death and dying 50 years ago, and some people are acting like, you know, it was just like discovered or, or identified just recently, but you know, Elizabeth, not a half a century ago. And she talked about shock. And she talked about hope. And she talked about, you know, Claire Bidwell Smith, I think, did a book on the missing stage of anxiety. Elizabeth mentioned anxiety, 14 times in on death and dying, right? So But no, she didn’t identify it as a stage. But he identified it as an element of the process that we sometimes go through. So the stages are not meant to be like a ladder, or some way to graduate to acceptance, it’s just meant to be a way to have a conversation is a models, not the only model is this one model that you want to contribute, to have a conversation about grief, which people weren’t having, and still don’t really have in healthy ways, quite often. So again, it’s a model, it’s not meant to be the only model is meant to be a flexible model. And if you look on our website, AK ar, you’ll see there’s various demonstrations of how she talked about the stages, as circles, you know, as as one line going back and forth. She talks about dreams as being part of the stages, talks about a lot of things which are not generally talked about in society that will fix fixate on the five stages. But Elizabeth talked about many more things. And after 1975, she rarely talked about stages at all. She those, I think she was on a show with O’Brien’s 7475. And she goes, Oh, let’s not talk about the stages are so old, right in 75. And then they bash Elizabeth, because that’s all she talked about. I’m like, No, that’s all you guys are talking about. She talked about 50 other things in society and popular media that just can’t let go of it. Right? They say it doesn’t exist. And yet it is the most popular grief theory on the planet. It is like, you know, not making it up. Because it’s my mother. It’s like, it’s been used in over 100 TV shows and movies. Right? It. There’s, like plays about the five stages, there’s novels, there’s cartoons, there’s games, there’s, you know, I’m teen doesn’t plays about the five stages, right? So I mean, you know, I’m sorry, but it is popular, like what does that mean? Does that mean it doesn’t exist? I don’t know, it must trigger something. To some people. There’s 10s of 1000s of articles by people who experience the five stages. So you can’t say it doesn’t exist because 10s of 1000s of articles by people said I experienced it or it helps me so you can say it’s not appropriate to everybody. You can say it’s good for some people, but it hurts other people because they think they need to go through it. You know, I would accept that. But you can’t say it doesn’t exist or it’s been disproven. That’s just you know, denial. That’s a model period.

Victoria Volk 1:03:18
Do you think Can I ask Can you clarify is is how the media and how her work has been interpreted around that has that is that not what she is? Is that what she intended? Did she you don’t I mean,

Ken Ross 1:03:36
I was with her sometimes, you know, she’d see like the Simpsons episode where something goes through the five stages. You’re like, What? Why does that bullshit love to say that word with her Swiss accent? That’s bullshit.

Victoria Volk 1:03:53
Oh, that wasn’t her intention like and in the book was in the book was written in that context, in the work of working with the dine correct.

Ken Ross 1:04:03
But I mean, I would say like, even though like the BBC just did a story saying the rise and fall of the five stages. PS we use it to train our workers. I mean that that doesn’t make sense. Like, how can you say, the fall of the five stages? pS we’re using it to train our entire staff. That’s like,

Victoria Volk 1:04:23
I think it’s one of those things that people love to hate and they love to just sink their teeth teeth into I’ve even said that it’s like of all her amazing work that she’s accomplished and done. That’s the one thing that like you said, just the people can’t let it go.

Ken Ross 1:04:39
Right? And then they blame Elizabeth because she couldn’t let it go and like she let it go. Like in 75. Yeah, that

Victoria Volk 1:04:44
wasn’t even her focus. Like that wasn’t such a small part of her work.

Ken Ross 1:04:49
So we just said the five stages used in the first was the Marvel Comics, as in Deadpool two and then Disney just use it as Their central focus of their movie krewella. And the is an actual advertising for the movie, they talk about the five stages. Yeah, and I really think it’s more popular than ever. I mean, it’s just everywhere I look. It’s used. There’s been over 60 musicians I’ve identified, who’ve done songs or albums based on the five stages or Elizabeth. I mean, how many grief theories have 60 songs written about it, or albums written about it, or like EP is like, every song is one of the stages. There’s even two bands named Kubler Ross. You know, she’s like part of popular media, like not only her stages, but she is part of it. Her voice is used in rock songs. It’s so bizarre to me sometimes.

Victoria Volk 1:05:46
Wow. She’s embedded in our culture, very much. so

Ken Ross 1:05:50
bizarre, though. It’s like, wow, where’s this gonna continue going? Like one’s gonna stop.

Victoria Volk 1:05:55
So did she clarify more of that in her later work in books.

Ken Ross 1:06:03
She really tried not to talk about it. She was like, fed up with the conversation. But right before her death, were contacted by another grief worker, David Kessler. And you know, we were contacted literally every week, can I write a book with your mother? Can I do this. And finally, I was kind of sick of it, too. So I said, you know, maybe it’s a good idea. Maybe we should talk about this way, agreed to let David work with my mom. And they did a book which just happened out here on grief, and grieving in which she further clarified and David helped clarify the five stages of grief. And again, this book is like in the top 20 or so sellers, you know, of all grief books, even now, you know, 1617 years after mom died. And sometimes it sells better than on death and dying. is still 17 years after she does. So the book came out in 2005, I think. But it’s still selling extremely well. And we’re still selling it. I think just in the last few months, we sold it in Vietnamese, Cantonese, in Mongolian. In Thai, I mean, it’s just like, it has a life of its own. It’s just unbelievable.

Victoria Volk 1:07:29
Now it’s almost it’s as if her work has a life of its own. Now it’s

Ken Ross 1:07:33
your soul to work in Farsi for the first time. And it just wow me just keeps on spreading out.

Victoria Volk 1:07:42
And you can you share quickly too on the death and die on death and dying her that first book you had mentioned to me before we started recording where how many languages and I just found it very fascinating. The fact that you shared about

Ken Ross 1:07:57
Yeah, love about this book is that is both in Hebrew and Arabic. We sold Arabic for the first time about six months ago in Saudi Arabia. So they have a psychology book in Arabic and Hebrew at the same time is just incredible. It’s really unusual. And it just speaks to the university ality of the language and message of what’s held in this book, which is not just about the stages, of course, it’s about the experiences that Diane go through, and find this language that we can have between the doctors and the patients, and make it easy to have a conversation where there’s not normally a common language between medical staff and and laymen who are dying or their families. So the new edition, the 50th anniversary edition also includes her testimony before Congress in 1972. she testified before the Committee on aging, that the way people die in this country was disgusting, and unacceptable, and we had to do something about it. So it’s just amazing to have this little Swiss hillbilly lecture in the Senate. how people should die in this country. The whole whole testimony is now in the 50th anniversary edition, which has the blue cover.

Victoria Volk 1:09:12
And I’m not sure anything has really changed. You know, I mean,

Ken Ross 1:09:16
it’s happened slowly. We have the death doulas now we didn’t have Yes, that’s true. That’s true years ago. So that is a sign of progress. Yeah, it’s so slow, but it’s, you know, it’s kind of glacier. Like,

Victoria Volk 1:09:28
is that what gives you the most hope for her work?

Ken Ross 1:09:31
Well, the fact that you know, we have four new languages in one year that we never had in 50 years is just incredible. Like, you know, I think after 50 years, the thing will have died a peaceful death. But, you know, the fact that in this last year for the first time we published in Albanian, Arabic, Farsi and Mongolian You know, that’s amazing for a book that’s half a century old. And that, you know, we keep having new foundations pop up around the world. And have this beautiful honor. So Elizabeth, and people wanting to, you know, start like book clubs in Mongolia. And we just got contacted by a group in Kenya that wants to do something with the foundation. And, you know, I really see her legacy is very much alive and appreciated, and some people are stuck on the five stages, there’s realize that, you know, Elizabeth work is very broad spectrum, and universal, you know, culturally and religiously and everything wise, it just speaks to people. And something, the way Elizabeth lived, her life just inspires people, because so many people write about the wheel of life and say, just radically transformed our life and they were suicidal. But after they read the book, they want to devote their life to hospice, or the dying, or they want to live again, it’s just, you know, amazing that letters just keep on coming in for decades and decades.

Victoria Volk 1:10:55
That’s amazing. I know, as a grief recovery specialist, and we kind of talked about this briefly before, but because there are people that poopoo, the five stages, and, and there might be some grief recovery specialists out there listening to this, that maybe were taught that I don’t know, but I personally wasn’t my training, what I was taught was that the five stages were about people who are going through terminal illness. And that’s when, you know, that’s when she was conducting that work, and that it was misinterpreted to be about,

Ken Ross 1:11:25
right, that’s a common thing people say, but

Victoria Volk 1:11:28
but I would add, it’s not, I would not deny that all of those things that she mentions don’t happen, like I absolutely full heartedly. And I think any grief recovery specialist would agree that there are emotions and feelings that someone goes through sometimes in the same moment, you know, you just, you’re angry, and you’re sad, and you’re all the things. You know, it’s that’s the complexity of grief.

Ken Ross 1:11:56
Right? So here 1974. In our second book, she said, I hope I’m making it clear that patients do not necessarily follow a classical pattern from the stage of denial to the stage of anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Most of my patients have exhibited multiple stages simultaneously, right? So here’s the saying is not linear. So right. Now, if you look up the Google critiques complaints about the five stages there, many of them are, they’re not linear. Well, she said this herself in black and white in a book. And then here in the same book, she says, Please tie in the stages of dying with loss of sight, meaning that they apply to other loss and change events. Right. And this later became the Kubler Ross change, which is used, you know, by 1000s of companies, and nobody complains about that. Identify, you know, a reaction to loss and change, which could be applied to grief. And yet, maybe not, but it seems to be applied to everything.

Victoria Volk 1:12:58
I think it’s just the context in which people refer to it. And how people interpret it think people put their phone filler words in, you know, like, instead of really looking at, like what you just read, people hear what they want, right? I think that’s really what it comes down to people are going to hear what they want. And

Ken Ross 1:13:17
yes, it was like, while she’s writing at the stages of dying, but I think within months, she changed it to the stages of grief or stages of loss. So I mean, she was also learning about it as she was writing about it. And I think, I mean, I think within 12 months, she was saying, okay, it’s not just that I’ve realized it’s applies to other people on things. So technically, yes, but I mean, by a few months. So I mean, are you going to hold her? Like you’re inventing the light bulb? Like, well, a light bulb was only meant to be a light bulb? And then six months later, it’s used for something else does that mean, they were wrong? It’s like, no, they were still learning. Right? Yes, originally, in a six month period of mean, but over the last 50 years, you can hold her to that six month period, like, you know, you want to be a technocrat, yes. set up for that. But for a very brief moment, and even though boxes already beginning to identify, you know that the families are going through it, if you look on page 162, you’ll see she’s already beginning to refer to other people from through the stages.

Victoria Volk 1:14:26
Right? And they’re not stages, right, though? That’s not Yeah, that’s, I think that’s that word,

Ken Ross 1:14:33
inverted comments to say, Hey, I’m using this word, but I mean, don’t hang me on this word, right? And that’s what they’re doing, or phases or periods or whatever. It’s, it’s just a way to describe something. It’s not, you know, a I’m from Switzerland, and I don’t have a great command of the English language. And be you know, I’ve never written a book before. So don’t hang me on like, every nuance of every word, right? I’m trying to have, you know, give you a tool. To build a conversation around this thing that no one’s talking

Victoria Volk 1:15:03
about, so which she did, yeah, ultimately, we’re still debating it.

Ken Ross 1:15:07
50 years. Like that there’s 10s of 1000s. People said, I went through the five stages says, hey, there’s something to it. The fact that it’s the most popular brief theory in the world 50 years later says, hey, there’s got to be something to it. So it’s not the only one. It’s not right. It’s not wrong. It’s just a tool, you can use it, don’t use it, just don’t get hooked into it being like this, like written in stone is just a tool to begin framing a conversation. So that’s all it is.

Victoria Volk 1:15:40
You know, when we don’t ask like, Oh, well, what stage are you in? You’re asking, How are you feeling? Right? You know,

Ken Ross 1:15:47
people do say that. Really? Well.

Victoria Volk 1:15:50
Yeah. I guess I haven’t had people on my podcast to talk about grief, their grief. They haven’t been asked that like, Oh, well, what stage are you in? But do people probably say behind their back? Or what stage? Do you think she’s in? You know, probably.

Ken Ross 1:16:05
Yeah. I mean, if you look at any number of dozens TV shows,

Victoria Volk 1:16:08
like, Oh, for sure. like

Ken Ross 1:16:11
Michael Douglas, Alan Watts, or like, what was it the bucket list? Right. Morgan Friedman. Yeah. having a conversation. What stage are you in? denial?

Victoria Volk 1:16:22
Yeah, certainly, and TV and things like that. But I would hope in like real conversation. I don’t know that that is necessarily that

Ken Ross 1:16:29
within that projects, like, Oh, well, maybe I should know what stage I’m in. Right? Yes, there. Yeah. Morgan Freeman talking about it, you know?

Victoria Volk 1:16:37
Yeah, well, oh, I shouldn’t be I should be out of anger by now. And on to, you know, denial or

Ken Ross 1:16:45
at all whatever. Nicholson said he’s in denial. What stage Am I in? Yeah.

Victoria Volk 1:16:49
Crazy how that has just evolved over time. And I imagine where we could probably sit and have the same conversation, maybe 510 years from now?

Ken Ross 1:16:59
Yes, for sure.

Victoria Volk 1:17:01
What has your grief taught you? I mean, because you’ve lost obviously, you lost your mom and your dad, and you’ve lost people and throughout your life, and what has your grief taught you?

Ken Ross 1:17:14
Yeah, it’s just a reminder that, you know, time is finite, everything is finite. Every living thing is finite. And everything you’re doing is finite. So enjoy it, love it, absorb it, appreciate it, but just realize that

Victoria Volk 1:17:27
he got let go and roll the

Ken Ross 1:17:28
dice over everything, including yourself. So yeah, just realize that everything is transitory in life. And don’t get you know, it’s one thing my father said to me when I was young This is the people who succeed the best are the people realize that everything in life is transitory, right? You know, whatever you’re comfortable with. Don’t get too comfortable with it. Because people succeed when they learn to roll with changes and everything changes everything. You know, the love of your life, your pets, your whatever, your your health, your youth, your job, everything is transitory. So you know that people succeed who realize that, you know, he can’t hang on to it too tightly.

Victoria Volk 1:18:08
Sorry, good advice. So where do you see yourself 510 years from now? Where would you like to see yourself? 510 years from now? Where would you like to see the foundation? I have like three questions in there.

Ken Ross 1:18:22
Um, I’d like to see us have a bigger staff. So I get some help, of course. And, you know, I’d love to have like 30 chapters around the world, and the staff to support it, not just me. And I’d like to see Stanford continued to evolve that digital library, because I gave them 64 boxes of material. So there’s tons of tapes that have never been transcribed really made public. So I just released a few on our YouTube channel. But there’s a lot of stuff they said they want to go what they say they call it they want to go gold mining in my mom’s paperwork and and find amazing things and they are they want to devote just a person does full time to kind of mine through Elizabeth’s archives.

Victoria Volk 1:19:08
Wow. That’d be a cool job.

Ken Ross 1:19:11

Victoria Volk 1:19:12
Is there anything else you would like to share? Either about your life, your mom’s work? Anything else? What do you want people to know the most?

Ken Ross 1:19:23
Well, I feel like I’m doing what I want like five years. Like I’m doing it now. Like there’s no like I’m aiming towards like, like I said, I want to do everything now. So I’m trying to grow the foundation. I’m trying to preserve our work for future generations, trying to kind of fight them Miss information about the five stages. try and do this feature movie on mom because that will help younger generations get to know her who didn’t grow up with her in the press so much and in honestly my mom’s legacy in a way that’s realistic and describes what she really did. And that kind of wide breadth of her Work not just the silly five stages. Yeah. So and you know, I, I went to 101 countries so now maybe like 125 135. So, but there’s no particular number I’m in competition with my cousin. He’s at 104. So the competitions on Oh funny. Want to keep doing it until my back goes out

Victoria Volk 1:20:22
well where can people find you if they want to either your personal work and also your mom’s work?

Ken Ross 1:20:29
Well, we have numerous websites and numerous languages we have websites in English, French, Flemish, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, we have maybe a dozen Facebook pages again in various languages. We have aka Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross foundation in Chile, in Argentina, or Uruguay and Peru, Guatemala, Mexico, Japan, Belgium, French, hopefully starting Colombia soon and so numerous websites just type in Elisabeth Kubler Ross Foundation, and pick your language. We’re on Instagram Of course, and we have that in three languages. We’re unlinked in we are on Pinterest, and I am on Instagram Kinross, photography, and Ken rose photography calm, and I’m on LinkedIn. And I think we do everything except tik tok so far. We draw the line Snapchat, yeah, Snapchat. We don’t do that either. And then we you know, we’re working with other groups. We’re working with, like Colin Perry, you know, her American fan apologist. She does some really interesting work. We’re doing a conference with her called the nature of grief. Talking about our nature and grief combines like how our flowers used in Santa otology. You know, or trying to not, you know, not just do old school, but do new school too. And kozun some great work we’re doing. Yeah, I know more interesting things with different universities around the world. We’re trying to some project with Stanford with St. Christopher’s the press hospice in England. Oh, and a number of different people. Yeah, when US, Canada, Mexico, I think we’ve got over 50 collaborations going. So it’s a wide world out there. So trying to get the word out there and be part of the conversation. You know, there’s other great groups like reimagine and Michael hubbs group is great. You know, the death cafe’s the death over dinner. A lot of great groups doing interesting work out there. The green burial council trying to bury people in a more ecologically sound manner. So we’re beginning to work with them. Leaving a lot of stuff happening. We’re doing our education series in the fall. We have people usually from about 30 different countries attend that. We’ve had interesting speakers like William Warden IRA Byock, some my mom’s workshop staff, Joanne cacciatore. Do you know about her and the Miss foundation? She does amazing work, you should have her on your on your call. She has a grief farm up near Sedona. And she rescues animals and she finds there’s this beautiful bond between rescued animals and people going through grief especially when they’ve lost children. And somehow they really attach on to rescued animals. There’s like a shared grief and pain. So she does amazing work and she is a Brainiac. I love chatting with her. She is so wicked smart. She did a book called bearing the unbearable, beautiful book, got great reviews. I definitely recommend that book to anybody. And she was principally with parents who have lost children meaning a lot of great people out there. I’m doing a project with open to hope next week or shooting a video in Los Angeles. Okay, so Gloria and Heidi Horsley and they’ve they opened hope channel on YouTube.

Victoria Volk 1:24:12
It’s just amazing to me that I pinned you down for this conversation. So again, thank you again so much for your time and sharing about your mom’s work and about your life and your amazing insights into what you’ve learned from her from your mom and what you’ve applied from that in your own life.

Ken Ross 1:24:36

Victoria Volk 1:24:37
Yeah, the dice theory. I love it. Yeah. I will put I guess I can’t put all of those links to everything in the show notes but I will definitely put where to contact you. station

Ken Ross 1:24:51
with them and Facebook and the website. Yeah. Oh, and if you can also if people want to learn more about mom radio lab, just did a piece National Public Radio’s radio lab. Yes, I’ve been radiolab Kubler Ross, they have an hour long piece that just came out last week. That’s a great piece. That’s kind of young hip, and I know how to drive it. This is very different.

Victoria Volk 1:25:15
I think you mentioned earlier, it’s about 91%. accurate.

Ken Ross 1:25:18
Yeah, it’s like, you know, the MTV version of Elizabeth has been trendy and irreverent. But they get pretty close. Right? You know,

Victoria Volk 1:25:27
okay. I will link to that one in the show notes

Ken Ross 1:25:29
and argue with a few odds and ends. But what they say the Mick Jagger of death, had trouble dying herself. I’m like, well, she had no trouble, you know, dying. It’s like the stroke part was hard. It’s hard for anybody, but she had no trouble of death. It’s just being in pain for nine years, and not being able to work or have fun. You’re going to be a little angry.

Victoria Volk 1:25:50
Right, especially living the life she had led, right? I mean,

Ken Ross 1:25:53
wild overachiever. So to go from 10,000% you know, 1% is hard. Yeah. And, but I really like the you know, Rachel did a great a great PSA, I have no issues with it. I really like it a lot.

Victoria Volk 1:26:09
It just makes you wonder like just being a human being. It just makes you wonder someone who has sparked such an amazing conversation to have about grief and opened up the conversation in the first place. And all the work that she’s done, and then that’s what her last nine years were like, it’s disheartening. Even for me, you know, to know that that’s what that was like for her.

Ken Ross 1:26:34
Take a look at that Oprah interview on YouTube. And you’ll see she still has a lot of spark left. And even though she was retired and paralyzed, she still had like four books. Yeah, that’s true. couldn’t quite Stop, stop.

Victoria Volk 1:26:45
Well, that’s true. And that’s again, that’s speaks to don’t put yourself in a box. Like don’t limit yourself. And I think that’s one of the greatest messages today on this podcast from you and from her life is it can’t teach wrote the only limitations you have are the ones that you put on yourself.

Ken Ross 1:27:02
Absolutely. I mean, I didn’t study photography, but I went out and shot 101 country isn’t. And I did endless number of wacky things.

Victoria Volk 1:27:11
Do you think though that grief, in part was her teacher in that like, really, too, because what I believe is that grief is the the illuminator like it really shows us the contrast of what we don’t want that we really see what we do want

Ken Ross 1:27:29
the equalizer and how much how much money or fame or whatever we have, we’re all gonna die. Exactly. You know, we all end up at the same base their range, what do we do with this little short time we have, you know, make it seem like 100 lifetimes, you know, if you live it, right, you can make Yeah, I feel like I’ve lived 100 lifetimes already with all the stuff I’ve done. So yeah, I’m just a wee while Wow, that was amazing. Like, I have no complaints like, lucky me.

Victoria Volk 1:27:56
I’m a I’m just a wee bit jealous. But again, it’s accepting where we are, in our lives like exactly where we are. And this is where I’m meant to be as a mom of three kids. And National Geographic just wasn’t my calling. I guess, when I was a kid.

Ken Ross 1:28:15
I didn’t get married, because I knew I wanted to travel. And I didn’t want to be an absentee parent, like my mother was not that I have an issue with my mother. But I knew like, you know, I was different. I didn’t mind it. But I didn’t want to assume that my kids wouldn’t mind me not being home, because I really had to do that. So I said, I’m going to go photograph 101 countries, so and they have all the experiences with golf.

Victoria Volk 1:28:40
Since you went there, and since you mentioned that, can I ask them if that lies last nine years was really kind of a gift for you, in that you had nothing but time with your mom to kind of connect in a deeper way.

Ken Ross 1:28:53
It was ironic because you know, for the first nine years, she was regular mom, and then she left to do our stuff. And for the last nine years, I was her parent, right? So it’s kind of ironic that nine years here and nine years there, and in between were like weaved in and out and hung out in you know, funky places around the world. So but last night, he was Yeah, I got to spend, you know, all the time with her even though she complains I was never around much. But her ideas like not much is like, you know, three, four times a week. I’m like mom, I you know, I have a huge pile of your mail that I’m working on at home. It’s like, I don’t care about that I want some tea or I want to go shopping or I want to go somebody has to do this stuff and

Victoria Volk 1:29:42
the problems with leaving a legacy right?

Ken Ross 1:29:44
Yes. So like I’m gonna inherit it one day, my sister and I so you know, I’d like to inherit something that’s kind of his structure and I can digest not a chaos. Wow. So I mean, I have like 7000 emails right now. And hundreds of messages. And this is you know, 17 years after she died, so.

Victoria Volk 1:30:06
And I’m so grateful you answered mine. So again,

Ken Ross 1:30:11
oh, my pleasure. It’s nice to hear and smell the roses. Yeah.

Victoria Volk 1:30:16
Well, thank you again so much. I could just hang out all day. I really could. Would you? Sure? Oh, yay. Okay. I’m holding you to it. Sounds good. All right. Thank you again. And remember, when you unleash your heart, you unleash your life. Much love. From my heart to yours. Thank you for listening. If you liked this episode, please share it because Sharing is caring. And until next time, give and share compassion by being hurt with yours. And if you’re hurting, know that what you’re feeling is normal and natural. Much love my friend.


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