RadioLab’s “The Queen of Dying”

RadioLab has long been one of my favorite podcasts. If we had an unlimited budget these are the kinds of shows we’d produce. That’s why it’s so exciting when the talented production team at RadioLab focuses their time and attention on the end-of-life experience.

In this episode you’ll hear producer Rachel Cusick share her research on Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a famous but complicated figure in the deathcare movement. You can play the episode here. Below I’ve shared some notes and thoughts about the episode.

Notes from listening to “The Queen of Dying”

  • Around the 12:00 mark it’s interesting to hear about why the hospital staff didn’t want to talk about or see any dying patients. Author Stephen Jenkins talks about this phenomena extensively in his book, “Die Wise”.
  • “We don’t want to be known as a ‘death and dying’ hospital” say the hospital administrators around the 24:00 mark. In spite of the fact that seminars on death and dying were growing in popularity, doctors were against doing them.
  • Hearing about the popularity of “On Death and Dying” is surprising to reminded about. Her book tour sold out concert halls.
  • The 5 Stages that became so popular were not about grief of the survivors, they were the emotions felt by the dying patients and were designed to provide a common language for people to communite with each other. (around 29:00)
  • Around the 38:00 mark we start to learn about a troubling chaptner in Kubler-Ross’s life when she started speaking with dead people and running healing centers where many people reported having strange and inappropriate sexual interactions.
  • At 46:00 we hear how the 5 stages of dying morphed into the 5 stages of grief around the end of Elizabeth’s life. The book that made this leap was published posthumously and in some ways it undermined the earlier works.
  • 50:45 – BJ Miller cameo!!! (I’m a fan)
  • I feel grateful to have learned about Tom Reilly’s “Eff Cancer“. His comments about his kids feedback that he’s ‘teaching them too much’ or the boredom or how he cries at times were so emotionally compelling. If you listen to nothing else in this episode I recommend this part around 56:00. Wow.
  • I look forward to listening to the companion episode of the “Death, Sex, and Money” podcast: “When Grief Doesn’t Move in Stages”.

About RadioLab

Created in 2002 by host Jad Abumrad, Radiolab began as an exploration of science, philosophy, and ethics using innovative composition and sound design. Radiolab has expanded and evolved to become a platform for long-form journalism and storytelling. The show challenges its listeners’ preconceived notions about how the world works. Radiolab provokes, it moves, it delights, and it asks its audience to see the world around them anew. 

Radiolab is co-hosted by Lulu Miller and Latif Nasser. Longtime co-host Robert Krulwich retired in February 2020.