The word influencer is used these days to describe a person with the ability to influence public buying habits by promoting or recommending products or services on social media. People make entire careers out of being influencers.
In truth, we’re all influencers in one way or another. Life is an interactive gig. We can’t help but be touched and impacted by people, often for as long as a relationship lasts and sometimes even after. But occasionally, a single brief encounter can influence a life. Or a career.
Decades ago, when I was starting out as a journalist, I was lucky enough to interview Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. This was probably fifteen years after she published her classic book ‘On Death and Dying’, but before she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She was in the prime of her career at the time and landing the interview was something of a coup. I can’t remember how it came about but I remember the interview itself quite clearly.
She was humble and unassuming, but strongly committed to erasing the taboos around death, and more than willing to deviate from the traditional questions I was expected to ask. I had a deep personal interest in the spiritual side of death, and while that was covered in many of her books, she was also becoming known for exploring more mystical elements like near-death and out-of-body experiences, even mediumship, all elements that didn’t go over well in the traditional medical sphere she operated in.
We spoke for several hours, much longer than she’d originally agreed to. I remember the passion she had for her subject, and how engaged she was with me, a young newbie journalist starting out. She was intensely encouraging, suggesting other books I could read, places I could go to explore further (this was pre-internet) my interest in the spiritual side of death and dying.
Her influence has stayed with me, both in my personal life as I’ve witnessed people I love passing on, and also in my work. I relied on Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief when Cate, the heroine in No Right Thing, had to say goodbye to someone she loved. I turned to Kubler-Ross’s work when I wrote The Art of Getting Stared At, utilizing the five stages of grief when Sloane loses all her hair because of alopecia. And I’m using the mystical, spiritual side of Kubler Ross’s research in my work-in-progress, Something About Julian.
A brief encounter in my life but an influential one. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross would have been 93 today. I leave you with one of her many wonderful quotes.