Thank You, Elisabeth – by Sue Marsden

Categories: Opinion and People & Places.

A book relating the musings and journey of a Palliative Medicine Specialist. “Thank you, Elisabeth” relates stories of people towards the end of life, that I have worked with over the years, as a palliative care/hospice doctor.

These brave people have continued to teach me the vital importance of self- awareness and reflection when working with people who are suffering.

I moved into Palliative Medicine in the late 1980s after a career in Radiation Oncology.

It was just then that I was fortunate to meet Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. She was the renowned expert on death and dying, who in the 1960s and 70’s started to really talk to and address the needs of the dying.

This was at a time when death and dying were essentially taboo topics certainly in Western culture. This diminutive, feisty Swiss born woman practised as a psychiatrist in Chicago where she turned thinking about care of the dying on its head.

The workshop where I met Elisabeth was nothing like the usual medical didactic teaching.

We were challenged to our core. I was introduced to the importance of being aware of my own emotional issues when working with people who are suffering.

Elisabeth seemed to be looking directly at me when she said “If you want to work with the dying, deal with your own shit first!”

At first I didn’t have a clue what she meant but this gradually became clear and has continued to resonate during 30 years working in palliative medicine.

In a nut shell; I learnt that, with more self-awareness there is less likelihood of projecting my own issues into the situation and potentially adding to suffering. And, there is less likelihood of the my developing “compassion fatigue” or “burn-out”.

I shall always be indebted to Elisabeth and her team for introducing me to these vital concepts. Concepts which not only help people to die more peacefully but also to live with more authenticity and joy.

I have worked in palliative medicine in many settings in New Zealand and Australia. These include, in hospitals and hospices as well as urban and rural community settings.

Alongside my work in palliative medicine, after training with Elisabeth’s organization, I was honoured to be asked to become part of her facilitating team for workshops in New Zealand and Australia. When her international organization came to an end, I was involved in continuing similar self-care workshops in this part of the world as well as Zimbabwe, several Asian countries, Samoa and USA.

The stories in the book are from many of these places and emphasise to me the universality of the human condition. The owners of the stories have continued to show me the importance of self-awareness and self-reflection. Self-awareness should  not just be a ‘nice extra’ in clinical care but an ongoing clinical responsibility. We owe it to our patients and their families and we owe it to ourselves.


“Thank you, Elisabeth is an exquisitely honest and moving account of the journeys a palliative care  physician and her patients travel together. It is an insightful book that highlights the importance of the practice of self-reflection, where there are new learnings in every encounter.
I honour Sue Marsden for the wisdom, insight and experience she brings to the field of Palliative Care.”

“Thank you, Sue, for this compelling and compassionate reminder of the importance of self-awareness and self-reflection to not only serve patients and their families at the end of their life’s journey, but also to truly live authentically and be fully present in all aspects of one’s life. Highly recommend this beautiful book.”


Author bio:
Sue Marsden is a Palliative Medicine Specialist, moving into palliative medicine after 10 years as an Oncologist, and establishing the first palliative care service at Waikato Hospital.

About the same time, she met Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, world renowned thanatologist. This was a pivotal experience both professionally and personally.

Dr Ross introduced her to the vital need for self- reflection and self-awareness when working with those approaching the end of life and indeed anyone with loss and grief in their lives. Sue went on to become part of Dr Ross’ Australasian facilitating team for her ‘Life Death and Transition’ workshops.

She facilitated at these and similar workshops in New Zealand, Australia, USA, Zimbabwe and South East Asia. At the same time Sue taught palliative medicine, as well as in Australasia, in South East Asia and Samoa. She has served on the Hospice New Zealand Council and the Asia Pacific Hospice and Palliative Care Network Council while working in various hospital, hospice and community settings in New Zealand and Australia as a palliative medicine specialist.

Sue has three children and four energetic grandchildren. Whenever she can she skis, walks, travels and reads


Published by: Mary Egan Publishing

You can obtain Sue’s book from the following:

The Nile


I know that colleagues in UK and Canada have used the Mighty Ape website


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *