Updated: Jul 4, 2019
It is through the gift of unconditional love that our "fur-kids" transform us, heal us and help us experience more of the wonders that this life has to offer. And, sometimes...if we can traverse the journey with mindfulness, compassion and understanding...they can also help us heal as we learn that the process of dying can be embarked upon with an open heart and an acceptance of the natural rhythms of this life on Earth.
I think we often forget, or want to deny, that death is a natural part of life. If we as a society could learn to respect and honor end of life and learn how to support the beings in our care through that process, instead of marginalizing and avoiding the topic as uncomfortable, we may be able to find a great richness and healthy closure by approaching this very important stage of life. We tend to run away from pain. What if we could embrace it for the healing and cathartic lesson that it can be, an opportunity to open our hearts and really embrace and appreciate the miracle and treasure of life. What if, through the experience of cancer, we can learn to be present in each moment rather than worrying about the future or regretting the past. Wouldn't that be a precious gift?
There are many veterinarians who now specifically practice hospice care and end-of-life care. This has been an invaluable service to so many of my clients and patients. If you are in his stage of life with your beloved pet, I encourage you to work with your primary care veterinarian to connect with a veterinarian in your area who can help you traverse this very vital time of honoring life and finding closure as this chapter of your lives together comes to completion.
COMPASSIONATE SELF-CARE AND A WIDER PERSPECTIVE
There are so many ways we can grow and heal and develop in our compassion if we allow ourselves to fully engage with life in a balanced way that understands that this human experience is inherently a life of polarities. Love balances Fear. Joy balances Sadness. Life balances Death. That is what it means to be human.
To be a Whole human and live a Whole life, we need to embrace all of it and see it for what it is outside of our labels, attractions and aversions. Life is: Experience. Feeling. Sensation. Growth. Opportunity.
Every experience is an opportunity if we can learn to see it through that lens. Because this isn't how we are conditioned to see things, because we are habituated to "reacting" to life rather than "responding" to life, this takes conscious effort. Practices like mindfulness meditation and taking advantage of grief support services are important to help you process and traverse your own grieving process to find closure and acceptance. (This is not the job of your veterinarian by the way...we are not trained in that...ask your veterinarian for a grief support service).
Proactively dedicating this time to self-care practices is just as important to your pet's care and emotional well-being as anything else you are doing. It allows you to be fully present in the experience you are creating with your pet and to get the most out of the time you have together. Because, whether you realize it or not, they feel what you feel. And, importantly, when you are faced with the time to make a decision about assisting them in transitioning from this life, you will be able to be present with them in a way that gives their spirit peace.
I've put together a free webinar series which I hope will give you some helpful tools in finding peace amongst the challenges that we face in life, including a difficult diagnosis or the impending loss of someone we love. The link can be found here.
SUPPORTING A PEACEFUL TRANSITION
When at all possible, a loved one would ideally leave the world in an environment of peace and acceptance. This type of environment honors their life for the gift that it was, no matter how long or short, and provides an emotional space supporting their transition out of this world. It also provides a healthy space for you to release your attachment to them and say goodbye. Regardless of your beliefs about what happens after this life, this way of engaging with the last goodbye supports you both, so that you may both move on to your next experiences while holding and honoring the love that is shared between you.
For this to happen, you need to process and traverse your own grieving process in a healthy way to find closure and acceptance. Seeking out support and professional guidance if you are really struggling with this can be a great gift to you both.
Your beloved pet senses the emotions you are feeling. They are very bonded with you. And they want to make you happy. This doesn't change as they are preparing to leave the world. In a perfect situation, you would be able to hold a space of peacefulness for them during their last moments.
Although you may be extremely heartbroken at the thought of life without them by your side, ideally they would sense and feel from you that, underneath the sadness at the surface, you have made peace with yourself, that you love them, and that you are giving them permission to leave. That you will be okay.
This doesn't mean you won't cry. Because, of course you will. But see if you can think of, imagine or feel the difference between the following two scenarios: 1.) a cry filled with love and acceptance and a peaceful grief over what is being lost, honored and released 2.) an anguished sob that is hysterical or panicked and full of anxiety, anguish, guilt and grasping to a life which is ending.
A peaceful acceptance, in the midst of your natural sadness, is the greatest gift you can give to both of you.
I'm not saying it is easy. But it is possible. It can be a beautiful way to part and to honor your bond with them. And I have seen the difference it makes to a peaceful transition for them as they depart.
CREATING A PEACEFUL SPACE
It can be very helpful to physically create a space which supports a calm environment if you are fortunate enough to be able to plan for your last goodbye. This is often easy to prepare if you plan to help your pet transition at your home. But some of these things may be possible to create in a veterinary clinic. If you feel drawn to doing this, it may be worth speaking to your veterinarian who is helping you assist your pet in transitioning to see if you can bring a few things with you to make the space feel personal for you and your pet. (Be sure to allot extra time if needed.)
These are some of the things I find can be a sweet way to create a little sacred space, or support peaceful feelings, during this time of transition for you both.
1.) A bouquet of flowers: Soft colors can support peacefulness. Or maybe you'd prefer bright colors to bring a little remembrance of their playfulness, or rainbow colors if you want to have a representation of the "Rainbow bridge" that they will be crossing.
2.) Their favorite blanket, toy or bed. Or maybe some clothes that smell like the people they love the most, especially if those people cannot be physically present (or would prefer not to be - which is also always okay).
3.) Create a soothing environment: soft lighting if possible and/or some soft, calm, soothing music. If at home, you could light a candle in honor of their life and the love they brought into yours. If at the clinic, maybe the lights could be dimmed, a desk lamp could be used instead of the overhead lighting, or natural light if there is a window in the room. Some soft music from a portable speaker can be a nice touch.
4.) Make sure your phone is turned off so there won't be any interruptions or unexpected avoidable loud noises that might startle you or your pet.
In the end, our intention is one of the most important things that supports the environment we are trying to create. If you are faced with an unexpected or emergency situation, it may still be possible for you to hold the intention of these things in your heart as you whisper loving words to them.
And, after they are gone...be gentle with yourself. Give yourself time to grieve. And give yourself permission to be happy as well. They would want you to be happy.