As we open ourselves to these 4-legged sages, we can discover the capacity to love without judgment. The freedom of this is a great blessing. If you experience even one moment of loving freely you know the joy of being unburdened by the past, the future, your conditioning, your conclusions and assumptions. In this moment of being fully present, you realize that you are home and at peace. This glimpse into your own heart, into eternity, is available at every moment, but is perhaps most available when death is near
When our animals become ill we naturally want to do what we can to alleviate discomfort, and if possible, to cure them. But at some point the body is finished and it is time to let go.
The dying process, if it is not sudden, allows us to come to terms with loss. It is a powerful time; perhaps the most powerful time in your life. The future is closed and all you have is this moment. Knowing that there is no tomorrow makes you acutely aware of the preciousness of this time with your animal. You are stopped: you say “no” to your usual postponements. There is an opportunity for an intimacy you never experienced before and there is time to say good-bye in a way that is meaningful.
I am often asked, “How will I know when it is time?” My answer is this: you cannot know in your mind. You can only know by listening to your heart. Your connection to your animal is not in your thoughts, but through your heart/soul. You can trust heart-knowing always, even if it doesn’t match your intellectual expectations. In every case in which I have borne witness, there came a time when it was “clear”. This usually occurs when medicines no longer provide relief and/or the animal refuses help.
Many families are deciding that they want to provide end-of-life care for their animals at home. In most cases this is a realistic expectation. You can provide supportive care and we can use homeopathic medicines (+/- drugs) to relieve discomfort and to ease the dying process. Bach flowers are also helpful.
Physical discomfort is sometimes part of the dying process. It is important to notice if you are fighting it. You will not help your animal by struggling against pain; that actually makes it worse. Once you have done what can be done, just be present. Focus on the love rather than your distress. This is the best support. It is the support our animals offer us when we are sick.
The Gift of Life
The gift of a life is that it offers each of us a unique opportunity for self discovery. To the extent that we can embrace both joy and sorrow, beauty and horror, we receive the fullness of that gift. To discover peace in the center of pain, love in the core of fear, tenderness in tragedy or joy in grief, is to discover the unexpected multi-dimensionality of love. And because our lives are limited, they are precious.
As human beings in a western culture we esteem productivity, the intellect and material wealth, and yet we long for something richer, more fulfilling. Our animal companions offer us an answer, just by being themselves. They find joy in the simple things. They accept life as it is, the joy as well as the pain. Unlike most people, they offer no resistance; thus, they don’t create unnecessary suffering by making up stories about how things (and people) should be different. They don’t make themselves victims when life is uncomfortable. In this, they demonstrate what all the sages point to- the capacity to live and love fully and freely.
It used to be common practice to take dying animals to the vet for euthanasia. There can be a lot of external pressure to “prevent future suffering”; however, if animals are euthanized prematurely there may be doubt and regret later.
Increasingly it isn’t necessary to euthanize. Animals can die naturally, without undue suffering. There are cases (unremitting pain, respiratory distress) that warrant humane euthanasia. In these cases contact a house call vet who will come to the house when you are ready.
Losing an animal is losing a friend, losing a member of your family. Grief is a natural process, and an individual process. It can take any form. Local veterinary organizations sponsor support groups, where you can meet and speak with others who are also in grief. For others of us, it is very healing to have a memorial service or to write a tribute or a poem.
There can be no grief unless there has been love. Many people, in an effort to avoid the pain of grief actually never enter into it and thus never discover that the healing is in the grief. At the very heart of it, pain is indistinguishable from love. And there you discover, that while the body of your pet may be gone, the love is eternal.