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Making the Golden Years With Your Pet Shine

Posted by Eliza, February 2nd, 2015

Our animal companions enrich our lives: they greet us with enthusiasm, they forgive easily, and they remind us to live in and for the moment. Their unconditional affection makes considering the end of their lives hard, even impossible for some. In my work with animal caregivers, I help people facing the many issues that arise during end-of-life care, and have found it a time when we can enrich their lives, as well as our own, by thinking ahead.

I’d like to offer a few thoughts based on my observations and the feedback from people I’ve accompanied on the final journey with their beloved:

We all want, for ourselves and for our beloved animals, a peaceful death, surrounded by loved ones, surrounded by comfort and beauty. More often death catches us off guard, posing tough, urgent questions. With some attention and honest conversations ahead of time, measures of peace and comfort can be found in the midst of crisis.

1) Talk with those involved in the animal’s life before old age or a health crisis hits about what makes up the quality of the animal’s life: for example, what would be a sign that the animal no longer wants to live; what would they hope for the final moments, in a natural death or euthanasia situation; who would like to be there, or not. And talk to your vet, again ahead of a crisis, about options for palliative care, should it be needed, or for at-home euthanasia. Take notes! Revise as you gain understanding or situations change. You’ll be glad to have them in an emergency to remind you of priorities and needs.

2) When it becomes clear that the end of life is coming close, enjoy your time with your pet as much as possible. We live on in memories, so make as many as possible: share a McDonald’s burger, or those chicken fingers your pet loves; go to the beach, even if your pet can no longer walk – sit and smell the air, listen to the gulls, feel the sand; talk with your pet and tell him/her how much you love him/her. And assure him/her you’ll be okay, and they’ll be okay – this is a passage you’re going through together. Cherish the time you have.

3) Trust that you know your animal well, and if you remain attentive and compassionate– some people even ask their pet- they’ll let you know when they are ready to pass on. And respect that some animals prefer to die in solitude.

4) You have a right to grieve your loss; you have a right to take the time you need to mourn. Seek out others who understand; take the time to make meaning through memorializing, telling stories, and other traditional ways we have of remembering and honoring our beloveds. The depth of your grief is a measure of your love.

In her prime

In her prime

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Living Into Dying, Part II

Posted by Eliza, September 17th, 2014

In the dog park one morning, I explained my ministry to a gentle new friend. “So our team supports natural death, where that is an option,” I told her, excited by my new job (as a pet hospice chaplain) and what it offered pets and their people.

“What!” she responded, horrified. “I’d euthanize my dog immediately if she were in any pain.” Puzzled and shocked by her vehemence, I wasn’t sure what to say. After a few moments, she explained that her parents had both died painful deaths from cancer, and her conviction that a timely death with dignity would have been a far more humane way for them to end their lives.

Though I was curious, I didn’t ask her about how their pain was managed (palliative care) – her suffering in remembering was too great. I told her how sorry I was that she’d lost her parents, and that they suffered so. I could understand, now, why she’d responded to the idea of a natural death the way she had.

What I’d say today is that palliative care has come a long way, as have medical professionals, in their understanding of how timely home care combined with careful attention to palliative care can help extend a meaningful life. With effective hospice care, the goal is for hours, days, sometimes months, to bring joy in one another’s company, favorite things – places, foods, games, friends – words of understanding and love, and, finally, saying good-bye.

I know some people think my work is morbid, or they don’t want to think about it at all. Given that all living beings die, we need to think about the fact that we can choose how to approach life, how to live fully and meaningfully, how to take fullest advantage of what we have.

Witnessing a rich, full ending of life – the embrace of those last days together rather than wasting them in anger, regret or bitterness- is what inspires me, balancing the sadness and grief that accompanies this work. There’s nothing new in this -Joan Rivers said as much to her daughter when she was preparing for surgery.

Living gratefully within the moments we’re given graces our life and the lives of those around us. How we approach the fact that life ends determines how fully we’ll live the days we have.
The day ends in beauty.

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