Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Never Have To Say Good-bye

We notice that our pet is not acting quite right. We take our pet to the veterinarian to make sure everything is ok. Nothing serious, right? Our veterinarian is sorry to tell us that our pet has _________. Fill in the blank - Cancer, Renal Failure, Congestive Heart Failure – whatever . . . Our heart starts racing, our mind is racing – “What is he saying? This can’t be true?” We are now faced with a terminal prognosis for our pet. We listen while being told “options,” “choices,” “pharmaceutical therapies,” “surgery,” “euthanasia.” What?! Wait! Slow down! We need time to think. We need to get out of there!

On our way home, we’re trying to process everything the vet just told us. What is the best choice for our pet? What would make our pet the happiest, the most comfortable, give the longest prognosis? What if money is a factor? This could potentially and unfairly cut our choices down even further. Then we’re dealing with the guilt that we are making major life decisions for our pet based on money. But let’s face it – if pets had health insurance like people do, it would be all good. Imagine if we didn’t have health insurance for ourselves or our family? Would we be able to get all the tests, scans and other procedures doctors recommend? This too is an unfortunate fact of life for some – but that’s a completely different blog topic.

Whatever choices were made, now lead us to THE moment – THE decision – should we euthanize our pet? Help ease their suffering? Some pets make this choice for us and die on their own. Some seem to suffer so much that we feel it is kinder to help them in this way. There are people who can help with this kind of decision, because this is never an easy decision to make. The veterinarian is the best person to help with this decision. I find that no matter what decisions are made or how a pet dies, most pet owners will suffer guilt and regret. Always asking themselves, “Did I make the right choice?” “What if I chose this option instead?” “What if I got a second opinion earlier?” It’s really not much different than when a human dies. I believe it’s our human condition to do the "shoulda, coulda, woulda’s".

We go through an anticipatory grief when we’re trying our best to make our pet comfortable while they struggle through their illness. If we are very attached to our pet, we may try everything there is to offer in an attempt to keep our pet with us for as long as possible. Then when the end does come, we enter into the real grief, which is fraught with anger, guilt and regret.

For most, an endless tape of memory plays over and over again in our minds, replaying the last few moments of our pet’s life. It will take weeks to months for this endless reliving to subside. But it will subside – as the grief begins to subside. Gradually, the tape is replaced with different memories, happier memories, and we really know that we are moving forward when we can remember our pet and smile fondly, or even laugh a little. It’s in this remembering, that we can stay connected with our pet, even though their physical presence is no longer with us. It’s in this remembering that we realize that we never have to say good-bye.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What Are You Planning?

Have you thought about your death?

How old will you be? How will it happen? Will it be sudden? Will it be a long, drawn out illness? Will it happen when your children are young or will they be older and taking care of you? Will you die at home, on a trip, in the hospital or in a nursing home? Will you predecease your spouse? What happens if you’re in a coma? Who will make the decisions for you? Will they make the decisions you would have liked them to make? Will you have a will? Who will you leave things too? Will you leave it to the state to decide the fate of your estate, family and pets? Are you still reading this, or are you saying, “Oh no, I’m not going there.”?

There seem to be two different ways of thinking on this. You might be the kind of person who has no trouble thinking about life and death, is quite practical, has everything organized and decided, right down to the last detail of your funeral and burial. Or you may be the kind of person that feels extremely uncomfortable thinking about your mortality and would rather have your fingernails pulled out than make a plan for your care if you became incapacitated, make a will or think about your funeral.

What about your obituary? Surely you’ve taken a peek to see who died, how they died, how old they were. Recently I saw two women’s obituaries. They both wrote them before they died. One was quite elaborate, stating all of her accomplishments, her awards, her education, and her charitable contributions throughout her life. It was probably one of the longest obits I have ever read. But, that was what she wanted and she wasn’t going to leave it to others to do it after the fact. The second one was very short and sweet, but no less powerful. She stated that all who knew her knew what she did in her life and those who didn’t know her wouldn’t care. She further stated that she wished to have no viewing, funeral or memorial. She had control of her life all the way through to the end.

Control! We have none! We think we do, we try to have it – but when it really counts, we have no control over death. Life takes many twists and turns that we don’t expect nor even want at times, yet there it is. So the best way to take control of the uncontrollable is to be proactive. Make your plans as best you can, while you can. Don’t be afraid. Think about the future and what it may hold. What do you want?

Have you ever been to a funeral or memorial and wondered what yours would be like? Would there be that many people? Who would do the eulogy and what would they say? What kind of music would they play? Would there be a lot of flowers, or would there be a lack of flowers due to donations made in your honor? These are the things we can have control over – NOW. Of course you can take care of all of this in your will or advanced directive, but there is a really great document called “Five Wishes” and it’s a very easy to read and complete form that will let others know how you want to be taken care of in case you can no longer speak for yourself. It further goes on to let others know how you want your arrangements in the event of your death, right down to the kind of music you want played, who will do your eulogy, what you want people to know about you and whether to have flowers or donations.

So what are you planning?