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.

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