MJ Wixsom: When it is time to let a pet go

Published 5:48 am Tuesday, November 15, 2022

I guess it was inevitable.

I celebrated life last week.

This week was, well, best described as a peak sympathy card week.

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It didn’t help that a close friend’s mother was also at her life’s end.

As a veterinarian, I understand that death is a part of the cycle of life and that it is part of my job to help people through the grieving process.

That doesn’t mean that it is easy. With the patients that died or were euthanized this week and a couple of really close calls, I was struck by the similarities and the differences of death.

In human medicine, there is a team that delivers bad news and describes the process of dying. Clear, direct communication was delivered professionally by trained hospice members.

There is usually time, measured in days or longer, for the family to adjust.

For an animal, there is generally not as much time. The process may only be seconds, minutes or hours.
Animal treatment outcomes must be weighed against costs and potential suffering.

Immediate decisions must often be made not only to save lives, but because there is always the decision to treat with euthanasia.

But hospice was great.

Their care was not only for the person, but also for the family.

Without adding false hope, the patient was as comfortable as possible.

Hospice did many care items so that it did not have to be done by the family.

This was an important part of care.

Hospice also provided for spiritual desires with a counselor. (Personally, I think the family had this covered, but was told that it did help.)

This is difficult or impossible to provide in veterinary medicine.

Something the family was encouraged to do, but perhaps we do not do enough in veterinary medicine, is to give permission to let the loved one “let go” without making him/her feel guilty.

This can be difficult.

But a dying being will try to hold on, even with prolonged discomfort, if they feel they are needed.

From a hospice brochure: “Therefore, your ability to release the dying person from this concern and give him/her assurance that is alright to let go whenever he/she is ready is one of the greatest gifts you have to give your loved one at this time.”

Saying good-bye is probably the most difficult thing that I have ever done.

It is described as “your final gift of love to your loved one.”

Difficult, but it achieves closure and makes the final release possible.

Tears are a normal and natural part of saying good-bye.

They happen even to staff at a veterinary hospital and do not need to be hidden.

Tears express love and help you to start the grieving process and let go.

Recommended final words may include “I love you” “Please forgive me,” “I forgive you,” and “Thank you for….”

One more thing that is much different is the amount of support that society gives.

Family friends and relatives pay respects. This can be at the home, a visitation time and/or a service. Sorrow and

tears are expected, not just accepted.

Afterward there is an accepted mourning period.

Friends and relatives help until grief eases and the comfort of new routines is established.

The processes of grieving are the same for any family member. Different people will have different levels of attachment to each.

And death can be a blessing to some people. Grieving a human loss has some distinct advantages for those ‘going on’ but from whatever angle you look at it, the process of dying and resultant grieving is going to ruin more than just one day.

MJ Wixsom, DVM MS is a best-selling Amazon author who practices at Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods, Ky. GuardianAnimal.com 606-928-6566.