Dying and Animal Wisdom
Written by Gail Pope
Death is a part of life that many of us do not want to acknowledge, and that most of us know very little about. During the last century, modern technology and treatment protocols have evolved to enable us and our animals to live longer lives. Veterinarians are taught to do everything possible to extend life and can tend to see death as a medical failure, which of course it is not. Palliative care research has demonstrated that when people are educated about the final act of life, they become less fearful and more comfortable with the processes leading up to and including death.
In modern-day society, we often believe that euthanasia is the most humane thing we can do for our animals if they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness or have reached a point in their lives when we perceive pain or suffering. In the early days of BrightHaven (https://www.brighthaven.org/), we too followed this path. But then a wonderful 26-year-old-cat named Mariah showed us the beauty of her natural passing in her own sweet time. This experience was to herald a new way of thinking for us. You see, we didn’t simply decide one day we should try following an animal through a natural dying process — we were undoubtedly shown by Mariah with undeniable clarity that it was the way that nature intended. Here is Mariah's story: https://bit.ly/bh-mariah-story.
“Death is psychologically as important as birth.
Shrinking away from it is something unhealthy and abnormal
which robs the second half of life of its purpose.”
– Carl Jung
Hospice-supported natural dying gradually became part of the BrightHaven Menu for Healing (https://bit.ly/bh-menu-healing), and the foundation of our work. Animals live in the moment and most appear to show no fear of illness or death. We have found that being present together with them during the last chapter of life is a deeply rewarding and valuable experience that challenges old ways of thinking and can also cause us to plummet into uncertainty. It is an opportunity for growth, discovery and a journey requiring courage and flexibility. It enables us to cultivate a wiser heart, deeper compassion, and increases our capacity for skillful caregiving.
In Western culture, there is a growing trend towards a holistic, hospice approach to include a natural passing for animals. Animal caregivers have a hunger for knowledge and demand a greater understanding of the dying process so they may be present with love and support to help their beloved companions at the end of life.
In the words of Wendy Hayhurst: “Dying is like being born—souls are coming in and souls are going out, through the same ethereal doorway. With many similarities between the labour pains of birth and those of dying, midwives are required on either side of this sacred threshold to guide a safe delivery. We are seeking and drawn to the light at the end of the tunnel in both of these major transitions. They are moments of great vulnerability, but preparation for death is never practiced in our Western society in the same manner as when we prepare for giving birth”.
Beauregard is the black/white cat and the dog is Patti in the photo on the left. Beau was one of our anam cara doulas! Woody making connections with friend in the photo on the right.
Having had the privilege of caring for more than 600 animals through the end of their lives over a thirty-year period, I have come to understand the dying process well. I hope this article will prove helpful for those seeking to learn more about the end-of-life process.
Lessons I have learned:
- Death is altogether a part of life, as natural as birth
- Dying is a process as is death itself
- Dis-ease causes pain, not the dying process
- Pain control is top priority
- Death is normal and NOT a failed medical event
- Less drugs at end of life can mean a gentler death
- Suffering is often in the eye of the beholder, based in deep-rooted fear
- We tend to focus on the disease that an animal has, instead of the animal that has the disease
- It’s all about living well (and fully!) through the last breath
- Balance is essential to quality of life and quality for dying
- Animals are more in tune with a death shared in love rather than fear, whether it be natural or by euthanasia
“Death is not the extinguishing of the light...it is the
putting out of the lamp because the dawn has come.”
– Indian Poet Rabindranath Tagore
What animals have taught me about the normal signs of dying:
I have gradually come to terms with my own fear surrounding death, although despite this knowledge, on occasion I still experience feelings of guilt, uncertainty, and trepidation. It helps greatly to know that signs and symptoms change as dying approaches, and to remind oneself that dying is a process, as is birth, and in accordance with natural law.
These changes can be very loosely organized into several periods of time. Regardless of whether the being is human or animal, not every being will experience the same symptoms or changes. Symptoms may also depend on chronic illness(es), general health, wellbeing, and any ongoing medical treatment involved. Although dying itself is NOT a painful process, chronic illness can be painful and therefore, any signs of pain should be addressed immediately with a qualified practitioner.
My book Soar My Butterfly (https://bit.ly/bright-smb) offers help to understand what is normal and may be observed in the final days of life.
“Life is eternal, and love is immortal,
and death is only a horizon;
and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.”
– Rossiter Worthington Raymond
Please show us all that you like this article by sharing, commenting, and/or giving this a "LIKE" on Facebook. Photo in post (header): Senior cats at BrightHaven, an animal rescue, hospice, and holistic education 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.