Time to Plan: the "UP-side to Anticipatory Grief"
Written by Michelle Nichols
For almost all of us, we avoid thinking about the approaching death of our animal companion, almost as if confronting it will cause it. If you’re a Westerner, you’re amongst good company. You may look ahead with fear and avoidance shrouding the inevitable truth. Be gentle with yourself. It’s perfectly normal to employ these protective mechanisms and maintain hope for the future. You can take comfort in the fact that this gift of time allows you to adapt to the changes that are on the horizon for you and your beloved companion.
Be confident that you are indeed moving forward with deliberate actions. There is a silver lining to that grey cloud that lurks overhead. After a clear diagnosis or your acknowledgment of their decline, you have the potential to use that tender time to plan your family companion’s “path of least regrets.” Applying animal hospice and palliative care principles can provide you with new experiences. We can provide you with assistance to evaluate your choices and create a personalized plan for you that begins with exploring your values, goals, and beliefs for what lies ahead in the end-of-life journey.
WHY do we seek the “path of least regrets” for you and your animal friend?
As their guardians, and in exchange for their unconditional love, don’t we all say that “we just want them to be comfortable”? We want the same for your friend and you are an integral piece of this puzzle that has challenged others who say, “you will know when it’s time.” The developing field of animal hospice and palliative care includes teamwork by an interdisciplinary team of providers to add to veterinary care for a good quality of life until the end of life.
With having time to plan, and being empowered to enact your plan, you can feel content and comfortable that you made the best decisions at the appropriate times. Based upon your veterinary team’s care plan and your careful consideration of their recommendations, we will prioritize excellent pain management strategies and psychosocial happiness too.
As your animal’s caregiver, what are your goals for his or her end-of-life? If you trust your intuition that you call upon in a quiet, relaxed moment, your goals will feel the same as theirs. Have you remained true to your values and beliefs about life and death in your planning? As in birth, we can never predict the twists and turns that these vulnerable life stages will bring us. Depending upon potential complexities, you may need a back-up plan. We can help you document and then communicate these wishes to your entire team of hospice practitioners.
You can also use this period to:
● Talk to your veterinarian to clear up any questions or reservations about your animal's diagnosis, treatment, and trajectory, defined as the manner most likely to bring him or her to a peaceful transition. It is just as important to consider what you do NOT want as much as what you do want. Expressing your greatest fears enables both you and your veterinarian to consider how to deal with them if they should arise.
● Explore and plan what to do with your animal family member's remains after death. Options include cremation, aquamation and burial, and even green burial. In some areas, you should consider the many decisions that must be weighed if you prefer a home burial.
● Consider rituals to help you reach closure and to continue processing the eventuality of his or her death. From these rituals, spiritual growth can come with a “no regrets” ending. Plan a Celebration of Life to allow loved ones to say their farewells, or a ceremony or another way to memorialize, or perhaps a private tribute to your animal’s life with you.
● Make your final days with your animal special, creating treasured memories that will offer you comfort later. Create a “bucket list”, then share those favorite activities. Ask someone you trust to help you take pictures. No matter your animal’s appearance, this is still an important life stage. Clip some fur to preserve, impress a paw print in ink or clay, or save a feather.
● Take care of yourself so you have the energy to continue intensive care for your animal friend. Get nourishment, relaxation, rest, and exercise. Meditate, dedicate time for reflection, and perhaps capture these moments through journaling.
Though you may feel your grief, remember that it is very normal and natural, and simply allowing the grief to flow through you during this time can perhaps help you feel better sooner rather than later after the death. Many of us are challenged by the notion of “living in the moment.” Through planning, you are gifted the opportunity to forge your “path of least regrets” and to form memories to carry you until the end of time. Healing will flow more naturally and completely.
Emerging from this bittersweet, yet beautiful time, you can then look to the horizon and have confidence you will feel this same love again.
(Blog post photo: Blanca and kitty Pepito)