“I have no idea how you do what you do.”
“This must be hard to deal with every day.”
“I imagine you must put up with people like me all the time.”
Like any veterinarian involved in end-of-life care, I hear some version of “your job must be really tough, but I’m glad you do it” almost daily. Learning to sit with grief from a place of calm energy and peace does take time and practice, but end-of-life work is uplifting and rewarding to those who put in the effort.
What drives me most of all is the cumulation of experiences which serve to lighten my heart and nourish my soul. Here are just a few examples:
- When at the end of a consult, a caregiver takes a deep breath and says “THANK YOU. I already feel so much better.”
- When I can reassure someone who is anxious and take for them the responsibility to ensure everything goes smoothly.
- When with just a few tweaks to the pain management plan, a pet who seemed on the verge of death experiences almost immediate relief and a renewed lease on life (by far my favorite “win”).
- When someone shares memories of their pet. Sometimes we can even laugh about them together. I LOVE hearing those stories. There was never enough time for them in the rushed environment of “traditional” practice.
- When I make a clay paw print, which I do for every pet that passes away in our care. I put so much love and care into them, and it feels so good when someone expresses (often through tears) delight at seeing this memento.
- When someone expresses gratitude. Kind words mean more than anyone could know.
- When connecting with bereaved family members after time has made grief less raw and seeing that they are able to smile again.
- When I can help fulfill a wish to have a pet pass peacefully in a place special to them and their family, such as a favorite park or beach.
- When I see a pet transition to whatever lies beyond surrounded by adoring family members, sometimes from three or four generations.
- When I bear witness to the variety of ways people choose to honor and remember their companions. I have a deep sense of gratitude for being invited into such a vulnerable moment.
These are just some of the many experiences which remind me I’m exactly where I need to be. It’s something that runs deeper than simply “getting used to” performing euthanasias or facilitating hospice-assisted death. End-of-life work enables me to connect with and contribute to a community of wonderful people who truly consider their pets family.
It’s not a task to be tolerated. It is an honor and a privilege.