Archive for Death and Dying

Maya’s Wisdom on Death and Dying

It was a year ago at this time that this lovely lady, Maya, started her dying process. It alarmed me and took me to the edge of my capabilities at that time of witnessing pain and death in another being, so I euthanized her, not because she asked me to, but because I didn’t know what else to do. She has taught me so much since her death, and when I asked her today what she wanted me to say, here’s what came to me.

“We all live. We all die. Allow us to live. Allow us to die. You do not need to expedite our death. Our body already knows how to die. Let us have those dying moments. So much happens there that you cannot see, but only feel.

If we want something from you, we will let you know, but first you need to know what dying looks like and the natural shut-down process the body goes through. If we stop eating or drinking or start losing weight, we are preparing to go. If this is new to you, it can be alarming. It is easy for fear to take over. That is why it’s important to be educated on what dying looks like. Then you can distinguish between what is normal when dying, and what is us asking something of you.

When in doubt, observe, relax, breathe, feel and embrace what is happening. I know this is a tall order, but it’s where you can connect more deeply to us in our moment of passing from this world to the next. You do not need to fix it, nor make it go faster. It takes as long as it takes.

Some deaths are quiet and peaceful, others are dramatic with a lot of energy. A lot of energy does not automatically equate to being painful, but it can be disconcerting to the observer. If pain is involved, ask us how you can help. Do not assume we want you to euthanize us to get rid of the pain. All living beings are capable of feeling many emotions at the same time. Do not let pain blind you to all of who we are in that moment. We are multi-faceted and complex. We are more than just the experience of pain.

The biggest gift you can give us is to hold the space for our last moments on earth and listen to us. What we have to say may surprise you. You do not need to “figure anything out”, but rather, breathe, relax, feel and let nature take its course. It is called dying. It is normal. It is ok to witness it and allow it to happen. If we need something from you, we will tell you. Every being on earth will take this journey at the end of their life. Let us too.”

“Quality of Life” – Fact or Fiction?

“Quality of life” is another common phrase we all hear regarding end of life decisions for our animals. The idea is that when quality of life changes and is deemed poor then it is time to euthanize.

Here’s where this idea does not resonate with me. Determining “quality of life” is a judgment by the human about another being. When I judge I am operating from my personal experience, education, beliefs as a human. I close the door to any input that might give a different perspective, including the horse’s. Yet, when I rehab senior horses I’m always looking for ways to stop judging them and start listening to what they have to say.

Here’s another problem. Many times I hear of people deciding to euthanize their animal when they stop eating.  Who said the animal is unhappy? Stopping eating is simply the body in the process of shutting down. There’s no need to eat anymore to live if you are preparing to die.

What about the animal whose demeanor changes? Many times people decide to euthanize right there because the animal just doesn’t seem to be as happy. Is that the case, or perhaps the animal knows their death is approaching and they are allowing it and preparing for it? Sometimes in humans a few weeks before death their demeanor changes too. Their life force is simply getting ready to leave this world. That’s not a crisis that needs to be expedited. It’s simply a reality that animals know how to allow, and we can too.

Animals are so connected to the natural world, and death is the final chapter of life on earth for everyone, people and animals. What would happen if we allowed it when it approaches, when there’s nothing further we can do? It is in allowing death to occur that we are supporting the natural life of the animal to its very end. What a gift we can give them.

It is not easy, and takes tremendous courage as the caretaker to allow an animal autonomy in this very last chapter called death and dying.

I’m always looking for ways to give the senior horses in my care more autonomy. Maya really challenged me on how far I could go in allowing her autonomy. I went as far as I could at the time, and that is all we are ever asked to do. My question now becomes, how much more autonomy can I give the next horse now that I’ve learned even more?

Present Moment, Boundaries and Dying

I recently heard an interview with an animal communicator on the topic of “Peaceful Transition for Pets and Families”. She made such a clear and truthful statement about euthanasia to the effect of: people find it very hard to determine when to end their pet’s life.
 
When I heard that, I thought to myself, no wonder there is such a struggle. I can’t imagine contemplating that question. It is completely opposed to everything I believe as a human.
 
For me, in rehabbing senior horses that question never enters my mind. My entire focus is “How can I help you, the horse, to be fully alive today?”
 
Horses live in the present moment. They are masters. My goal is to be more like them. They don’t fret about the future and what might happen or not happen. When it actually arrives, then they deal with. Not before. That is how I kept my sanity during Maya’s 3 months of rehab.
 
Of all the senior horses I had rehabbed I knew there was a real possibility that her life would end with euthanasia simply because of all the medical intervention and management going on. However, I did not focus on trying to determine when I should end her life, but rather, I focused on the many holistic treatment options we had. Physically there were big challenges going on, and yet, emotionally she had such a bond with my other horse, no way was I ever going to cut that short by ending her life.
 
For three months on a daily basis we approached the present moment together. I’m not going lie. It became incredibly difficult. I cried often. At one point I handed it all over to God, I couldn’t do it on my own. Ironically the day after I did that the tide turned for the positive for about 2 weeks. Through all of this she was so content with her herd.
 
Then the day came that dying was now in the present moment. I didn’t need to go looking for it. It approached all on its own. Since it was now in the present moment, I would deal with it. At the time, I had no more tools that I was aware of to help Maya and her pain level was very high. The only tool the vet had was euthanasia. I had always thought there would be a way to make the animal comfortable, or at least take the edge off, and then they could die on their own, but that was not the case here. That was my line, and we reached it. In that present moment, I had clarity that it was ok to euthanize her.
 
Taking another being’s life still went against my values, so I began my research project on death, dying and pain management so my line for euthanasia could be even further away.
 
I share all of this because we all have our own boundaries based on our own values and beliefs. There is clarity at the boundary, and as we learn more that boundary can move.
 
One more time, I’d like to thank Maya. It was never my plan to be discussing this topic at such length, but that is where she has led me. For all of you with animals, let them lead the way. It is one incredible journey.

What about pain and dying?

In the flurry of activity of the past few days, I was asked the following question: “How do you respond when someone believes that as caretakers of animals we are responsible to ensure that the animal doesn’t suffer pain any longer than is absolutely necessary when death is inevitable?”

Here are my thoughts, and I share this not to make everyone think like me, but to simply offer the perspective I have come to through experience. I encourage everyone to search inside themselves for what resonates with them, even if it differs from me.

And here is the lovely lady who has given me the courage to speak my truth.  Thank you, Maya!

1. I don’t ever try to convince someone otherwise of their own beliefs. Instead, I educate myself on why something does not resonate with me.

It does not resonate with me that death is the solution to pain. Here are two of my favorite articles that speak to this: https://spiritsintransition.org/leaving-life-rhythm-nature/
https://guardianangelhospice.com/medical/the-last-few-days/. There are also additional resources on our resource page.

It is in the human world and hospice care that I found the most information about managing pain and dying. Hospice workers deal with it all the time and do not have the adverse reaction society typically does when it comes to animals, pain and death.

2. I can also say that my experience with Maya really was the worst of the worst pain experience while dying. There was no gray area. It was intense, and at the time, I did reach the limit of what I could handle, so I did euthanize her.

However, if I really listened to her she knew all hell was breaking loose, but she did not want to die. She just wanted me to show up and be. In fact, all of her surrounding herd members were simply holding space for her. No one was freaking out.

For humans, it’s the fear of pain, and the fear of witnessing pain that is a huge trigger. To actually have the courage to go into this area and not hold it away, and not make it go away by euthanizing immediately will reap a huge reward–the ability to truly listen and be present with another being in their moment of transition from this world to the next.

3. When it comes to rehabbing senior horses my only goal is to listen to them. What they say goes. My goal is not to “get rid of pain at all costs”. For some people their goal is “no pain”, and if that’s the primary goal, then I understand why they euthanize so quickly.

We are both operating from different value systems. In the end, we all do the best we can. My only purpose in sharing my experience is so that people know there are many ways to handle death and dying, and this is the way that resonates with me.

More Death and Dying Resources

Thank you to Jenny Pearce for posting this on her blog to reach even more people. Jenny has added some commentary and resources for help in dealing with death and dying. My favorite sentence she added is: “It’s my experience that death can be beautiful.” Thank you, Jenny.

Read on for more incredible insights.

 

The top 10 things Maya taught me about death and dying – A guest post

What’s Your Relationship With Pain?

Maya and her herd.

Thank you everyone to the tremendous response to my last post, The Top 10 Things I Learned about Death and Dying from Maya. What prompted my 6 month research project on death and dying in horses is that when Maya was dying, she did not at any time indicate to me that she wanted to die. In fact, it was the opposite. Her desire to live was so strong I had never witnessed anything like it. It completely contradicted everything I had ever heard about pain and horses, which was: If they were in pain then it was time to euthanize them. Maya clearly did not get that memo.

What I’ve realized is that we all, both humans and animals, have our own relationship with pain and how we handle it. Many times our own experience of pain gets projected onto the animal. Knowing ourselves, how we experience pain, and how we handle witnessing pain in others is so important. It allows us to separate ourselves from our animals. It let’s them be their own unique being with their own unique experience. When those boundaries are clear, we have a chance at beginning to understand what the animal has to say.

In the over 10 years I’ve spent rehabbing senior horses, the longer I do it, the more I realize that animals really do have their own thing going on in their own experience of the world. Discovering that world is what keeps me coming back for more.

Top 10 Things I Learned about Death and Dying

It’s been six months to the day since Maya died. She has given me the most thorough education on death and dying in horses. I had no idea what I was in for.
 
Here are the Top 10 Things she taught me about death and dying in horses:
 
1. I can be in pain and still be happy to be alive.
 
2. Just because I’m in pain does not mean I want to die.
 
3. No need to fix. After a horse has died, leave the body on the property for a couple days and allow access for the other herd members to do whatever they need to do. This will hugely benefit the natural grieving process for both the people and the animals.
 
4. Allow dying to happen on its own time frame. If a horse has not died yet, but is dying, support the dying process, but you do not need to expedite it. Why has an animal not died yet? You’ll have to ask them. They likely have unfinished business we are unaware of.
 
5. Just show up and be.
 
6. Educate yourself about what dying looks like. Then when you witness it, you’ll understand what is happening. When you understand, you can then be of service to the horse.
 
7. Massage, acupuncture points and Ttouch ear slides can be helpful. Massaging above the eyes can be helpful for managing pain holistically, even debilitating pain.
 
8. Aromatherapy with essential oils can be helpful. Lavender can have a calming effect. Frankincense can help with the transition process of dying. Flower essences on the tips of the ears is another helpful option.
 
9. Practice breathing, relaxing and feeling the ground. Practice allowing what is happening. If you believe in God, ask God to help you. You are holding space for a natural process. There is no need to fix it. This is the transition every being on earth will take at the end of their life. It is sacred, and every being’s process will be unique. By honoring their unique process, you are honoring them.
 
10. Find support ahead of time of people who share your views on death and dying, so when dying begins to take place, you will know who to call to support you in witnessing the dying process. You do not need to do this alone. Trust your instincts and your relationship with your horse, even if it differs from other people’s opinions. Give the best that you have. Nothing more and nothing less. This is love in action.
 
Thank you, Maya!

The Body Language of Dying

3/9/19

I just had a realization from talking to people who have euthanized their pets at the end of their lives that the way they knew it was time was the pet stopped eating, or there was a change in their eyes or demeanor, for example. Then when I talk to people whose elderly parents had died, they described similar signs that their parent was slowing down in the last year of their life, or two weeks before they died something changed in their demeanor or in their eyes, or they don’t eat very much, and when death is days away eating can stop all together since the body no longer needs sustenance for living.

What’s interesting to me about all these signs is that they are signs of their life on this earth coming to a close. Death is approaching, and this is what the dying process can look like. It doesn’t necessarily mean that death needs to be expedited and done right now, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to die right now. Rather, it is a natural process every living body, whether animal or human, will take at the end of their life.

Then I realized, no wonder I’ve never had an animal tell me it was “time” because when I see these signs I see them as information that the natural process of death is approaching, not a sign for me to need to expedite the death and dying process.

Being vs. Fixing

Chaco and Maya

3/8/19

The act of horses holding space for one of their own when in pain or dying has become a familiar scene for me thanks to Maya and the educational journey she sent me on regarding how horses handle death, dying and pain. While as humans we want to fix it, myself included, we can not underestimate the power of just being with someone, human or animal, when there is nothing that can be done except just be there. It is the most helpless feeling I’ve ever felt while loving them at the same time.

Reflections on Death, Dying and Euthanasia

Chaco and Maya

3/1/19

Maya has been sending me on all sorts of tangents on the death, dying, euthanasia and grief topics, from holistic medicine, to traditional western medicine, to wild horses, to horses in domestication, to pain, pain management in people, in animals, hospice, palliative care, etc. Have I left anything out? My biggest curiosity is what do people or animals do to handle the situation when there is no fix and pain is involved.

It has been a fascinating exploration, and what I’ve come to realize is that there is no one answer, and everyone is different. When I really delve into these topics I come to the core of who I am and what I believe about God, life and death. When I go there, I realize that I don’t need to make euthanasia part of my value system.

My whole goal in rehabbing senior horses is to discover who they are, and to support them in being fully alive. And when their death comes, to support them in that natural process as well. I do not need to fix “death”, nor do I need to expedite it. But what is possible is to hold that sacred space for the transition all beings will take all on their own at the end of their life on earth, both animal and human.

To let go of judgment of what death should look like and how fast it should be, and how much pain should or shouldn’t be there, and instead embrace what is before me, no matter how difficult. I do not need to force that last breath in the name of pain management, but rather, breathe with them holding that space as they take their last breath when their body determines. I also have many more holistic tools to assist in witnessing the dying process than I did when I chose to euthanize Maya. Do I ever want to be in that situation again? Absolutely not. However, when it arrives for each senior horse in my care, I will be there holding that space and listening for as long as needed.

Thank you, Maya, for giving me an education I never wanted to have on death, dying and euthanasia. It would have been much easier to never have horses and avoid this topic all together. But you keep asking me to expand my boundaries of what is possible, and how much love and listening is humanly possible even in the most dire of circumstances. It hurts like hell, but it most definitely makes me a more compassionate and understanding human being.

In the words of Temple Grandin, “animals make us human”. Love to you Maya.