The Long Good-Bye
Updated: Feb 11
Most of us do not like to talk about death and dying, but when we must deal with death, we often feel very lost. I wrote this post as I was waiting to take my kitty to be put down. I wished I had more support during the times I had to watch both family members and pets at the end of their lives.
Do You Know It’s the End?
It may be that no one tells us very clearly that a relative or pet is actively dying, or we may simply not want to believe it. Many times our mind is concentrating so hard on what we can do to help someone get better or feel better that we don’t realize they are dying.
I remember when a doctor told my sister and I that my mother was dying, we thought she didn’t know what she was talking about. We even gave this doctor the nick name of “Dr. Death!” It took close to a year until my mother passed away, but the doctor already recognized the signs that she was familiar with. We of course were in denial. This is normal, but by not understanding a person is in the process of dying may keep them from getting the special care they need.
If you know a person is terminally ill, then you can arrange care specific for their condition. Hospice care provides compassionate care to help people with incurable conditions be as comfortable as possible in the last stages of their life. Hospice care also cares and supports the patient’s family to help them get through this very difficult time.
Many people fear beginning hospice care for their family members because they feel like they are giving up on their loved one. Hospice care supports the patient. It does not encourage them to die. There are sometimes people who go into hospice care, get better and go off hospice care. Please don’t keep your loved one from getting the support they need by being scared to begin hospice care. Ask you care provider to please let you know when they think hospice care if advisable.
Touch to Connect at End of Life
One of the few things you can actively do to help someone at the end of life is holding their hand. Even if a person is not longer communicating or seems closed in their own world, they most often will feel your touch.
Touch allows a person to feel you are there with them. It will also allow them to feel safe and secure as they did when they were touched as babies. My cat was not a cuddly cat, yet during the past few weeks she has wanted to sit on my lap and be held all the time. I feel that she wants to feel warm and safe as she once did cuddling into her mother when she was a kitten.
You do not need to do anything more than hold onto a person’s hand. If you are not qualified, I would avoid massaging the hand. The skin may be very dry and thin and can tear easily.
The power of touch is so much stronger than most of us realize. In my workshops I ask participants to divide into partners. One person closes their eyes while their partner holds their hand for about 15 seconds. Then I give the signal for the person holding to suddenly release their touch. The reaction is almost always the same. The person whose hand was being held feels like they were abandoned – after only having their hand held for 15 seconds! Touch creates a powerful bond. When you do let go, slide your hands off very slowly so the person does not feel you suddenly abandoned them.
If you feel comfortable, you can also talk to your loved one while holding their hand or sing a song they love.
How To Know When It’s Time to Put a Pet Down
We have had many cats and dogs, but this is only the 2nd time we had to make the decision to put a pet to sleep. It’s an agonizing decision and in some ways more difficult than saying goodbye to your pet.
On one side, it’s wonderful that pets have the option of not suffering an agonizing death. On the other side, as a pet owner you feel like you have no right to make a life and death decision like this.
I normally tell pet owners that you will know when it’s time. You’ll see when your pet is no longer the pet you knew and loved. Part of their spark or spirit has already left them.
I would add now, that if when you wake up and go to see if your pet is still breathing or alive – it might be another sign to know it’s time to say good-bye.
With cats, I learned to monitor these signs to see if they are still comfortable: Sleeping soundly curled up in a ball (other positions may show they are in pain.) Purring Cleaning themselves. Able to go out on their own
For me, I made the decision when I saw my cat yesterday looking confused, her beautiful fur dirty, her paws wet from putting them in her drinking water and her difficulty moving. She did not look in pain, but she was not happy. I think she was confused about what was happening to her.
I looked over several articles, and one really caught my eye. The author wrote – it’s better to put your pet down a week early, than a day too late. Right now I can say that makes sense, because the point of euthanizing a pet is to prevent suffering. I felt like we should have done this already yesterday, but as the pet owner, I needed to feel that it is the right time in order to not feel regret later.
Do You Need to be Present When a Family Member Dies?
I know that we often hear or read that so and so died peacefully with family members at their side. This sounds like a lovely, natural peaceful goodbye, and for many it is. However, for others, watching a loved one die can not only be painful, but it can also leave memories that can haunt for a very long time after.
The decision to be present when a loved one dies needs to be a personal one. Don’t be forced into a situation you do not want to be part of. Discuss this with a spiritual counselor or someone on the hospice team. For some it might be easier to say good-bye and then have a hospice or trained caregiver be present with their loved one iat their final moments.
As I have written previously in making difficult decisions, I try to think about how I am going to feel later on. Will seeing a person take their last breath be too difficult for you and haunt you or will you later feel you wished you had been there till the end. Take a moment, close your eyes and try to imagine how you will feel in both scenarios. Make sure the decision you make is the right one personally for you and not what is “expected” of you. You are the one who must live with yourself. Your loved one will not be feeling anything anymore.
Death is never welcome, but sometimes it is a savior for those who are suffering. As a family member or caregiver, you can actively help by being close and using touch, but make sure you are comfortable with what you are doing.
My sweet kitty was put to sleep, and she was so peaceful. The decision to put her to sleep was so much more difficult than the actual act. I had made my decisions all along the way to make sure I would know I did everything possible to try to help her. By doing so, I had no regrets and amazingly felt fine after letting her go. She’s at peace now and so is my mind.
For those of you facing these difficult decisions I send you love and strength in the coming days and weeks. <3
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