Sometimes it's personal, and a doula needs a doula of their own...
Updated: Sep 29, 2020
I have taken a good deal of time away from my keyboard, as Gentle Readers are aware. However, I was working on a much more upbeat draft for my first post of 2020 than this one will probably be, but that is life - and death - in the real world.
As the English general and master strategist Arthur Wellesley Wellington put it: "Napoleon built his campaigns of iron and when one piece broke the whole structure collapsed. I made my campaigns using rope, and if a piece broke I tied a knot." Sometimes plans are seemingly fixed, but one has to work as though they are made of string and readily reconfigured. Today was one such day.
My mother's dog Byron was a Jack Russell x Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and he lived to be 18 years old. I saw him last week when I stopped in to see my mother, and noticed that Byron was more shaky on his legs than usual, and quite disoriented. Today I stopped in again and realised that Byron was exceedingly frail, shaky, completely disoriented and looking unwell. I initiated another conversation about planning for Byron's end of life, and rather than put off the discussion, today my mother was ready to move forward in ensuring Byron did not suffer. We all agreed that as his quality of life was drastically compromised, a dignified death was the humane and compassionate decision to make. Fortunately we use a compassionate veterinary surgeon, and she is a vet who will euthanise at home. I made the call to ask for her services, and quite unexpectedly Ingrid had time in her schedule today - we all agreed this was in Byron's best interests. So, after surgery this afternoon Ingrid and wonderful vet nurse Leigh came to my mother's home and Byron was offered a peaceful, pain-free death. Yes, we are all very sad and upset, but this was the right decision to take.
As many Gentle Readers are aware, I am quite a seasoned grief and loss expert, but everything I know can be swept aside when I am in a personally emotional position. This is normal and natural - I am not inhuman and inviolate, I am not a machine. I feel and experience sorrow and loss. So - today while I acted as an unexpected end of life doula for my mother and sister with two hours notice, I had a very good and generous friend who had volunteered to come and be present as and end of life doula for me as Byron's end of life took place. I was offered space to cry, leave the room for a moment to compose myself when I needed to, and my mother was offered another person who stood next to her freely giving comfort and support so my sister could have her own 'goodbye' process without caretaking our mother.
Was Byron a 'perfect' dog? No. He had some personality issues that made him difficult to be around at times, but overall he was a delight and a bright spot of happiness to my mother every day of their lives together. Which made him perfect for her. A vet/vet nurse that will take time without rushing a pet owner while they say goodbye, and allow some time after death to sit with the body in farewell is the kind of vet you want for your pet's end of life. I am very grateful for Ingrid and Leigh, and all the patience and gentle support they offered to my mother and to Byron. Ingrid sat stroking Bryon while the anesthesia to end his life went to work, and then for several minutes after his death. At no time did I feel that Ingrid left Byron or the family unsupported from her position next to him on the floor. In a similar fashion, my friend who acted as an end of life pet doula for me supported all of us through Byron's end of life, alternating her focus between my mother and myself. And, as a bonus, my friend is British by birth and quietly made a stonkingly welcome builder's tea for us after Byron's death; we had enough sugar for the shock, and enough warmth to keep us from falling apart completely. We all cried a good deal, however as Ingrid pointed out it is far more common to see cats at 18 than dogs. Byron was able to bring joy to my mother for so many years because she had ensured he had a good quality of life - love flowed in both directions.
As my Gentle Readers all know well, I am an atheist, so I don't include words here about the Rainbow Bridge or meeting up in heaven. But I am immensely comforted by the knowledge that the advance planning discussions held about Bryon's end of life several months ago made it possible for Byron to be given a pain-free and calm death at home surrounded by loving family and in his own bed. I wish this for all our beloved furkids and companion animals.
Reflecting on the rapid need for Byron's end of life plan to be enacted I also realise that I neglected to ensure I had my own support in place; my friend offered at the last minute when she discovered what would happen this afternoon. Lesson takeaway for me? Be more consciously comprehensive in the advance planning for my own pets and of those close to me - sometimes the end of life pet doula needs a wing-doula of their own, and planning will help ensure everyone is in place. I urge you to have your full and frank discussions now - if you would like some support with this process please do not hesitate to get in touch with my at firstname.lastname@example.org as I specialise in advance planning.
Vale Byron. January 2002-January 2020.