Thursday, December 27, 2012

Lessons from Hospice: Nurture the Soul

Buca listens attentively
     Our work at New England Pet Hospice teaches us something new every day. I consider open-mindedness and open-heartedness the most critical character traits for all of our staff members, no matter what role they play in the organization.

     This work and what it teaches us is a gift; we must be open to receive it, open to learn from it, and open to share it.

     The events at Sandy Hook are a tragedy in every sense of the word which has touched the hearts and minds of all of us.  Like you, I have received so many e-mails from people who have a "spin" to put on it - whether it is gun control, care for the mentally ill, more funding, less funding, increased security, better preparedness, on and on.

    I understand the human need to make meaning, especially in the face of extreme tragedy - it's a huge part of what we do at New England Pet Hospice - and I know that many of these issues need to be raised and addressed, but (probably like you) I find myself irritated that people would use the tragedy as a way to promote an agenda.

     Just before Christmas, I got an e-mail that was a little different.  It was a quote from the father of a Columbine victim's father, pleading with Congress to reinstate school prayer and religion in the classroom to combat the violence in our schools and society. This isn't my personal view, so I read it and deleted it.

     A few days later, I got my copy of the Clinician's Brief - a peer-reviewed journal for veterinarians by the North American Veterinary Conference. It contained "A Case Study in Hospice Care" that left me fuming.  The "hospice" care provided was medication, two home check ups by the vet and home euthanasia.  Over the course of a year, the dog saw the "hospice" vet exactly 3 times. The owners took the dog to the emergency clinic twice for seizures and an acute cough. No other care was provided.

     (The care that was provided to that darling dog and his family was not hospice in any sense of the word. I ask our vet friends out there to read the article and tell me if anything this so-called hospice vet did is any different than what they do every day for every patient.  It was simply mobile veterinary care.)

     So what do a plea for school prayer and a mislabeled case study have to do with each other?

     The very most important thing we do at New England Pet Hospice: Nurturing the Soul

     The plea for school prayer highlights what is missing in our school system and in our culture - any attention to the soul, the heart, the nature of the child and the individual.  We educate about math, science, reading, and writing. We teach home economics, art, music, and anti-bullying.

     But where - and when - do we teach our children and ourselves to look into our own heart?  To find what grows there and nurture it?  To love, trust and respect ourselves? To take the quiet time we all need to connect deeply with our innermost wisdom and yearnings?

     What is lacking in a culture that values things over love? Doing over being? Intellect over caring? The biggest and flashiest over the most important?

     What is missing in a hospice model that provides medication, information and treatment? That visits once every three months? That waits for the call , makes appointments when convenient and expects euthanasia to be the outcome for every animal?

     It's all about the SOUL

          We don't take time to nurture it.

          We lack an appreciation for how much it matters.

          We miss out on the heart and meaning of it all.

     Time and again, the families we serve at New England Pet Hospice tell us what we bring that matters most is care, compassion and time. We take the time to get to know their animal and their family as individuals. It's not the amount of time they have with their animal, it's not even about how good that time was, and it's most definitely not about how the animal dies.

     It's about how we connected deeply with their animal and with them.  Soul to soul.  Heart to heart. With respect and with genuine love. And how we supported them in doing the same.

     This is the key to hospice and palliative care.  It is, hands-down, the very most important thing we do at New England Pet Hospice.

     And I have no doubt our culture, our world, and our lives would change dramatically if we all brought this gift into everything we do, every day.

     Nurture your soul.  It matters.  Really.

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