(photograph by Jon Graubarth)
It is estimated that veterinary professionals experience the deaths of their patients five times more frequently than their human counterparts do. The shorter lifespans of our patients and euthanasia play into this reality. It is so hard to process when the time comes to say goodbye to a beloved dog who has come to be known as a family member. Acceptance may take awhile to achieve, but it helps to understand that just like ourselves, the animals with whom we share life and give names to and have unique relationships with are as much part of the circle of life as we are. No matter one’s religious or philosophical beliefs, when it comes to the existence of a higher power, souls, or the afterlife, there are many ways in which people can appreciate the constant flux of nature and the idea of life through death.
My uncle introduced me to the Buddhist concept of impermanence when he told me about the time he saw the Dalai Lama and Tibetan monks who were visiting New Orleans. The monks created sand mandalas, a practice that can take days (and sometimes even weeks) as they meticulously funnel sand into specific areas. This tradition transcends mere artwork. As the mandala takes shape, the monks meditate on bringing healing and purification to people. Once the mandala has been completed, it is deconstructed in a ritual manner; the sand is collected in a vessel and then scattered in a body of water. This symbolizes the transience of life.
Medicine is a wonderful tool with which we can help prevent suffering, provide temporary relief, or cure illness, but it has its limits. Though people and pets come into and leave our lives, while not in physical form, they are permanently with us.