On Supporting the Dying Process

By Barbara Janelle M.A.

I spoke with a friend who is a veterinarian and who took her vows as a Buddhist Nun recently. We discussed issues around euthanizing animals, which in Buddhist understanding interferes with their karma. I wrote the following letter to her a couple of days after our conversation.

I found our talk the other evening about animals dying to be very thought-provoking. How fascinating that when a topic appears, it does so in many ways over a period of time. The day after our talk, a client called about her 14-year old Dalmatian who is senile and who she perceives as being in physical pain. Her question: was this the time to put him down? (My, I don’t like that phrase. Should it be putting him up? But then that sounds like canning vegetables!)

I checked in with the animal and got this sense of confusion, lost, not knowing (this before she told me he was senile). When I checked to see what he was feeling physically, I got a mild floatiness. This suggested that there was a “disconnection” between the physical body and mental-emotional awareness – again fitting in with the senility. So from his perceptual standpoint, there was no pain.

I went deeper to get the spiritual aspect of the being and asked was he ready to leave/did he want to leave? He replied that it did not matter either way to him. If he stayed, he would continue to present opportunities for learning to his owner about love and death. If he left, that was okay too. His name is Rach, after the composer Rachmaninoff. His music of life, this life, is dulled now.

I talked to the owner about this period as an opportunity for her to return in some measure the caring and love that he had given her in this lifetime. I suggested that she ask the Earth to gently release his roots and also to thank him for everything and tell him it was all right for him to leave. If on Monday, he was still here, she could review things and decide whether to take him to the vet. In either case, the request to the Earth to release him would make his leaving easier.

It seems to me that we have a useful role in supporting another’s leaving, whether that other is an animal or a human. Our role is the expression of gratitude to the Being for all that it has brought to this life and to love, and also to enter into negotiations in the compact between Being and Earth about life and leaving. We do this in the TT treatment to support health: “Hey, Mama Earth, hold this one strongly and support the huge flow of light through the being to support life and health.” Why not do it around leaving too? “Hey Mama Earth, would you gently start to release this one’s roots so the transition to death is easy? At your timing and that of the Being.” The conversation with the Being and with the Earth is very powerful. And it can be a useful alternative to euthanasia.