“How do you face this sort of thing every day?”
“I don’t know how you do this job.”
“I could never do what you do – it would break my heart.”
“Isn’t that awfully depressing?”
I hear some variation on this almost every day – when I’m at an end-of-life visit, when someone asks me what I do, when I’m on the phone with a client calling to ask about how to handle an impending loss. And they all boil down to the same thing – ‘how can you work around death and loss without being miserable?’ And the more I think about that question, the more I realize there’s a very simple answer.
My job lets me bear witness to some of the greatest acts of love that I can imagine, and reminds me every day of the goodness that people are able to hold within them.
Every person who calls me is doing so out of love, compassion, and hope. Whether they’re looking for hospice care or looking to help their beloved pet pass peacefully, they are doing so out of kindness, and because of the deep bond that they share, and a desire to make things better – not for themselves, but for another living being. Even knowing how hard it will be for them, they take this step because they want to make life better for another creature, or when that’s no longer possible, bring peace and an end to suffering.
Every time I step into a home I see selflessness, devotion, and love. I see it in mattresses on the living room floor pulled up next to a dog bed so that an elderly pet who can’t climb the stairs won’t have to sleep alone. I see it in heating pads and sun lamps arranged into nests in a cat’s favorite napping spot. And I see friends and families coming together to support one another, sharing memories and comfort, hugs and laughter and tears. A father lies on the floor with his daughter, telling her that it’s okay to feel what she’s feeling. A best friend makes phone calls when the family is too broken up to speak. A family plans to all share a toast to a pet’s memory at the same day and time, even if they can’t all be physically together.
Every death is different – and yet, the words I hear more often than any other, from person to pet?
“I love you.”
We live in a culture that does not encourage displaying or sharing our emotions – and yet every day I’m honored to share that closeness. And right now, seemingly more than ever, we live in a world where news and social media seem to highlight the worst that humanity is capable of. Hatred, violence, greed, selfishness, and anger are on display everywhere you look, and it can be easy to believe that this is the whole truth of the world. But, while my job surrounds me with death, those deaths are the result of love and kindness, not intolerance, cruelty, or violence. I am reminded every single day, with every family I help, of all the goodness in the world, the kindness that people are capable of, and the fact that every day people make decisions and take actions driven by love, compassion, and empathy.
How do I face this every day?
With gratitude for every family, every visit, and every moment of kindness I am honored to share.