Sit. Stay. Heal. My friend Sara sent me this graphic recently (thanks again, Ms. Sara!) and we both came to the conclusion that there just couldn’t be any 3 words more accurately describing pet therapy.
I recall last month’s visit with a family at hospice. The wife was the patient, her husband and daughter were visiting and I had a chance encounter with the daughter as we moved down the hallway. She begged me to stop by saying her Dad would just love Sam and if her Mom was awake, she’d love it, too.
“Of course, we’ll drop by,” I said, “we’re here for everyone, not just patients.” So after we made a couple stops along the way, we arrived at their room. Her Dad nearly picked Sam up with his hug. He practically squealed with joy at the sight of Sam and kept repeating over and over how sweet he was. I positioned Sam with his front paws on the bed so his wife could touch him. She remarked how soft he was (he reminds me of a dandelion…a real ‘fluff’ head both physically to the touch as well as brain-power wise). She was very weak and pale when we arrived and I could tell it was a real effort for her to reach toward Sam. Her husband continued fawning over Sam and Sam responded by leaning against his legs. My heart was breaking that this family bond would end soon but likewise glad that we were able to provide some comfort in the last moments for a lovely human and her family whose clear passion for animals was evident even as her life was ebbing away.
We chatted for a few more minutes and it was apparent that she was very weak but I noticed a tiny bit of color in her checks and a faint twinkle in her eyes. We had done our part. Studies show that petting a dog can release oxytocin, serotonin, and prolactin in the brain, improving mood and reducing pain, which can be especially useful at hospice. We came, we sat, we listened, and it appeared that she had a small moment of healing. Judging from the reaction of the family, I think that was pretty much on target.
As we were leaving hospice, I ran into the daughter again and she profusely thanked me for stopping by her Mom’s room; it had meant a lot to her, her Mom and Dad. I told her we’re there for everyone and always more than happy to visit, but this family with their obvious loving bond and graciousness, really moved me. I had the feeling an angel was smiling over them and would more than welcome her Mom when the time came.
The ending of life is complicated. There are the obvious regrets (we are human after all) but when visiting with this family, I got the distinct impression they knew their center, the core that kept them a loving family. It wasn’t something they had just decided on, it was a lifelong trait, a life clearly well-lived with grace and love.
Saying those final goodbyes can never be easy; there’s sadness and grief about the final goodbyes, but knowing that those left behind have a core value based on love and a certain positiveness has to be comforting…on both sides of the goodbye…the ones leaving and the ones remaining. True there will be grief and sadness, but there will also be genuine comfort knowing it all mattered even in the end.
For Sam and I, those types of encounters especially inspire and fuel us with the passion needed for our next Sit. Stay. Heal. session. <3
Peace and love.