Watching my father die at home taught me a great deal about the process of dying and the goal of a natural death was born in my mind. There is much Mother Nature has built in to dying that is inherently practical and comforting.
All my patients die in time. That’s how life down here on the planet works.
It’s how they die that I’m most concerned with. I’d like them all to have a soft landing.
When Death is De-Institutionalized
The best death is the one where my animal patient gets to die at home, surrounded by her family, smelling familiar smells, hearing familiar voices, in her safest of safe places. More often than not, if that patient has been under homeopathic care for some time, that death happens without fanfare, without drama, and without euthanasia. It can fairly be called a “natural death.” That’s true even in most of my cancer patients, now the number one killer of dogs past middle age.
Of course, this rarely happens in humans these days, but hospice care and death at home is certainly an option worth researching. The peace and completion that comes from dying at home is unrivaled by dying anywhere else, and stands in especially stark contrast to a hospital death.
Dad, Son, Death and Rebirth
I had the extreme good fortune to be in my dad’s home when he died. He lived with my mom in Wisconsin, while I was a busy family man with a budding holistic vet practice on Maui. When I got word that his time was near, I flew home so I might be there when he passed.
I had a close relationship with my dad, or at least as close as possible with an old Italian immigrant man who grew through an era where men mustn’t show too much emotion. I was his last child, his third son, and the first to become a doctor, and that made him so proud. He’d sent me to vet school and seeing the fruits of his investment slowly unfold over my professional years really seemed to tickle him.
Peter Falconer took great pause when I left practice after seven successful years for parts unknown. I sold my share in the partnership I’d barely begun a few years prior, and figuratively leapt off the cliff, knowing only that a strong intuition told me there was something else for me to do.
It might not even be veterinary medicine.
That was difficult for him to hear. It was a death for me, a huge transition from the familiarity of practice and its attendant success, and I suspect it rankled him nearly as much as it excited and later scared me.
After a year of exploration, the heartbreak of a failed marriage, and a stint at single parenting, it dawned on me that I was indeed a veterinarian at heart. I just needed a new way to fulfill this seeming destiny.
Giving birth to my new holistic vet career gave Peter a chance to be proud all over again. He could now tell his friends about his son, the vet who did acupuncture. That was easier to relate to, likely, than his son who’d dropped out to explore metaphysical realms.
Bringing Home Natural Tools
When the prostate cancer caught up with Peter, it seeded his bones and brought his body a great deal of pain. I’d retooled my career for a few years by then, so when I came to see him for my final visit, I brought my acupuncture needles and moxa. My study of homeopathy was still a ways off.
Dad was on morphine regularly for the pain, which dulled him and dried him out. He’d opted out of chemo, it was too late for surgery, and hospice came to the house to help while we family members took turns with Dad, caught up on our own lives, and recounted stories of happier times.
On one sunny Summer afternoon after I’d been there for a couple of days, I asked, “Dad, would you like to try some acupuncture? I think it could help you.”
He weakly consented, and the young doctor in me sprang into action. I chose a few points known to enhance fluids, stimulate some immune response, and get chi moving in the hopes that I could help him be more comfortable. It was a short treatment and he handled it really well, lying there in the rarely used dining room that had become his hospice ward.
When I finished, I pulled my needles out and he thanked me. I left him for a spell while he rested, always in and out of that dozing place that came with dying and morphine.
When he rejoined the conscious world, I looked in on him again, and with a wan smile, he thanked me. “I’m not so dry mouthed now, and I feel better. What was in those needles?” he joked. I laughed and assured him that I’d only stimulated what was in him a bit, and that’s why he felt better.
It was a sweet gift to be able to offer a father who’d given me so much.
Lessons from Death
When Peter Falconer’s time got closer, the old man who’d come through Ellis Island at seven years of age, knowing but a few words of English, with his immigration papers pinned to his jacket, now stopped drinking. His thirst just disappeared, and the hospice nurse told us this was a common part of the dying process. Dad would not be hooked up to fluids to prolong the inevitable.
Amazingly, as he naturally dehydrated from not drinking, his pain lessened. Enough so that his morphine could be stopped and he could be more present with us, free of its dulling influence on his mind.
I spent time by his bedside and time out in the yard that his death bed looked out on, alternately dozing on the chaise lounge and having conversations with my siblings and tending to my three year old son who’d made the trip with me.
The process of dying, observed first hand, was sad but enlightening. Dad dozed, awakened, and dozed again. Gradually, the dozing became longer and the time begin present with us lessened. I could see where this was going. He looked comfortable, just tired and pulling in, the energy for interaction or even open eyes slowly waning from his body.
Peter Falconer left his body while mine dozed in the warm Wisconsin sun just outside his window. I’d had my deepest, sobbing cry a couple of days earlier, and now, it was more just adjusting to his absence and helping where I could. He’d lived a good life, touched many with his love, and, having gone the distance, he’d moved on.
He taught me what a natural death looks like. A parting gift from a loving father.
Chloe Sleeps In, Never to Wake
One of my dog patients both taught and inspired her owner and I. Chloe was a massive, good natured Airedale, an intact female until she died of old age a couple of years back. She lived free of heartworm drugs and flea pesticides, had been vaccinated minimally early in her life, and had the benefits of a raw, meaty bone diet for many years.
Homeopathic prescribing had brought Chloe through pyometra and later, crippling arthritis that had reduced her to a literal crawl. Carefully chosen remedies had mended her reproductive tract and brought her from a crawl to an enthusiastic run, with no sign of lameness.
As her time came nearer, it wasn’t all that obvious to Mary. She preferred to sleep indoors, relegating guard duty to her life companion Lionheart, another massive Airedale who took his work seriously, while being good natured to those who belonged.
Chloe ate a bit less, slept a bit deeper.
One morning, Mary rose a bit earlier to tend to some farm chores and decided to let Chloe sleep in. She laid, comfortably, on her own living room floor. On returning an hour later to let her out, Chloe didn’t answer the call. Her body laid there in her usual curled up sleeping position, but Chloe was gone. She’d died a natural death, and Mary was both heartbroken and grateful it had been so easy for her.
Hows and Whens of Death
The How of death is in our hands, at least to a large extent. I see repeatedly in homeopathic vet practice that patients can die gracefully, easily, peacefully. The gift of homeopathy can often be applied during the transition if there’s roughness, to provide what one of my teachers calls “a soft landing.” But more often than not, an animal who’s been naturally raised and under homeopathic care in the years prior to death may well not even need my help to pass.
Clearly a benefit lacking in those who’ve received suppressive drugs, pesticides, and multiple vaccinations. I’m not sure when it’s too late to hope for a natural death in these guys, I haven’t watched long enough to clearly know.
The When of death is not in our hands. This knowledge comes from the Veda, the original books of knowledge that are manifested each time a planet revives and comes back into existence. The timeless Vedic understanding is that every soul upon taking birth, has a fixed death time. Unknown, but immutable.
So, we focus on the how. What choices are you making now for those in your care that make the how of dying a peaceful transition instead of a time of difficulty?
Postscript: as serendipity would have it, Annette wrote me saying her beloved diabetic cat had died at home with the help of euthanasia a few days back. She reminds me that, if you have a dying animal, it’s good to set up a relationship with a mobile vet to have the possibility open for a home euthanasia. Here in Austin, she was very happy with Compassionate Home Euthanasia with Dr. Maggie MacDonald.