Today marks 4 weeks since I last held my sweet baby warm against me. Twenty-one days have passed in a blur. I hardly know the date most days. The grief continues to ebb and flow. Sometimes, it is overwhelming. Other times I just float along, numb. Sometimes, I laugh. My daughters make me laugh. My husband makes me laugh. My best friend makes me laugh.

I met with my boss today to discuss my return to work. I am both eager to return and reluctant. Truly, my job is a happy place for me. I love what I do, and I am good at it. My experience of James’s life has changed my perspective and this will allow me to help others more thoughtfully in the future. It is yet another gift that his life and death have given me.

Frequently, my job entails counseling people about end of life decisions and pursuing invasive treatment versus palliative care and/or euthanasia. Before James lived and died, I thought I understood the difficulty of making a decision about euthanasia. Inwardly, I might have rolled my eyes when owners were struggling to let a pet go – a pet that to me was clearly suffering and terminally ill.

I won’t roll my eyes anymore. What may seem black and white to me, the professional, may still be very gray to an owner. I now realize that just because it looks one way to the person standing on one side of the exam table – it may not be clear to the one making the decision.

And euthanasia or not intervening with surgery or advanced medical care is an active  decision. Letting a pet die on its own is a passive one.

It was the same for James. We had the option to be passive, to stay the course, and to wait. To let him die (again – since he had almost died that morning) rather than actively make a choice to withdraw all of the support he was on. It’s a heartrending decision for any parent to make. It broke our hearts. We will always, always, always question the decisions that we made. We will always wonder if things could have gone a different way.

Now, when I face an owner who has these questions and concerns, I will be more empathetic. Even though the answer may be clear to me, it is not necessarily for the person making that decision. There will always be doubts, lingering questions, thoughts of “what if?” I am glad that James’s life and death have given me the gift of empathy.

My boss and I decided that I would start back in mid-February with a couple of shifts. It will be to see how I handle working again in that environment. If those go well, I plan on staying as a relief doctor – taking shifts as I want to for a total of maybe 25-28 hours per week. We’ll go from there in regards to when I go back full-time.

I am relieved about working again but also apprehensive. Mostly, the apprehension stems from the concern that I won’t be able to adequately grieve -that grieving will get lost in the every day things – work, taking care of my girls, the mundane tasks of living – laundry and grocery shopping. From everything that I’ve read and been told, it’s important to fully go through the grieving process and try to avoid distractions from it. Otherwise, the grief becomes bottled up and stifled.

So that’s why I’m waiting till at least the middle of February. We might squeeze a trip in to Florida to see family and friends before that date comes. Nothing is really set in stone as we learn to navigate this new life before us.


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