THE BLOG
01/28/2015 01:06 pm ET Updated Mar 30, 2015

Dying: A Human Touch

Sometimes you read an essay that speaks directly to your heart, and that happened today when I read the New York Times piece "In My Cat's Death, A Human Comfort."

In her touching essay, Margo Rabb compares the recent death of her beloved cat, Sophie, with that of her mother, who died 24 years ago after a devastating diagnosis that ended her life in less than two weeks. Rabb describes her mother's death as "unbearable" due to a lack of privacy in the hospital and the indifference of doctors and hospital staff. Rabb's experience at her mother's bedside left her traumatized and her grief was made worse by feelings of guilt about whether she could have done more to keep her mother comfortable in her final days.

And then there's Rabb's beloved cat, Sophie, who died three months after her diagnosis, in the care of a compassionate and caring veterinary team, who allowed time for the family to grieve and provided words of empathy and reassurance.

Several years ago my beloved dog of 16 years, Phoebe, fell ill, and it was apparent to her veterinarian that her death was near. We talked about how she might die -- at home or by injection in the doctor's office -- and how to know if she was in too much pain. I found it all difficult to bear, but we faced that the end was near and tried to prepare.

On the morning Phoebe was scheduled to be "put to sleep" at the vet's office, I heard her whimpering on the chair by my bed. I felt panic and fear, but before calling the doctor to rush her over, I picked her up and rocked her in my arms up and down the hallway of my apartment. I sang to her. She died that morning quietly and peacefully at home in my arms.

Rabb ponders whether the death of our animals, painful as they are, are easier to bear because they are "part of the natural order," of life and death, like familiar seasons of winter and rebirth, and therefore, we can be part of it. We don't look away. Human deaths are unacceptable. We do not go gently into the natural realm of death, and as a result, many of us live out our final days in a hospital bed, without the comfort of soothing sounds and the loving touch of family and friends.

I was fortunate that nature allowed me the chance to give Phoebe a peaceful death, and that has brought me peace in return. But I wonder about the human deaths that are coming, my own and those of the people I love. Will I have the grace to be there for them at their final breath? Will they be there for me?