Laughter Through Tears

As you can imagine, most of our appointments involve a lot of tears and moments of sadness and reflection.  As veterinarians whose careers are devoted to assisting with end-of-life care, this is something we expect and have become very comfortable with.  Individuals and family members feel the intensity of the moment, recognizing the gravity of saying goodbye to a four-legged loved one.

Often our conversation gets around to memories of the day the pet came home, how they picked them out of the wiggling mass of wagging tails or memories of quieter moments at the breakfast table or on the many hundreds of walks taken together.  All of these stories are special and celebrate the unique bond we have with our beloved companions.  I love these stories, as they bring a lightness to the moment and a brief respite from the intense feelings of grief.  Usually the memories bring a smile to everyone’s faces and (perhaps surprisingly) laughter is a part of many of our visits.

One day in particular stands out in my memory.  The couple and I were out on the lawn with their beautiful girl, an elderly yellow lab.  We were enjoying the end of a beautiful summer day, and as is so often the case in MN, were fighting off some mosquitoes.  No bother, we’re tough Minnesotans and their wish was for their girl to pass in the cool grass outside, where she was most comfortable.  I fully supported their choice as we often work outside where pets are comfortable.  Her mom and dad were deeply saddened at the thought of saying goodbye to her.  She was suffering from severe orthopedic difficulties and I supported their choice for her as well.  She needed to be released from her pain and suffering.

As we sat and talked, waiting for the sedative to relax her, the mosquitoes became more and more intrusive.  It was no longer just a slap here or there, it was full-on assault.  We tried to remain serious as befit the moment but somewhere a giggle snuck through.  First one, then each of us snickering and trying not to.  Something like that experience in church when you were a kid and your sibling says something funny to try to get you in trouble and you’re trying so hard not to laugh but you can’t help it.  The giggles turned to guffaws and finally to full-on belly laughs.  The tears were rolling down our cheeks and we couldn’t do a thing about it.  It was difficult to tell if mom and dad’s tears were tears of joy or sadness and at that point it didn’t matter.  We experienced one of the sweetest, most exquisite feelings: laughter through tears.  Their dog, without intention, gave one last gift to the people who loved her so dearly, momentarily releasing them from the intensity of their grief on that beautiful summer night.

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