Sacred Gift os a Short Life Reviews

Sacred Gifts of a Short Life

Praise for Sacred Gifts of a Short Life

By all means buy it, give it to your animal-loving friends, and treasure it — particularly when that time comes.

– Robert Ellwood

Liz Fernandez, who lives in Ventura county, California, is a very special veterinarian who combines Western science with acupuncture and other Chinese-based practices in her treatment of animals. Her sensitivity toward the dogs and cats she heals or assists in transition out of this life, and toward the humans who love them, radiates through every page of this short but unforgettable book. The present volume deals with the euthanasia of patients whose time has come, which she often performs in the home so as to spare the animal a trip to the vet’s office, and especially with the attitude of those sad but understanding caregivers who are with them in their last moments.

As Fernandez says at the outset, “Veterinarians have a unique relationship with death. In this society, ours is the only profession sanctioned to euthanize a living being because they are loved, and not because they are being punished or to be used as food.” She acknowledges that this role is difficult for some vets and hard for others to understand. But through it she has been led to think very deeply about life and death, and about the grief of those who nonetheless have come to accept it is time to say farewell to a beloved companion.

In this respect she notes that “no one person’s grief is greater than another’s, and . . . the loss of an animal companion can be the worst loss someone will ever experience.” No one who has truly loved animals can accept the canard that you “shouldn’t” grieve as much for an animal as for a person; losses and griefs simply cannot be compared as if on some value scale. Each has the full reality of its time and place.

The bulk of Sacred Gifts consists of accounts of euthanasias performed by Dr. Fernandez: the state of the animal companion, the decision it was time, the dread, the sacred experience itself, the aftermath. The examples deal concretely with such matters as whether children should be present (the author believes they should if they want to be), and how one should know if it is time. On the latter: “The issue of euthanasia is ultimately about love. Since love is alive in the present moment, the answer to the question, ‘Is it time?’ can only be answered from a place of love.” “The decision to euthanize is one we can’t know for sure until we know. And, at some point, we do know. The answer arises within us. No explanation really explains it, yet the truth becomes obvious.” This kind of subtle awareness is characteristic of all the stories, and of the whole book.

Toward the end of the book, Fernandez gets into deep and open-minded reflections on life and death generally, growing out of her profound encounters with animals entering and leaving our particular world: “What if we consider death as a doorway into [the] ultimate eternal mystery — a way to access the void, the emptiness, the stillness, the silence? Our society has not invited us to befriend this mystery. Instead, it denies death, ignores it, and pushes it out of every corner of our experience. No wonder we’re so frightened by it!” We have no context for it, she says, and may regard death — or life — as “illusion.” “When spiritual traditions speak of illusion, they are referring to anything that is temporary, anything that can die. . . Death invites us to engage this inquiry. The answer comes through our direct experience. Can we allow the death of our pets to be an invitation to dance with this eternal mystery? Can we begin to engage that which is beyond the physical? Death can move us into a space of openhearted love. . . Death is love made manifest.”

I am reminded that the word “illusion” actually is derived from a form of the Latin ludere, to play. This suggests that if we call life, or death, an illusion we are not saying it is just an empty hallucination, but like a game we are playing both for the fun of it and to win something during the time from when we enter the playing field until we leave it. Or, to use Fernandez’s other image, it is a feet-on-the-floor dance with the eternal mystery from when we leave our seats on the side until it’s time to return. Surely the lives of our beloved animal friends, brief as they are yet full of joy and vigor at their peak, are lessons we may learn about the game and the dance.

These are thoughts generated by this unique and wonderful book.  By all means buy it, give it to your animal-loving friends, and treasure it — particularly when that time comes.

(Reviewed October 2016)

“This is a very sensitive and important topic. The stories are beautiful and soul-touching. Liz has put her heart and soul into this wonderful book.”

“Anyone who has ever shared their life with a pet is aware of the sacred space a four-legged friend can occupy, not only in our home, but heart as well. Because they are so connected to us, when the inevitable time to release that precious loved one comes, how we respond will make the journey for them (and us) either easier or more difficult. By reading Sacred Gifts of a Short Life, we can prepare ourselves to be there for our pets in a way that honors the gift of unconditional live they have given us for so long. With exquisite insight, compassion, and heart-opening stories, Dr. Liz Fernandez not only points the way, she takes us gently by the hand and personally shows us how to mindfully accompany our beloved pets through their sacred end-of-life journey. Read this book; it will not only change your pet’s life, it will change yours as well. ”

“Liz has an amazing way of capturing the essence of this life force surrounding transition in life stages. I thought I gave a ‘good death experience’ to my clients, but now I see that I can do much more. It will help me to better attend to the needs of my clients, their pets and, equally important, me.”

“Liz is an amazing writer and a beautiful soul. This comes out very clearly in her book. Very few books impress me as this one has. I will be recommending it to my clients and anyone faced with the impending loss of a loved family member, as well as the specialists, veterinarians and technicians with whom I work.”