It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.
I’m out of town with family today getting the turkey ready, but I can get lab-results, and sometimes this forces me to make very painful phone calls.
The 30ish woman and her beautiful 12 year old daughter had come into my veterinary hospital yesterday with a kitten that was very sick. She was so neurologically affected that she couldn’t stand, and had to be swaddled up like a newborn, or she’d arch backward and thrash around, completely out of control.
Kids seem to have a special bond with pets that only parents can understand. Although I spoke in my best disguised code to her mommy, Madeline courageously held back hysterical tears, clearly having been prepared for the news that I might deliver.
When a pediatric patient presents with such profound symptoms, the diagnosis is often a congenital or genetic condition. Neither can actually be “cured,” but sometimes successfully managed. In veterinary medicine, quality of life is of paramount importance, and so, often these situations sometimes do not end well.
I stepped away from the sweet potatoes and Brussels sprout prep party to make the phone call neither if us wanted to make or receive. The bile acids test had come back normal, so there was not a hepatic shunt, the often treatable liver anomaly we had both hoped and prayed for.
Next on the list of differential diagnoses were a couple of congenital problems, neither of which had a very good prognosis. My medically correct advice was a neurologist referral, but I knew the likelihood of a good outcome was miniscule. Big words with no treatment like cerebellar hypoplasia and spongiform encephalopathy now ascend to the top of the list. And so when she asked what I would do if it was my own kitten, my hand was forced with the grim reality. We are treating for one other parasitic possibility, but the odds are even more slim.
She explained, matter of factly, how this was the first cat that they’d ever had that seemed to love them back. She exuded love and appreciated their affection. This stray kitten just seemed to wander into their house one day, and immediately bonded with her daughter Madeline. Every other cat they’d ever had received their love, but only “Mo” really gave it back.
The crosses we bear are so heavy.
My heart hurts for her, and especially her daughter. I told her how sorry I am. “But,” I explained:
As a father, and as a Christian, I’d like to say a couple of things to you, and I apologize if you wouldn’t expect this from your doctor.
Our blessings come in many forms. We look at such a short life with anguish and disappointment. What a waste. This all seems so cruel.
But, I reminded her. This was a stray kitten that had never known human love and compassion until she found you. In you, she found three months of love that she would otherwise never have known. You gave “Mo” so much. That is a not a waste.
You told me that Madeline had never felt such a returned love from a pet. “Mo” gave her so much. The obvious is the physical, the temporal return of affection. Mo gave Madeline the opportunity to welcome the unloved and unwanted. But think also of the ‘not so pretty’ pieces of this puzzle. Perhaps the bigger lesson includes comforting the suffering, the dying, someone who could not really give back. And so she learned empathy, sympathy, and compassion; how to love the suffering, the unappreciative, the unloveable.
So, although you have had Mo for such a short time, she gave so more than she received. These are blessings.
Sometimes, it surprises me when I am emotionally moved by a client or an experience. This one shouldn’t have been a surprise.
I hung up the phone, sat on the couch and put my face in my hands.
I know pain. I know the cross. I know the questions of the cross.
I am thankful today for so many things. Most of all, I am thankful for a God who is all good, and understands my frustrations and prayers.
Most people that have continued to read this post, understand me, or at least what I’m talking about. Our God is good. All the time.
And for this, I am thankful, on this “Thanksgiving.” I am thankful that, although we carry different loads, and that our God is merciful. I am better for my own load, and although I would not wish it on anyone, it is mine to bear.
As is everyone else’s load and cross. The blessing is not in our destination, the blessing is in the journey itself. Only through times of emptiness and desolation do we grow.
Today I am thankful for my life and my cross. We all carry our own buckets with our own loads. This makes us human. Knowing that we do not walk alone is such consolation. We must be able to lay them at the cross.
I’m also thankful for unconditional love, and a career where I hope I make a difference.
Happy Thanksgiving, 2015