by Vickie Byard, CVT, VTS (Dentistry), CVJ

I usually blog on veterinary dentistry or I post some wisdom from some facet of veterinary medicine from one of our talented educators. Today, inspiration came from another direction and I feel it is equally important to share it with you all and at fifty some years young,  I have learned to follow those leadings.

I have personally been thrust in a professionally uncomfortable time.  The details are not important.  What is important is that the feelings I am brushing up against are experienced by technicians and veterinarians every day; fear of failure, vulnerability and a tablespoon of insecurity.

Well, you may remember the viral video of Deborah Cohan, MD catalyzing her surgery team with a soul freeing dance just prior to her own mastectomy.

Dr Cohan has shared many facets of her healing journey on her Facebook page and for me it has provided constant lessons in my personal journey through vulnerability and the walk towards real wholeheartedness.

It seems she lost a dear friend and she shared these reflections on her page and I thought I would share the jewel-like essence of it with those I care for; my community:

“Tom, my first ever conscious dance partner, died last night of metastatic stomach cancer. A sensitive man, a talented artist, an exceptionally fun dance partner. An incredible dancer really. I sensed a trustworthy man, a kind soul the first time I saw him. His huge welcoming smile — just enough eye contact to connect but not overwhelm that first time I danced with such intention and vulnerability. He lifted me ever so slightly off the ground, my heart cracked open and my spirit soared. In that moment, he taught me so much about trust and joy and living fully. And then last week, he taught me trust and joy and dying fully. He courageously opted for hospice and slowly and gracefully transitioned from being fully alive to taking his final breath. I visited him twice last week. He would rest, breathing calmly, and then open his eyes and share a profound insight. “I’m still holding on because it is all so delicious.” Amazing. He could have been focusing on his pain, his chapped lips, his poor appetite, Instead — Each breath was a joyous reminder of life. Each breath was enough. There he was breathing, living moment by moment with such clarity, ease and grace. At one point, he opened his eyes and we looked at each other — peering deeply and honestly. With a wide open heart, he shared that he was feeling so close to me. No need for barriers — those unnecessary shields we learn to erect as we travel through the world and acquire wounds. I reflected back that, in fact, we had always been this close, but that we just hadn’t realized it. Or we were afraid of it. I’ve thought about this conversation so much over this past week — particularly on the heels of the Pema Chodron/Shambhala retreat about bravery and an enlightened society. Bravery as bringing a pure heart, an open mind, assuming everyone’s inherent goodness, no shields… It is an incredible approach to living. I have tried to embrace these teachings from the retreat, from Tom, noticing when I’m lifting a shield, exploring why I think I need protection, consciously lowering the shield, and having an honest and loving connection. Love is everywhere. There are many obvious sources of love — our children, family, close friends and partners. But I am coming to really understand on a core level that love connects all of us. Love is at our fingertips. Love is direct eye contact with a new friend. Love is giving a colleague the benefit of the doubt. Love is a stranger trusting me on the dance floor. No need to search for love. Love is our natural state. Tom showed me that death infused with love is beautiful.”

Please, treasure the challenges you face today. That feeling of fear and vulnerability you come up against when you are unsure of the next step is part of the journey. The feeling of loss for a patient is a deep reminder of how much this profession matters to you.  The nudge of disappointment you try to hide when you think you could have done something better is the juice that does make you better the next time. Your exhaustion at the end of a day is what it feels like to use all you have, to do that which you have been called to do.  And, maybe we need to be reminded to be more forgiving of our colleagues when they stumble briefly. Or maybe even more poignantly, these words could be the whisper in our ears to be less judgmental of those we have chosen to serve, our patient’s guardians.

I know I have read her words over and over this morning as I get ready to jump in the car to meet a new group of veterinary professionals hoping to grow and stretch.  I pray that we all will be blessed with another day today. Let’s Make it Delicious!

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