Spiritually Speaking

QUESTION: In addition to our two children, we have a 14-year-old poodle, Monique, who is like a family member. For the last year, she has had trouble seeing and has incontinence problems. Now the veterinarian has discovered a cancerous tumor in her stomach. I think we should put her down so she doesn’t have to suffer. My husband and children want her to “die a natural death.” This has been a source of contention in our family. She seems happy and so far we haven’t seen any signs of the tumor causing any pain.
What is really the right thing to do?
– Monique’s Mom

Dear Monique’s Mom,
What a shame your family has to deal with this difficult situation. Our four-legged family members have shorter life spans than humans, so similar circumstances are faced by many.

Knowing what’s right is not 
easy. Our cat Siren had skin cancer, but kept behaving normally. When she got weaker, we made an appointment with the vet to end her life; she 
passed away at home in her bed that morning. I don’t know if she suffered, but I know we did the best we could.

It’s hard to judge a dog’s quality of life and you can’t ask Monique how 
she feels. You can talk to your veterinarian about how to tell if she’s 
in pain.   I can’t imagine your family would want her to suffer, rather 
I believe they don’t want to let her go too soon. As the situation 
changes I think more conversations are in order, including the children as their age permits. As long as Monique seems comfortable, I don’t think there’s any rush. Discussing the situation may allow your family members to deal with their grief over the impending loss. Your children may have never experienced such a loss and it takes some getting used to.

If you notice Monique having any indication of pain or difficulty eating 
or getting around, I would speak up for her and try to convince her other human guardians to allow your vet to help her transition out of life comfortably.

Monique is lucky to have a family caring for her.
Sharon Weisman WEB 0505

Sharon Weisman
atheist/agnostic/secular humanist/free thinker

Dear Monique’s Mom,
Let me say that I am a dog owner (and a cat owner), and I have had animals euthanized. But this is a hard call, and I can imagine the tensions in the family.

As long as Monique does not appear to be suffering, and as long as she appears to be enjoying life, why not let her live? But do keep a close eye on her, and if she starts to feel pain it would behoove your family to give her a “good death,” which is what “euthanasia” means. It’s never easy to say good-bye to a member of the family, and our four-legged members live such short lives compared to ours. But ask each member of the family if he/she is thinking more about the animal’s welfare or his/her own.

Again, it’s a hard call, and I don’t envy your situation. For some reason, I am moved to give you this prayer written by Margaret Wise Brown that I remember from my own childhood: “Dear Father, hear and bless thy beasts and singing birds. And guard with tenderness small things that have no words.”

Skip Lindeman WEB 0505

 The Rev. Skip Lindeman
 La Cañada Congregational Church

QUESTION: I’m 16 and will graduate from high school this December before I turn 17 in February. I’ve been taking summer classes so I can graduate early and begin working toward my goal, which is to be a pediatrician. I’ve taken accelerated and summer classes all the way through high school. My grade point is 4.5 and I hope to accomplish my goal before I am 25.

My parents encouraged me to apply to colleges all over the United States and I’ve been accepted at three of them. The problem is the one I want to attend is in Massachusetts, and now my mom wants me to attend college closer to home.

I’ve never been a party girl and don’t intend to become one, although mom thinks that if I’m away from the influence of her and dad, I may make some wrong choices. I have two younger sisters and will be the first one to go away to college.

I’m really stressing about this and would appreciate some ideas on how to convince my mom that she really doesn’t have anything to worry about.  
– Dutiful Daughter

Dear Dutiful Daughter,
You are clearly a focused, motivated young woman. Your future patients will benefit from having a doctor who has been looking forward to keeping them well all of her life. Here’s my educated guess about your mom: She isn’t really worried about your choices. You have done many things to earn your parents’ trust and support during your high school years, and they know that. Your mom will simply miss you and she isn’t looking forward to it. Your graduation date has come upon her quickly – before she was expecting to deal with your departure, and now she is in denial. She wants to tell her friends how proud she is of you at that prestigious college in Massachusetts, but that will mean you are in Massachusetts, for heaven’s sake!

So here’s what you do: First sit down to a heart-to-heart about her love and support and the absolute silliness (and maybe hurtfulness) of the Party Girl Issue. Then tell her that no matter where you go and what you do, she is always your mother and you will always love her and want her to be proud of you.  After that, you might consider connecting her with friends’ moms who have already been through this and survived. It is not simply okay for you to launch in pursuit of your dreams, it is highly desirable. The launch of a smart, independent young person into the world reveals great parenting skills. She knows that. Just remind her.

Blessings on your amazing future,
Paige Eaves WEB
Pastor Paige

Dear Dutiful Daughter,
I feel for you as your dilemma is a difficult one indeed. Making decisions that will affect the rest of your life is stressful enough. Having to also deal with your parents’ worries and concerns increases the pressure significantly.

In reading your question, I get a very positive impression of your parents. They seem to genuinely care about you and want only the best for you. It is evident that they are doing a good job at parenting for they have produced such a wonderfully accomplished young woman who will one day make a fantastic pediatrician.

I believe that you should attend the college in Massachusetts for that is where you want to go and your state of mind is extremely important in relation to academic achievement. The key to attaining your goals and also maintaining a positive family relationship is communication. You need to have a heart-to-heart talk with your parents and alleviate their fears. Perhaps you can suggest a monitoring system for your first few months you are away which will enable them to ascertain that you are indeed remaining true to their values.

Whatever your ultimate decision is, don’t stress too much. You have a wonderful and loving family, you are a highly motivated achiever and these combined fundamentals will ensure that you will do well regardless of the university you attend.

Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center