Thoughts on Death

Last week was my annual family vacation. We were all there –
my brother took a week off from working at the clinic to come up, my sister
gathered her two kids and brought them over, and I, of course, was home from
school for the summer. Prior to leaving, we sent my 4-year old dog, Storm, to
an expensive doggy care center where he was going to get the chance to play
with other dogs and just have a darn good time.

We were paranoid a bit about sending him to this place.
Before we let him go we took him to the vet for a complete and thorough
checkup. The vet said he was 100% healthy. We then got a special dog food bin,
filled it up (with dry food because of the canned food recalls), and labeled it
so the only food he ate was his own. We also labeled everything we sent with

A couple days before we were going to leave, he visited the
place and stayed for the day. He was a tad apprehensive around other dogs, but
overall he did a very good job and seemed to be comfortable there.

The day we left, we took him over in the morning, packed our
van, and left that night.

The next day at about 11:30am, we got a phone call from the
dog center.

Storm was dead.

It is impossible to explain the emotions you go through when
you hear those words. It is made much worse when you realize that (as far as you
know) a perfectly healthy dog died in the care of another person a mere 21 hours
after you delivered him to them. I guess I passed through the first stages of
grief quickly because in no short time my sadness turned to anger. How could
these people let him die? Why didn’t they rush him to the vet? Did they neglect
him, or worse, harm him? I was more than ready to enact vengeance upon them for
the death of my beloved Storm.

With the passage of time, I can now recognize my grief as
the same as those visitors to Disney theme parks who are so very unfortunate as
to lose a family member there. We in the Disney community are so quick to
suggest that Disney wasn’t at fault that we often times forget that a family
has just lost someone they loved and cared for.

You cannot fault them for being angry at Disney. These
people are grieving. To them, their perfectly healthy family member is now dead
because he or she went to a theme park. They have every right to be upset. It’s
all part of the grieving process. 

That is why I now realize that when the news of such a
tragedy breaks, our first response shouldn’t be to defend Disney, but rather
one of sympathy and sadness for the grieving family. We are often times too
quick to suggest there are outside medical causes for the death that we forget the
people who now have to cope with the loss.

The necropsy found that Storm died of an intestinal
infection that could not have been prevented. One of those dreaded “unknown
medical conditions” you hear about. And you know, I was actually somewhat relieved
about that. I now know there was nothing I could have done differently and that
I can’t blame the dog center for their part in the tragedy.

Likewise, Disney is often not the one to blame for the
tragedies at their theme parks. As grief progresses into acceptance many
families realize this. But for those first few days, even weeks before the
autopsy results come back, remember the humanity of it all and think of the
mothers, of the fathers, of the brothers, sisters, sons, daughters…

That is when they need support, and that is when we need to
provide it.