The Veterinarian had never feared dying, but he was terrified of who he would meet on the other side.
So when the Veterinarian died and found himself standing in a strange twilight, he looked around carefully, but found no one waiting for him. He was relieved. There was only darkness behind him and a strange glowing haze in front of him. Voices behind him were calling his name, and he heard the distant sound of crying. Turning around he looked into the swirling darkness behind him; he could see vague shapes and the occasional flash of movement, and part of him wanted to return. But even as he stared the darkness seemed to deepen, and he felt heavy, rooted in place. So instead he turned, and began to walk towards the haze.
The glow of the haze grew brighter as we walked towards it and it reminded him of the moments just before dawn, when the light of the sun could be seen but the sun itself was hidden just beyond the horizon. The haze grew into a fog that began enveloping him, but unlike fog, it didn’t feel cold. It was warm, and as he reached towards it, it began to run up his arms. As the fog made contact with his skin it began flashing with colors sharper and brighter than any he had ever seen. The warmth of the fog began to flood into him, melting away all his aches and pains, and all the weight he’d never known he’d been carrying suddenly vanished.
He walked faster now, looking down to admire how his feet made the fog beneath him explode with a different color with each step. Then he saw shape in the fog; a long, angular face with pointed ears, four impossibly slender legs, and a powerful body. It was a horse. As he stepped closer, he could make out the horse’s face… he recognized it, and remembered the case: laminitis. He had spent weeks trying various remedies, but nothing had worked. In the end, there had been nothing he could do but ease the horse’s suffering.
The Veterinarian then noticed an African Grey parrot sitting on the horse’s back; Proventricular dilatation disease, another he’d failed to save. A cat was suddenly at his feet; lymphoma. More and more animals began to appear, and he knew them all. They surrounded him on all sides, appearing from the fog that still flashed with every color of the rainbow. He was so afraid.
He had never feared the act of dying. This is what he had feared; meeting his failures, the animals that had died because he wasn’t fast enough, he wasn’t smart enough, and he wasn’t good enough to save them. Now the Veterinarian would have to explain himself to them and face their judgment.
“I’m sorry.” Was all he managed to say before bursting into tears.
As he fell to his knees, the animals began closing in around him…and suddenly the horse’s face began to nuzzle against his own. The bird flew to his shoulder, its wings trailing light and color as they cut through the fog. The cat began rubbing against his legs. And then the fog suddenly vanished, as if swept away by a mighty bust of wind, revealing more animals around him. There were thousands. He recognized them all, an act that would have been impossible anywhere else, but here, he remembered them all with perfect clarity. And as the assembled animals began to move around him, jumping, flying, skittering, and slithering, they began to speak.
The air was filled with barks, meows, chirps, honks, neighs, grunts, chitters, and more. Yet it all melded harmoniously together and somehow the Veterinarian could pick out each individual call and hear what they were saying. He’d understood animals his whole life, could hear pain in a dog’s breathing or see it in a cat’s eyes, but for the first time he could truly hear them.
What he heard was thanks. He had welcomed many of them into the world and had been there to guide them on their journey when it was time to leave their broken or diseased bodies behind.
What he heard was love. For when it came time to leave their companions behind, the humans and fellow animals of their pack, they did not have to be afraid in the Veterinarian’s hands.
What he heard was truth. The Veterinarian had done enough, had been enough. The failures that had haunted so many of his nights on Earth had not been failures at all. The Veterinarian had tried his best, had fought death tooth and nail for every single of one of their lives. And when those battles had been lost, the Veterinarian had been there to make the transition peacefully, and that was all that could be asked of him.
And as that understanding began to seep into him, the Veterinarian’s last remaining fear simply melted away along with the last of his tears. Some of the animals began to fade away and he sensed that they were returning to the side of their humans who had already joined them. Yet so many of the others remained and though they were continuing to play and frolic, they would also occasionally stop to look expectantly at the colorful, glowing fog on the endless horizon.
He sensed he could move on from this place, but he was in no rush. He looked around at the animals around him, and knew they would wait for as long as it took, for their journey would not be complete until their people had arrived. The Veterinarian decided he would stay there with them and accompany them on their journey.
Just as the Veterinarian had always done.