April 26, 2005

Ashes To Ashes

I shared with the world my feelings about our dog Detail when he died last year. He was the first pet who died on my watch. He died! How rude. Or something. Death used to be so abstract. That year, Detail was part of a string of deaths adding a different dimension to the word for me.

Out here in the suburbs it is Against County Law to bury a dead pet in your backyard. Part of me puffs up my chest and stamps my foot saying “Balls to that! It’s OUR property! We shall bury our beloved dead dog on OUR property should we so choose!” But then I try to imagine digging a hole in the Virginia clay deep enough to bury anything adequately. That makes me un-puff into my typical law abiding citizen self.

Back when I was a kid, I remember digging graves for my deceased pet gerbils and even a fish or two. We never dug deep. That clay and all. Once my best-neighborhood-friend-growing-up and I had a little ceremony for an expired goldfish. We buried that fish in a shallow grave on the top of the hill in our adjoining backyards. Her cat dug it up shortly thereafter. We saw the desecrated burial plot. I don’t much like thinking about that.

We paid $150 to have Detail cremated, his ashes neatly packed into a lovely wooden box suitable for display. The process seemed a little sanitized, probably a good thing. The neatness soothed.

I am unsure of suitable etiquette for storing a beloved pet’s cindered remains. My dad has had many dogs. I asked him what he did with their ashes and he said, “They are on a shelf in the garage.” Hmm. Not what I had in mind. Even if it was, we don’t have a garage. I imagine keeping Detail’s ashes until his sister assumes the same form. I have this rather sappy idea of mixing them together and spreading them in the reservoir where they used to love to swim. Rather like The Scrapbook, it may well be something I need to do for me.

Over the ensuing months, waiting for Cosine to catch up, Detail, in his polished wooden box, moved to various perches around the living room. He spent some time on the mantel. Then a month or so on a side table by a plant and a picture of The Boy. Next he moved atop the CD tower. I liked that location pretty well. We walked by often and he’d catch our eye. Plus he had a great view out the picture window.

I suppose it may sound a bit, well, a bit odd if I share how often I stroke the top of that polished wooden box and speak a few words to Detail, Our Dearly Departed Dog. He was a good ole boy, he was.

Anyway. Whilst dusting and rearranging various decorative items that dwell in our living room, a candle came to rest atop Detail’s box. Seemed like a good place for it so I left it there.

Then The Boy came home for spring break. He rebuked, “Mom, what was that candle doing on top of Detail?! I moved it.”

I laughed, “It was keeping him company, decorating his space. He liked it.” (Me being bold enough to proclaim what our dead dog was feeling seemed entirely reasonable. I’m sure you agree.)

The Boy shook his head, “Uh uh. No way. How could he? It’s.. it’s… so disrespectful! He’s not some kind of birthday cake!” The words "birthday cake" dripped with scorn. Wendy looked bemused yet nodded in agreement.

So now there is nothing sitting atop Detail in his fancy wooden box. I still think he liked the candle. I don’t think it was disrespectful. Do you?



Debra said...

I do not think the candle was disrespectful, but that's not important. The boy does. Leave the candle aside the box, and it will still serve the purpose.

I have a friend who's dog just after Thanksgiving one year. They got the ashes back in mid December... and carefully placed them on the mantel. Several months later, her sons could not find the ashes anywhere. They searched high and low.

The next xmas, as they upacked their holiday decorations, they found the dog's ashes packed along with the lights and stockings:

"Look! (Our dog) has come to spend xmas with us!"

And so, since that time, their dog "come to visit" at the holidays.

The one dog we managed to get ashes for lives on a shelf in our living room. When my husband dies and is cremated, his ashes and his favorites dogs will be mixed together.

That Girl said...

I don't think it was disrespectful either. I think everyone has their own idea of life and death and meaning.

My parents bought a puppy the day after our dog died. They thought it was an honor to the memory of the hapiness she brought them. I thought it was a slap in the face and wouldn't even look at the puppy for a year.

Big hugs to everyone and ear scratches for Cosine.

J said...

I have to say that I didn't even think about the legality of burying Cowboy in my in-laws back yard two weeks ago. Now I feel like I may have done something against the law. Rats!

Re: the candle...I agree with Debra

KLB said...

Hi there,
Thanks for your entry. My partner and I have three beautiful dogs...Lyla(a mixed lab), McDuff (a shnowzer) and Jake (a poodle). Lyla we adopted from the pound, McDuff from a rope tied around his neck at the bottom of a dirt cellar and Jake came to live with us last April when my father had a heart attack and was unable to care for him. Jake is our oldest and is dying. We know it. We hate it. It breaks our heart and that of our girls. It is so challenging to love and love deeply knowing loss is inevitable. We remind ourselves that for each of our pets we've given them a great life from what could have been ongoing abuse. Sue, my partner thinks she''s a dog food chef and so caringly and carefully prepares their meal. She could market her own line. I know you'll miss your Detail for some time and I wish you peace.

Katie (WannaBeMom) said...

You are clearly not disrepectful regarding your pets, so therefore the candle was just fine. I like that Detail could see out the window. Oh, the pets... how do we love them so? This post was beautiful, Suzanne. It made me laugh and cry and pick up my baby Eli (the cat) and hug him tight. He just purrs. And I still miss Annie, my old Newf. The get into our hearts, don't they? No, you are absolutely not disrespecting Detail with a candle-- it's gotta be better than the garage, and I love the reservoir plan. Beautiful. Just beautiful.

Wash Lady said...

I like the idea of the resevoir. One option would be to keep the candle on it when The Boy is not there and remove it right before he gets home. The only problem is that you'll have to be sure to "remember" to move it. LOL

Eyes said...

You are so kind-hearted and thoughtful. Your dogs are so lucky to have you.

I don't think the candle was disrespectful but I can understand why the boy felt that way. When you are younger, death has such a different meaning than when you get a little older. You realize it is just a part of life...

weese said...

i love that boy of yours.
don't they just suprise you at every turn. did you even think he would notice the candle on top.

WordsRock said...

Thank you all for your wonderful pet stories! Your thoughtful advice is also appreciated. :)

And weese, no, I had no idea he'd even notice that candle. Children are full of surprises.