I’m one of THOSE pet owners. My fur baby is my whole world. I know us crazy people and our pets is a well established phenomenon, but norms get unreasonably attached to their critters too, if the epitaphs at the pet cemetery are any indication. There’s something about the total lack of judgement, the lack of guile, that is so relaxing and precious in contrast to interacting with other humans.
I had to help my lil’ puddin’ walk on to the Summerlands. Like everyone, I hoped nature would do the job for me in her sleep some night. Because by the time you realize they’re ready, they’ve been ready for awhile. Animals don’t complain much and they can’t tell you how much they’re suffering. You’ll always have waited too long. I’m sure that was the case here, too.
I don’t know about any one else, but Latins are awesome when the dark lady comes knocking. We are enormously practical and efficient. Death, like dictators, is a thing to be gotten through by dealing with it. I made the decision Monday night. By 9:45 Tuesday morning I had the vets lined up for a 1 o’clock house call, and the cemetery pickup scheduled for 1:45. I spent the intervening time sitting by her side, petting her and reading a book. I didn’t get to do that with Mr. Stinky. He got critical so fast, and I didn’t have time to take him home. It was comforting to be able to send her on in her own house, with all of us around. The vets were enormously compassionate. They were women. Most of the death care workers out there are women. Women have a handle on death that is really amazing.
I held her while she died. That was important. I wrapped her up tight after, and sat with her and petted her as she gradually cooled. It may seem morbid to some, but I hold to the idea that death should be experienced. It’s inevitable. It’s something we all will have to participate in as an observer, and eventually, like it or not, do in person. I would do the same for a beloved human. Our culture is so disconnected from this unavoidable part of existing, and I mean to not be.
In typical Latin fashion, after the cemetery came and took her, Mom and I got to work. Bedding was washed and packed away, along with leashes, harnesses, food, supplements, and dishes, in several bags for donation to a local animal shelter. We rearranged and cleaned the house to absorb the empty space that was once occupied by a 50 lb dog. Death doesn’t stop time. Processing a death involves action, not inaction. People who go in and immediately redistribute the possessions of a deceased person are branded vultures, but it’s in fact a very psychologically and evolutionarily sound way to go about dealing with loss. All my boo’s things weren’t going to bring her back by leaving them in place to stare at for however long. There are homeless critters that are immensely benefited by those things, now, and a shelter running on donations that is grateful to have them. The gal who helped us unload the car was so kind. She reached out to hug me several times, and I watched her physically restrain herself. I both appreciate the impulse to offer comfort, and the respect of not assuming I’d be ok with being hugged by a stranger.
After all was said and done, my bestie and my partner plied me with whiskey at our preferred little hole in the wall Irish pub.
That was day one. Day two my partner and I drove to the cemetery for the cremation. I opted for a private one (only my pet in the cremation machine, rather than several separated by partitions. It’s more expensive, but my control freak nature is appeased.) I chose to watch the process. After a few minutes with her in a private room to say our last goodbyes, I watched them open the door to the cremation machine and put her in. It’s not a comforting thing to watch. There isn’t anything dramatic or scary about it, for those of you who might be cringing right now. But it’s very final. For me, there is healthy closure in such a thing. Incidentally, you are legally permitted in most states to do the very same for a human. Hindu and Buddhist families are often present at their loved ones cremations from beginning to end.
Cremation for a dog her size takes about an hour if the machine is hot (at noon, it had been running for several hours already, so it was very hot). We spent that time walking around the cemetery grounds. I cried a lot (recall the aforementioned heartbreaking epitaphs). But cemeteries are green and peaceful and when you get past the reality of why they’re there, filled with love.
The woman (again) in charge of the cremation came and got me when it was time to finish up, because I had said I wanted to watch the entire process. I watched her use a long handled scraper and brush to carefully remove the cremated remains, a small pile of glowing bone fragments, from the machine and spread them on a steel counter top to cool before being ground (cremains don’t come out as ash. They are recognizably bone fragments until run through a machine that grinds them into powder). Once cooled, she used a soft brush to move every bit of bone and ash into the grinder, and once ground, used the same brush to meticulously transfer every last particle into the urn. The care taken was immense. She was kind and professional, as was everyone at the cemetery. I chose this particular one in Hinsdale (an hour from me) because they’ve been a family run operation since the 40s, and they were amazing when Mr. Stinky died, staying open well past regular hours to wait for me to bring him in.
When it was all said and done, my dear lady friend in town for Bristol took me to my favorite brew pub and plied me with wine and her always sunny and deeply hilarious company. I stayed out til past 11. Something I’ve rarely done in the last five years. I had some moments of reflexive panic during the evening as the hours wore on and I instinctively thought I had to get home to take care of my baby girl. The last five years of my life, my full time job has been this special needs dog. A special needs pet, like a human, is an all consuming job. Sometimes that job is very hard to do, because so much of your life has to be sublimated to the doing of it. It’s going to take me a long time to get used to no longer having a curfew.
That was day two. Day three will involve talking about the whole thing (that’s what we’re doing now, btw), taking flowers to all the vets who helped me keep her as healthy as possible for the time she was with me, and properly disposing of the leftover meds. Not much when compared to the jobs of the last two days. Certainly not as fraught with emo weepy. I hope, anyway. Then I’ll go to the gym and sweat it out. Because there’s only so much wallowing in liquor you can healthily do, and I’ve done it. Time to wallow in sweat and effort.
Thank you to all my peeps for the comforting words and crying emojis (I’d love to see an anthropological study of our society’s return to hieroglyphics as a means of succinct communication of an emotional state). You guys are awesome.