11 August 2008

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

Yesterday was one of the hardest days of my life. I had to say a final farewell to Cricket. I know she was gone already, and only her lifeless body remained. But that was still a tangible connection to her. She was still beautiful even in death, and her fur was still soft and precious to touch. I'm glad I had those three extra days to ease into the absence of her physical presence. Even so, the waves of grief over letting go were intense. But I know I've given her back to God, and that helps soften the grief.

After much deliberating over the past few months, I had chosen to have her cremated. That will allow me to spread some of her ashes in a few special places that have been meaningful to us. I found out about a wonderful pet cremation service in North Vancouver called Until We Meet Again, run by Kevin Woronchak and his wife. They do a professional job of the cremation business, but their mission is primarily to care for the people who are going through loss of a pet, and they treat the animals with dignity. They have a beautiful meditation room for pet owners to sit in while the cremation is taking place. Kevin was so gentle and tender with Cricket, and made me feel really cared for. He allowed me to participate as much as I was comfortable in the cremation process. I ended up being brave and wanting to see what her bones looked like when the oven was opened, before they were ground down to ashes (see photo above left). It was a shock looking in and seeing how little of her remained. One amusing bit: I had chosen to have two of Cricket's favorite toys cremated with her (her whale and her elephant), because they were "dead" too: they no longer made their noises if you squeezed them, as their unchangeable batteries were dead. We found little bits of exploded battery and melted down circuit board in the cremains. Kevin removed them with a magnet, so that what's in Cricket's urn is pure Cricket. I chose to have him reserve some of the ashes to be made into a piece of memorial art glass, with swirls of color in it. The colors I chose were cobalt blue (because Cricket always wore a blue collar) and apple green (because apples were one of Cricket's favorite treats).

For now I have the urn set up on my hearth, with candles and flowers next to it. I could have straightened out the skewed photo, but I realized it is better that way, as it represents how my life is now out of kilter without Cricket in it. It will take me some time to find equilibrium again. When I'm ready, I plan to sprinkle all the ashes. Again, it will be hard to let go, but I know that Cricket is not really there in the urn. She's in my heart and will be forever. People I know who have hung onto the ashes of a pet or loved one until they figure out what they're going to do with them have ended up hanging onto them indefinitely and then feeling awkward about it. Do you keep them out visible forever, or put them in storage? Neither of those seems like a good alternative. I want to find freedom through releasing them all back into God's creation.

God has been really good in showing me his presence throughout these sad days, and sending friends to help me bear the grief. Never has Isaiah 53:4 ("Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.") meant more to me than now. Last night I went with a friend to hear the Vancouver Cantata Singers perform Brahms' Requiem - perfect timing! It was a very fitting closure to such a day. A requiem mass is the traditional mass sung for departed souls, only Brahms' Requiem is a bit unorthodox, as it is meant to comfort the living, not petition for the souls of the dead. The text was beautiful (as was the singing), in German with English translation in the program: "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted." "Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" (all from Scripture). This last photo of me was taken a couple of years ago by the young daughter of some friends of mine when we were playing around with guessing emotions from someone's facial expressions. I was putting on a sad face on purpose.

Ritual is very helpful in handling passages in life such as the death of a loved one. I have done several things intuitively which have turned out to be comforting. Lighting a candle each night of the "wake" when I kept her body in my house, and again the first night with the urn on my hearth. Crossing myself (even though I'm not Catholic, it seemed the right thing to do) as my friend and I prepared to lift her body into the car to take her to be cremated, and again when I said farewell to her body before the oven was closed.

I slept well last night.


Anonymous said...


Thanks so much for sharing this.


Mary Ann said...

Thank you for sharing this...my husband and I have started to do the painful research involved for the final arrangements for our little fox terrier, Zac, who was diagnosed a few weeks ago with terminal cancer. Coming across your blog helped us feel so much better about Kevin at Until We Meet Again. Thank you for so openly sharing -- the time to come is going to be devastating for us, but it helps to know that we're not alone.


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