The Buck Starts
"Have Ashes, Will Travel"
By Marge Van Ostrand
recent flurry of interest in obituaries for pets has been appearing
in newspapers from Philadelphia PA to Bremerton WA, according to the
Associated Press. I didn't put an obituary in the paper when I lost
my beloved dog Markus; I was too grief stricken to think of it. We had
been together for over 14 adventurous years. In fact, I was so busy
suffering that I wouldn't answer the phone or the doorbell to allow
kind friends to comfort me. I wanted no consolation for none could dissipate
the knot in my chest, nor fill the place in my heart where Markus once
lived. It was far worse than my divorce.
About a week into my period of self-imposed
isolation, someone shoved a newspaper clipping under the front door.
It was from the Los Angeles Times. It said grief counseling for
pet loss was to take place at 7:00 p.m. that very evening at the Glendale
Adventist Medical Center, about 40 minutes drive from my house.
"Maybe I'll go," I muttered,
"I really must do something. I can't go on like this. It's time
to get a grip," and I weaved through the freeway traffic to Glendale.
Perhaps professional help would ease the pain and enable me to function.
At the Information Desk in the Medical
Center, I showed the man in charge the newspaper article and confirmed
that grief counseling for pet loss was to be held in the Chaplain's
office in half an hour. The man clucked sympathetically, pointed me
toward the appropriate door, and pushed a pamphlet across the desk claiming
that reading it would help me accept and ultimately overcome my pain.
Waiting in the hallway for the chaplain
to arrive and unlock his office was a sad-looking woman dressed in black.
She was shifting from one foot to the other, her hands twisting a damp-looking
handkerchief with which she occasionally daubed at her eyes. Perhaps,
I thought, if I can get her to talk about her pet, it will distract
me from my own loss. Isn't that what life is all about? People helping
people? Finding a connection? She looked at me and I don't think I ever
before saw so much sadness in a pair of eyes. She looked as I felt.
A kindred soul.
After introducing herself as Catherine
Cooney, she asked compassionately, "When did you suffer your loss?"
"I lost my Markus a week ago,"
I sniffled, feeling my chin begin to tremble and my eyes to well up.
"It's been nearly a year since I
lost my Irving and I'm not over it yet," she said slowly, gazing
into the distance at an invisible horizon.
We talked about how difficult it was to
be with someone for years and years only to have them suddenly go. Just
like that. Snatched away when you weren't expecting it. We talked about
how, even if we had expected it, there's really no preparation for the
devastating feelings rampant in the survivor.
She had opted for Irving's cremation,
as I had with Markus, and both of us had decided not to scatter the
ashes but to keep them with us.
"My ashes," I told the woman,
"are in my car in the parking garage downstairs. I couldn't bear
going anywhere without Markus."
"Mine are in the bedroom we shared
for so long. It's comforting to know that part of my Irving is still
I confided that when I wasn't driving
around with his ashes, Markus also was kept in my bedroom where he had
"Twin beds?" Catherine inquired,
continuing, "That's what we had after my Irving got so sick."
"No, we slept in the same bed. Markus
never got sick. He just died."
"Oh you poor thing," she said,
putting her arms around me.
What people say about sharing feelings
and the magic of a hug is true. A bit of the sadness lifted from my
mind and I began to hope that it wouldn't be too long before I could
return to work.
It was right about then that she said,
"It's worse at this time of year. My Irving was going to get an
RV and drive us to Phoenix."
"Irving was going to rent an RV and
we were going to drive to Phoenix.
Say, what's the matter. You've gone all
white. You look just awful."
The woman was talking about her husband,
not her dog. I had been directed to the wrong grief center.
"Uh, I don't feel well," I said,
swiping at my forehead with a Kleenex.
"I understand, dear," she said
patting my arm, "It's just too soon for you to be out in public."
I literally ran out of the medical center
and into the parking garage.
On the freeway, I realized that life can
have its up moments whether you want them or not.
My message to surviving pet owners is
to put your pet's obituary in the newspaper, then call Catherine Cooney.
It'll help even more if you get an RV and drive with her to Phoenix.