HAVE ASHES, WILL TRAVEL
By Maggie Van Ostrand
A 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 with me.”
I confided that when I wasn’t driving around with his ashes, Markus also was kept in my bedroom where he had always slept.
“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.