Friday, May 21, 2010

Dust to Dust

Disclaimer: This post reflects only my beliefs and is not intended in any way to devalue or disrespect those of anyone else.

My friend Kristen has an aged mare that she did not expect to survive her recent move to Texas. Contrarily, the mare is happy and thriving, but the point is that Kris' concern led her to line up final arrangements. Having no experience with equine disposal myself, I used the opportunity to collect the information for when that time comes for my two. And it will. It always does. It's just part of (sing it with me) "the circle, the circle of life".

Kris chose an option wherein the mare would be buried with room left for future horses. Kris said she thought Wynnie would like being with her friends. I didn't mean to be insensitive (I was), but I blurted out, "I'm sure her spirit would, but that's just her body."

I've been down this road many times with other, albeit smaller, animals. It's never pleasant, but it's getting ... easier ... as I get older and face my own mortality. I watched the 17-year old feline love of my life get more and more frail in the last years of his life. That cat and I were seriously connected; we adored each other. I was afraid that in losing him, I might lose myself.

When the day came, Dr. G came to the house, and BooBoo passed peacefully in my lap, purring like crazy. Dr. G presented all the options: mass burial, individual grave site, headstone, cremation, did I want the ashes, etc. And I heard myself say, "No. That's just his body. He's not in it." I had no problem asking for the least expensive, most expeditious disposal of that which my friend no longer needed.

Of course I cried. But very quickly, something else took over: overwhelming gratitude that we got to be together in this life. And the gratitude yielded joy, because I believe that although his body failed him, his enormous spirit never will. I jumped in my truck that beautiful spring day and headed to the farm to play with the new babies and celebrate life. I think of him often. Sometimes I sing or whistle to him, which he loved. But it's never sad; thoughts of him always make me smile. We'll find each other again, if in fact we ever lost each other.

I feel the same way about my own eventual remains, and those of my loved ones, although I would respect their final wishes. Harvest any parts that might help someone have a better life, then feed me to the turkey buzzards for all I care. Services, lovely markers, etc. are for the living. Those who have passed have no need for such things.

Some of us that are still alive have no need for such things. I never visit the graves of those whom have passed, including that of my own father. My Mom insisted on having a Catholic funeral mass for him, although he hadn't set foot in a church in 40 years. I'm not sure if it was one final attempt to save his soul or passive-aggressive revenge for the fact that he was domineering and miserable to live with. Whatever it was, it made for some good laughs, because everyone knew that's the only way she'd get his sorry ass in church!

How do you/would you handle the death of one of your animals?


Tammy Vasa said...

Its funny, when my mom was alive, she and I would go visit the cemetery - not to see our "loved ones" per se, but read the stones, remember other folks that we had forgotten about... Since she has died, I don't think I've been back to that cemetery, although I have ridden my horse thru one of the rural cemeteries near my home.

My biggest loss was my springer spaniel. She was only 7 & it was unexpected. While I thought the platinum mastercard would pull her thru, I was surprised when the vet called & asked for permission to lay her to rest. She asked what I wanted to do with her body. I didn't want a DEAD dog, I wanted MY dog. And I told them I didn't care how they disposed of her, but I wouldn't retrieve her body. I did ask that they snip hair from her neck for me & they did & sent it to me.

I'm with you. I don't need a burial. I am all for organ donation & cremation. Spread my ashes on my favorite trails or in the pasture, for all I care. Just don't put me in a jar! LOL!. I probably won't get my way because I'll be dead and my husband is not one to fuss if it takes extra work. So I'll be buried following mass in a family plot, no doubt.... ;)

Anonymous said...

Well said!
As I write I am listening to my dog struggle a bit with breathing. He has lymphoma and has been going downhill rather quickly (although he has outlived the vet's timeline by 5 months and he has been healthy and active). We are going out of town and he has to be kenneled. We've left advance directives with the vet to euthanize him at any point they feel is appropriate with regards to quality of life. No, we don't want his body nor his ashes. I will have many, many wonderful memories that will be with me forever.
At my previous home I had quite a number of dogs, cats and chickens buried in the yard. I didn't commemorate the resting place, but I know where each pet rests. Every time I passed by I'd say 'hello'. Yes, I talk to my lost loved ones. I receive comfort in this communication and trust they are looking over me.

Laura said...

I'm kinda with you on this situation. I guess if I lived on a big farm, I might bury my animals myself, if I had the right equipment and it was safe to do so...but, that being said, I'm not one for visiting graves. My Dad (a great guy) died when I was 14 and I was only at the cemetary once after that because my grandfather died and was buried in the same area.

I like what you wrote about their sprits and how you didnt need a grave stone or their ashes to remember them or feel close to them...

As for me, I don't want the fuss of a traditional funeral - why make everyone so stressed and sad! I say have a party or something - the Irish do that (or at least used to) and it seems like a better way to celebrate life...

jane augenstein said...

Great post, Leah! I don't like to go to the cemetery either, my sister is always wanting to go and put flowers on graves. With memorial day approaching I am thinking how all the store will be making a killing on people buying plastic, silk flowers and such to "decorate" the graves. I always, when forced to go, took flowers from the farm, wild flowers or flowers from my garden to use, the are free, more beautiful and don't leave a mess for someone else to clean up.

I want to remember the ones who have passed on, and there are many in my life, as they were when they lived. Not the sorrow at the funeral and that's what I think of at the cemetery.

Our two little Chihuahuas, Bean and Eeyore, we had cremated and are in a little urn sitting by a window that they like to lay by in the sun. These are the only two that we have kept or will keep. They were very special to us and I just couldn't bear the thought of putting them in the ground. Strange, none of the others have made me that way.

I do think of all my other beloved pets, especially my first two horses a lot; they were both sold so I don't know what happened to them. Now, Gilly and Pokey....I hate to think about they going but I do hope that they go before me. Since Gilly was a rescue horse that was being starved, it would kill me to think that it might happen to him again. So as much as it would break my heart for them to go at least I would know that they had a good life here and never had to worry about food or care. I would have to keep part of Gilly's tail and make something of it as a keepsake.

Whatever heaven is after we pass from this life, I want to be with my pets that have passed on. If they aren't there, well, I ain't stayin'!

I'm with Tammy, cremate me and spread my ashes where I like to ride Gilly and I will be most happy!!! :-D (I have left instructions with our daughter, cause my husband wouldn't do that either.)

Grey Horse Matters said...

I have to agree with you and everyone else here. Cremate me and spread my ashes where my horses are. When the time comes I hope I meet up with my dog Jake and my horse Erik the two animal loves of my life.

Crystal said...

Weve only had to put down one horse and we burried her because we had to from the drugs. If others were to die, we would prolly bury them as well, but no headstones or anything, just burried where no animals can eat them.
I dont know what I want to happent o me, Im still hoping I will never die!

C-ingspots said...

Very thoughtful and thought-provoking post Leah. I agree with most everyone else here about my disposal...use whatever can be of use for someone else, then burn my body and do whatever with it. It would be nice to think of my family and friends gathering and laughing and remembering good times, and eating good food. I don't want a bunch of $ spent or sad faces at my expense. I'm a Christian and believe that when I die, both my body and the spirit that was my life essence, will be dead. I don't believe in an immortal soul. The soul/spirit is the life force...when we die, it's gone too. Hence, the saying "rest in peace". When Jesus comes, we'll be resurrected and then, the good will go to heaven...not before. As far as my animals, I've lost many. We try and bury them at home, if we can. We grieve at their loss, but when the pain passes, only the joy and thankfulness of sharing our lives with them remains. Our animals truly do bless and enrich our lives, just as treasured friends and family members do. Enjoy the living and remember those who are gone. I think God/Jesus/Holy Sprit miss the dead too. Someday there's gonna be one heck of a reunion!!!! I hope and pray we're all gonna be there. Thanks for this lovely post Leah!!

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic post that gives me insite into my own thoughts. I remember when I had a small poodle that had to be put down. I was younger and too emotional to take her to the Vets. My Dad took her, me telling him not to tell me when he did. I still get emotional thinking about her. She will be there when our spirits meet again.
As for me, ask your speical man of your life, what I desire. I know my dear sister will put up a fight. Spread my ashes over your flower garden. Life is too short, enjoy each day. I enjoyed reading all the comments. Bev. in Fl.

Unknown said...

We have quite a number of pets buried in our garden. A cat (ashes), a dog (one dog's ashes were released into the lake where she loved to swim), a lizard, a mouse, a hamster.

The ceremony is for us, and it's part of how we say good-bye. And I feel good about supporting our local pet crematorium who actually does a lot of good work for our shelter and gives back to the community.

Personally, I'd like to not take up space when I die. Take what still works, and let the rest of me drift off somewhere.

Culturally it's common to have an altar - although maybe it's the wrong word. It's more like a little spot where memory can lingers, with photos and other reminders. I have wanted one for some time, because it's a ribbon spinning out from now to then, slick between my fingers, thin in those of my daughters.

Oh geez. I'm getting all sentimental. See what happens when I've been gone a week?

AareneX said...

When Story had to be put down, I thought it would be unbearable...but it wasn't. It was difficult but needful, and if a thing is needful then it's also bearable. That's my experience, anyhow.

I wrote an article about Story's life and death: (sorry for the long URL, isn't working today!)

As for myself, I've left instructions: cremate me and mix the ashes with some readi-crete to build a permanent water tank up at Clover Springs. You wanna visit my "grave", you gotta get on your horse and ride up some of the prettiest trails God ever built. It seems appropriate.

Anna Larson said...

When my old man Hobo died 3 years ago, I was cremated and his ashes remain in a box in my hallway. I've kept his mane and tail to have some braided jewelry from it.
The main reason he was cremated instead of buried is because we had him put to sleep at a vets office 200 miles from home and didn't have a way to get him home. But the other reason is that I've not been ready or able to "give him up"

When I put my old mare "Big Mamma' To sleep this year, she's buried in a hole in the back of the pasture next to My best friends almost 30 year old horse who died about a year and a half ago from natural causes. We only picked that spot because it has the least amount of rocks so we can actually dig a hole big enough to put a horse in.

My 4 Basenji's, our pet praire dog Lily, a few stray cats and dogs and I think Keith's bunny Fluffanutter are all buried under a specific set of trees in the pasture.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

I feel the exact same way as you and hardly ever tell anyone because their eyeballs usually pop out of their heads, or they look at me with a shame-on-you expression.

My own Mother committed suicide when I was 8 yrs old and the Catholic church refused to give her a last ceremony, even though my Grandmother had been a member of that church and donated thousands of dollars over the years. My Mother was also a Wave in the Navy and was granted a military ceremony and burial, of which my Grandmother was grateful for.

Unfortunately, my Mother was buried in a cemetery in a very crowded part of California (which part isn't, eh?) and I've only been there twice and probably will never go again.

She's not there anyway.

I've told my own family that when I die I must be cremated and my ashes spread over my beloved Sandia Mountains. That way, they can see my last resting place whenever they look up here to these rugged, proud peaks and they can feel my presence and feel closer to me somehow if they choose to hike in these mountains.

I don't want them to feel sad staring at a lonely, small gravestone. I want them to feel peace, joy and the love of nature all around as they wander over these mountains.

Besides mountains are much bigger and more grand than any tombstone I could choose to be buried under.


Pinzgauer said...

Hey, it's Heather.

My views on pet burial are very similar to yours. In many cases I "plant" the smaller animals out in my back pasture, but for me it's because it's just the circle of life. They decompose, feed the grass and trees, and return to nature. I don't mark the graves, but I do know where each one is.

For the horses, it's usually not possible to bury them out there. I have them removed and buried in the least expensive way possible, and most natural. I would be completely ok with composting their remains as well, but don't have that option.

With that said, When my TB mare, Ash dies, I will be burying her out here. She has always been a living symbol of so much to me. From her shaky start before I got her, to the complete turn around she made and how much she taught me. I want to give her a head stone, so I can remember the real reason I got started in horses, and what it is that keeps me going. So burying her is for ME, not for her.

As for myself, I have made sure that my family knows I want to be an organ donor. Besides that, I could care less. What ever makes them happy will make me happy.

That which is living is not the body, it's the mind, the life, and the nuances that go with it. I don't believe in being overly obsessed with the body, but instead try my hardest to make the best memories while they are alive, and to carry those memories with me. Pictures, paintings, and treasured stories are all that I care to keep of my lost loved ones, either human or animal.

cdncowgirl said...

For my horses I am leaning toward having the heart, head and hooves cremated. Our vet told us that due to a horse's size that is traditional if you go the cremation route. Also I would clip some mane & tail hair. I think I would donate the rest of the remains to our local vet college at the university for research.
Some people think that's horrible of me but I look at it this way... the spirit/soul/life force etc of my horse is gone. I have something to remember him/her by and the rest can go to help other horses. After all we ALL want better health care for our horses.

City girl turned Country Girl said...

Yes a very thought provoking post! In the case of animals I have only had 1 dog that I really loved die, I was a teenager but we chose to say our goodbyes at the Vet clinic and I didn't want anything further than that...If we had a horse die it would be hauled off. I honestly cannot say how I would feel if my Sharpei died...It's possible I might bury her here but I just don't know.

I am all for donating organs to anyone whom they might help! However I do not want to be cremated, not sure why I maybe because I'm claustrophobic and I don't want to think of it now LOL! But when my dad passed I didn't allow my wicked step-mother have him cremated. I do go to the cemetery and put flowers on his grave, I don't feel a connection to it but I loved him very much and I guess just seeing his name makes me fell validated to the grief I feel over losing him?! He was very young 50 yrs old, I was 27 and it wasn't expected. But that's just me :)

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