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Friday - Lord @ the Crematorium

By 1:15 PM















Lord was pissing in the cemetery.

Pets Rest was the cemetery, and the headstones were miniature. This was the pet cemetery that my vet uses for private cremations. Considering the high potential for the macabre, this scene before me was utterly charming.

The owner's name was Phil. He had a long silver ponytail and a Rottweiler named Lord.

And Lord just stood there going about his business, barely missing a headstone.
He was a big guy; must have weighed over 150 lbs.

A woman cried out from behind the front desk, "Oh Lord, are you still peeing?"

I couldn't tell if this was all an elaborate setup for that single punchline.

My dear friend and I were there for Bibi's 10:30 cremation.

Not only did I request an individual cremation, I paid extra to be a witness. Talk about going from one extreme to another. First I wanted to move on without attachment and now I'm micromanaging the cremation. Sometimes I surprise even myself.

In the last couple of days, I received an astonishing amount of support from my single posting on this blog. Sadly I learned that so many have been through a similar episode of loss. This was a strange new place to get a very private heartache off my chest. But at the time I just wanted it "out there", like Sally said to Harry. I hadn't expected anybody to catch my throw. It seems brazen and cowardly at the same time to cast such a wide and random net. But I was in action mode, not in mind-tripping mode, like I usually am. I spilled my guts and just made it public. Done. What I hadn't anticipated was to be reminded how kind people can be.

Jose was the man in charge of the cremation today. He brought us back to the furnace room.

Truth be told, I've been here once before. It was four years ago, almost to the day. My cat, Gert, suddenly died and I had my very first go at being a responsible pet owner. I always grew up with animals, but fate (or parents) always shielded me from the final moments. Anyway, Gert being the first, I didn't know what to expect. When I learned of all the different ways you can part with a pet, it made me kinda dizzy.

First, you're already in shock because of the actual death. Then comes the vet bill, which requires a platinum card and smelling salts. Then they ask you how you'd like to handle the remains. Are you kidding me.

  1. Dachau style, pile up all animals for that week, cremate and never see any of the remains
  2. Group, which is sort of like Black Jack. After the pile 'n burn, the dealer shuffles and deals, you might get Coco and maybe a bit of Max's ashes in the mail.
  3. Individual, which is more money and all of Coco's ashes
  4. Finally, Witnessed, which is making sure that it's really Coco going in the furnace, ch-ching.
I hated being completely gouged at a time of grief but also wanted to make sure that I wouldn't have to send Geraldo Rivera in there to exhume the remains of the true Coco, or Gert, for that matter, 20 years from now.

So I scheduled a private, witnessed cremation for Gert, but when I showed up at Pets Rest, I was turned away at the counter due to a scheduling mix up. They suggested that I reschedule. [insert expletive laden scene of choice from any Scorsese, Tarantino, Joe Pesci, Sam Jackson, vehicle where I rip the help a new asshole] When your dentist has a scheduling mix up you get over it. But it takes more than swishing Listerine to prepare for a visit to the crematorium. And I wasn't having it.

Long story short, they realized their error and my dismay and corrected matters. I made sure that they had my Gert and not some decoy. I then offered the flowers I had brought with me with a letter to be turned into ashes beside him. I was instructed to return in 45 minutes after the door closed to the heat chamber.

Before the ashes can be put into a plastic bag and then into a box for you to take home, the bones that remain must be pulverized into a fine powder. Jose neatly swept every last bit of silvery bone into a plastic bucket and brought forth a tool that looked like a stamper. He pressed down on the bucket with it like a mortar and pestle. After a couple of strokes, he handed it to me to try. At this point, I felt that I was participating in something truly amazing.

I pushed down with my weight and with each grind, it sounded like croutons turning into dust. I poured all of my energy into this act and thanked Gert for being a part of my life. It was the most unexpected way to reconcile the sadness of no longer having him in a tactile world and being convinced that he was now eternal. It was similar to when I was able to ride my bike without training wheels. It's a colossal loss in theory, but once gone, it's not how you imagined.

On this day Bibi was laying on what looked like a gigantic pizza peel on a utility cart.

She looked so natural, she could have been asleep. She really looked at ease. Her red fur was still silken. And Bootsie immediately spotted her. I'm not sure as far as rituals go, it's a good idea to bring a live pet into a crematorium, but I figured it was in the spirit of full disclosure.

I walked up to Bibi and patted her on her side. She was chilled and stiff, as one would expect and sounded hallow like a hand drum. I was amazed that I was so comfortable with her current state; I was happy to see her again. And would have kissed her nose, were it not for the frost (it would be awkward being lip-locked to your dead dog's frozen nose), so instead I kissed her on her head.

I brought Bootsie up to her fur and she seemed to have gotten the message loud and clear. I'm under no illusion that she wasn't already aware of what was going on. Bootsie's presence was more for my benefit, I admit.

Jose did not rush me or my final examination of my beloved dog.

When I was ready, I said my final goodbye to her body and for the second time I offered the harvest from my garden to keep my pet company in the chamber. I watched Jose wheel the cart to the heated cinder-blocked furnace. It was a gentle but powerful heat. I now fully understood the operational cost of such a unit. This is why they can charge you a lot, especially if it takes as long as they say to complete the procedure for a single animal. I reminded him that he helped me cremate my cat Gert. I didn't care that he may not remember. I cared more that he took pride in this unique profession.

Jose explained everything to me thoughtfully. He said that she will take 2 hours. Fair enough, Gert was 16 lbs and Bibi's 60 additional. I asked if I need to come back to crush the bones, and he said that now they use machines. It's too much work. I fully understand. But felt fortunate that I had that experience at all. I shook his hand and thanked him.

During those two hours, I went to a car wash. This seems trivial, but it was all I could think of doing. I wanted to cleanse my car of all the weight it carried. This was our reliant means of transportation. Without it, Bibi could go nowhere. The salty ocean grime, the sand, the dog hair, the nose prints on the glass...

I had lunch with my dear friends and suddenly noticed that I was ravenous for the first time in days. I ordered the biggest lunch on the menu and did not leave a single bite behind. That's when I first realized that the bothersome lump in my throat had all but disappeared without a trace.

When I returned to Pets Rest, Bibi was in a Cabernet colored wooden box. It was very handsome like she. Then Phil, Jose and his wife both offered me their condolences and a somber look. Phil said he had no words that could comfort during this sad time. He must say this a dozen times a day but he was sincere. I assured him that nothing could have comforted me more than him having such a lovely service for pet owners.

Even Lord walked over to offer sympathy. And then head-butted my friend towards the lobby plant.
Thank you Lord.

This all unfolded in a span of one work week.
I got the ball rolling on Monday and by Friday she was gone.
Today I had come to send Bibi off and now she's coming home with me.

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2 comments

  1. Bibi has been a luckiest dog in the world.
    You have done pretty good care of her.

    I'm sure she went to heavenly heaven.

    Love & Peace, Papa

    ReplyDelete
  2. sorry to hear about bibi, but i'm glad you posted it on facebook so that i got a chance to share some of your thoughts. as always your use of language is great and the name and idea for this blog is really meaningful.

    on another note, dan and i will be in sf aug 12-20, so let's have a little kana and e.y. time!

    ReplyDelete