Inwardly I “hmm”-ed when hearing stories about folks keeping the ashes of their pets in their home. Tucked under the bed. Stashed in a closet. Whatever.
I looked askance. Mentally I judged at least a teeny bit. It seemed odd or like an inability to let go. Also, I found it a little creepy.
Then, Pippin Cat died. I couldn’t let his ashes get mixed in with nameless, faceless other animals. Admittedly, this surprised me. He was just a pet, not a person. Also, when our other cat Colby died some years back, I didn’t feel a consuming need to get his ashes back. I’m inconsistent, which bugs me.
But, I couldn’t just let Pippin go like that. Maybe it’s because his death came so unexpectedly.
We chose (or more accurately, J let me choose) to get his ashes back. J picked them up months ago while the ground was still frozen. And I hadn’t decided what to do with them. Due to winter, frozen ground and my general lack of other plans, the ashes got tucked into the hall closet. There they still sit months later.
With Wally’s death three weeks ago, (having multiple old pets die within months of each other is brutal), we now have another pet’s ashes sitting in the closet. J chose to have Wally’s ashes returned to us. Oddly enough Pippin’s came back to us in a tiny cookie tin, while Wally’s came in a cardboard box. And thus, we have two pets’ ashes, animals who didn’t even like each other, keeping company together in the hall closet.
A wee part of me likes the thought of them there. I know they’re dead. But, part of them lingers that way. Or at least the memory of Wally and Pippin persists. I can’t forget when I’m reminded of them every time I rummage through the closet. Also, rummaging through the closet is the correct term as this is the place where I haphazardly shove things in the frantic clean sweep before company comes over.
I find storing these ashes both ridiculous and macabre. Yet, I still haven’t made myself figure out what to do with them. And now I find my perspective on other people shifted. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks. We’re all trying to just make it through the day and muddle through our griefs.
I know a large part of my tucking them away is that I just don’t want to let go. I don’t want to step into life as it is now. I can’t go back, but I don’t really want to move forward either.
Keeping them in the closet doesn’t actually change anything, much like keeping the tiny baby hat symbolic of hope for biological children didn’t make magic happen.
Perhaps in grieving pets and dreams, we don’t often have rituals to help us let go. We don’t usually have funerals or wakes for these things. And, for me, I would find it weird if we did.
But, as I learned in my first attempt at seminary, rituals can be powerful things, helping us to close chapters and turn new pages.
As the weather warms and planting season here in Minnesota begins, I’m busy contemplating what kind of trees or shrubs to plant in the yard in honor of these pets and dreams. It’s time for them to move out of the house, but I don’t want to cast them out in dishonor or as garbage. Pippin and Wally were treasured family, with all their own quirks and flaws. I honor them and the lessons they taught me about love, patience and doggedness. I’m grateful for the way they made me ready for adventures to come.
Also, that tiny little baby hat, purchased in a fit of exuberant hope (see this post if you want more info), shall make it’s way out with Pippin and Wally. The three of them shall keep company in the ground in the backyard. Motley companions, perhaps. But, oddly enough, I think motley companions turn out to be the best ones.
Why bury the hat? I can’t give it away; it’s too personal. It was meant for MY baby. Nor can I treat it as rubbish to be burned or thrown out. I needed that confidence back then, even if life didn’t pan out the way I wished.
In moving that cap out of the house, I’m still grateful for the hope, but I don’t want to funnel the expectation in such a narrow way. I’m beginning to let go of the desire of babies and naming children, and discovering trust that God can still make a family out of J, I and older children. Maybe it’s not conventional. But, really, the more I hear others’ stories — who exactly is conventional? And if they are, are they even people I want to hang out with?
Hope is NOT wasted. True, it’s painful when it’s dashed. But, I’d still rather lift my chin heavenward and continue trusting that God is capable of raising up life from unexpected places.
After all, if that’s not possible, what’s the point of doing anything other than falling into an utterly defeated heap on the floor?