The cremains of the day

Forgive me if I’m wallowing a little today.

I finally decided to open the box containing Maci’s “ashes” to extract a small amount of them to place into a simple urn pendant that I’ve had for several weeks. It was far more emotional than I thought it would be.

At the time that I had to make the decision to euthanize Maci, there was no room in my head for anything except the most basic of decisions. First, the Big Decision. (No, no more suffering; let him go.) Do you want some time to say goodbye? (No, I want you to wake him up so I can take him home and never let him go again, but that’s not really one of my choices, is it.) Do you want his ashes returned? (Of course. Duh.) Yes, please. Would you like a wooden box or a ceramic urn? (Oh, god, a ceramic urn is going to lead to me Dust Bustering Maci up off the carpet at some point in the near future.) Wooden. Most definitely wooden. Nameplate? What? Yeah, whatever. Do you want to take the carrier home? (Oh, god, no. No, I don’t. I have to leave, before I give into the urge to run back in, scoop him up, and spirit him away.)

It was all over so quickly and in such a haze. In hindsight, I’d wished I’d asked for a clipping of hair, or a paw print. Something recognizable of him. But it was too late when I thought of that. Hell, there are a lot of things I wish I’d done that day that I can’t go back and do over.

I was touched, when I picked up his remains a few weeks later, to discover that the crematorium thought of what a grieving pet owner would want without even being asked. The box itself was placed in a lovely black velvet bag embroidered with the words “Until We Meet Again at the Rainbow Bridge”, and then placed in a white “Thinking of you” gift bag with blue tissue paper.

"Gift" bags from crematorium

The velvet bag also contained a little card with Maci’s name on the front. Inside the card was a paw print and a little bag of clipped hair fastened to the card with a heart-shaped pin.

It all made a potentially difficult moment so much easier than it could have been.

Several days after I picked up the package, I opened up the bottom of the box for the first time. I’d never seen cremains before. All I knew is what I’d seen on TV shows and in movies, where you see some hapless person knock over the urn containing Aunt Martha’s ashes and they scatter all over the floor. They always look like cigarette ashes — grey and fine — and so that’s what I was expecting. I didn’t expect (though I probably should have if I had really thought about the process) them to look like large-grained sand, like the sand you put at the bottom of an aquarium. Only a few non-white speckles, no ash at all. Just the ground up remains of the bones and other hard elements of the body. Everything else, it would seem, pretty much vaporizes.

I don’t look at them too closely, though, in case there is still something there that is recognizable. I’m not sure I could handle that right now.

Such a small amount of remains to mark the huge hole in my life left by his absence. Should be…more.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

(W.H. Auden, “Funeral Blues”, 1938)


Maci's pendant urn


Tear-stained thoughts from a broken heart

Maci, my feline companion of 15 years, died on Saturday morning, just two days after my 46th birthday. He’s left an enormous hole in my heart, bigger than you would think such a little guy could leave. It was a sudden decision I had to make without prior preparation. He’d been losing weight and was little more than skin and bones, but I still never thought cancer. Maybe I was too wrapped up in grieving for my mother, and that’s something I can’t make up for.

On Wednesday, he had a brief moment where he couldn’t stand up — his back legs just wouldn’t support him — and I finally made an appointment with the vet. The back end problem went away, but he still wasn’t eating much. And he was just, well, “off”. I had reiki healing done on him on my birthday — to support him until our appointment on Saturday — and he spent pretty much the entire session in my arms or on my shoulder. It seemed odd at the time, but I think he knew by then what was going to happen to him. Me, I was firmly in denial. He was supposed to be around for at least a few more years, damn it.

On Saturday morning, as I was getting ready to go, he actually came out of the bedroom where he was sleeping, climbed up on a box of cat litter, and started nosing at his cat carrier, which was sitting on top of my laundry cart. He got into the carrier with little fuss. That should have been enough to warn me something was going on, but I brushed it off. At the clinic, he was less vocal and upset than he usually is and I had the thought that I should take him out of the carrier and hold him…but I didn’t want to stress him. I will always regret that I didn’t heed that impulse, because, looking back, I would have braved any amount of biting or scratching to have one last cuddle with him.

I’ve been reading Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s book “On Grief and Grieving” lately, trying to come to grips with the ongoing grief from my mother’s death in August. I was reading the book in the examination room while we were waiting for the vet to finish up with an emergency patient. I talked to Maci — he was mostly lying quietly, though he hissed when I moved anywhere near the carrier door. (I’d brought a blanket with me for him, but that really upset him for some reason, so I tucked it into my purse, out of sight.) I told him we were going to make him feel better….and I suppose we did, though it wasn’t at all the way I’d expected us to. In hindsight, I should be thankful for that long wait in the examination room as it was the last time I got to spend with my sweet boy while he was conscious.

The vet finally came and took him into the back for his examination. After several minutes, she came and brought me into the back with her. That’s when I knew things were going badly. Maci has to be — had to be — masked in order to minimize the trauma of vet visits and he was still masked and lying on the table. The vet had me feel the mass in his intestine — it was so long, but hadn’t been there in January at our previous visit. She recommended letting him go. It was like a punch in the stomach. It wasn’t a decision I’d expected to have to make that day and it broke me to make it. I stayed there until it was over — I’ll be getting his ashes in a wooden box with a name plaque on it later — and then left. I cried at the clinic and then managed to hold it back in until I got home and into my apartment. Then I started hyperventilating and I’ve been doing that pretty much ever since. It is unbelievably empty here without him.

A heavy thread of guilt underlies my grief for Maci that doesn’t exist under the continuing grief for my mother. Guilt because I was responsible for his care and quality of life: I should have noticed how serious things were sooner, I should have had my own shit together enough to have been able to afford regular vet care, I should have been a better companion. My mother controlled her own life and environment, but I alone am responsible for what Maci ate and what his environment was like.

He’d been sick for some time, but I had lots of reasons for not taking him to the vet when it all first started: unemployment and lack of money, not believing in the seriousness of the situation, putting it all down to getting older, not wanting to stress him out more with a vet visit, my own personal emotional issues…lots of excuses, but it all comes down to a failure of my responsibilities and, for that, I don’t think there is or can be forgiveness, certainly not from me.

Right now, I’m precariously balanced on a precipice. Do I use this powerful grief as a catalyst for change and growth, to honour the memories of this most beloved creature and my mother who preceded him? Do I just fall fully into the darkness? Or do I just continue to teeter forever in this sorrowful, apathetic limbo?

I know what my answer *should* be, but it’s too soon to say how it will actually play out.

Trying animals on for size

My sister has a lovely, fluffy cat and a boisterous golden retriever that are very much loved members of her family. Two of her children have (finally!) left home, leaving just one behind, and all three are making noises about wanting to take the cat with them. (They’d take the dog, too, but he’s harder to accommodate in an apartment.)

Presumably my sister said the cat wasn’t going anywhere because the two oldest suddenly decided within the last week that they were going to get their own cats.

The oldest adopted a full-grown part Himalayan on November 2. Life was all love and mushiness that first day. Less than a week later, she’d decided he was badness and Hell personified and had given him away without a single regret. And now she’s talking about getting a kitten instead, because, you know, kittens are so much less work. (Interestingly, the reverse was the reason she’d initially decided to go with a grown cat.)

The other adopted a nine-week-old male kitten on November 4. He’s already frantically talking about how insane the kitten is and hoping that getting the kitten fixed will calm the little guy down.


I love both of those kids to pieces, but I find myself getting quite angry — at them for not taking the concept of animal stewardship seriously, at the people physically around them — family and friends alike — who didn’t tell them to step back and think before adopting another living creature, at my brother-in-law so many years ago for treating the lives of the two kittens they used to have so cavalierly and setting a very bad precedent. (Yeah, I’m never letting that one go.) Today, that brother-in-law’s sister told my niece that, hey, at least she cared enough to try. Bullshit. Six days is not trying and, no, you don’t get karma points for making a half-assed effort.

Too many people make the decision lightly, like buying a new piece of clothing. Cute little bunnies at Easter, puppies and kittens under the Christmas tree. Try them on for size. If they don’t fit or they mess up your carpet, just return them for a refund or give them away to someone else. It won’t matter to them, after all. They’re just dumb animals. They’ll adjust to being passed around.

Cats are such partypoopers

Ottawa Citizen, February 25, 2010: Small pets may be excluded from airline cabins

Small pets could soon be banished from passenger cabins in Canada after the government agency overseeing consumer complaints ruled Thursday that some customers suffering from a cat allergy are disabled and must be accommodated.

The Canadian Transportation Agency ruled that three complainants are in effect persons with disabilities because the pet policies at Air Canada and WestJet allowing cats in aircraft cabins impact on their ability to travel by air.

That’s right, it’s all fun and games for the dogs until the cats ruin the party.

I’m allergic to cats. Extremely allergic to cats. But that doesn’t stop me from being owned by one.  My mother is even more allergic to cats. She has to dose up on antihistamines whenever I visit because I bring the cat hair fiesta with me, however much I try to remove it before visiting. Banishing cats from the cabins of airplanes really isn’t going to be all that helpful. How many planes have you been on where someone brought an animal on board with them? How about where someone who had a cat (or five) at home came on board? You don’t know (unless you’re really hyper vigilant) but I’d be willing to bet that it is significantly more. Are the airlines to ban cat owners from just being on flights? It’s the only way to guarantee an allergy-free flight for the allergic.

What I want to know is when they’re going to make the flights scent-free. Environmental allergies are an issue, too.  Can you picture the mandatory sniff inspection as you’re coming through security? Now, that I’d like to see.