Wait - back up.
So I'm over at Animal Control to pick up my dog's ashes from his cremation, a few weeks after he passed away. Having paid to have his remains returned to me when I delivered Michael's body to their office, I assumed today would be a simple procedure, to wrap up final chapter of a lifetime with this wonderful friend.
"Hi, I came in on the 3rd of November and I'm supposed to pick up my dog's ashes today..."
(long, uncomfortable silence)
"Ah ... I've got some bad news for you."
I was asked to go round back into the facility Director's office. Upon closing the door, he said: "I'm sorry - We're trying to make sense of it ourselves, but it seems we've lost the body ... the paperwork is here, but it was never signed out of our storage and nobody seems to know where it went ..."
And for the second time this month, I started to cry right there in his office. I hate the loss of control that comes with tears and I hate myself for choking up when I need to be calm and rational, but I just don't have the strength when I'm blindsided with such things.
The director explained that the Michael's body was tagged for individual cremation (as I'd originally paid for), but sometime between when it was placed into the facility's storage and when it was picked up, some snafu ended up sending the body to the wrong destination. In all likelihood, he was cremated and disposed of with all the unwanted and stray animals in spite of the tag attached to his body.
Instead of the treatment he deserved, he was dumped and burned with the ignored, abandoned and unwanted, en masse like so much garbage ... one final insult to a cherished friend. Christ almighty.
Damn, I crying right now as I write this.
"I'm so sorry for putting you through this," he said - and from his expression, I knew he meant it. "Obviously, the cremation fees you paid will be refunded to your credit card. I know that's not much comfort right now, but this is what I can do for you. There's a couple of options you'll want to think over. I'm willing to pay for a memorial plaque if you'd like. Or, uh ..."
"As you know, we do process animal cremations all the time here, and if it's absolutely essential for you to bring home ashes, well, you know, ..."
I looked back at him levelly "I know what you're offering."
He nods, and leans back. "Again, I can't begin to express how sorry I am that you have to face this awful situation ..."
Christ, what a cruel dilemma. My brother was absolutely devastated our dog passed away. He felt tremendously guilty for not being with Michael in his final days, and was totally adamant about getting his ashes back. Being 19 years old, he practically had no memory of life without our furry friend, and took the news of his passing very badly when I broke it to him.
And so, here we are, in the Realm of Bad Possibilities.
Down Path 1, I can take home the ashes of another dog, and in doing so, close the chapter of a story we all want so badly to wrap up. I can endure the burden and grief of Michael's misplaced body alone, and let my family have some comfort ... but can I live with the necessary deception attendant to this choice?
Path 2 would be to tell the truth and reopen old wounds. The worst of it is, I just don't know how badly he'd take the news. I know how desperately my brother wanted to touch Michael one last time before he passed away, and I understand how significant those ashes were to him. It was hard enough to break the original news of Michael's passing to him ... just thinking about his reaction in my telling him this nasty surprise makes my gut turn.
There are no good choices, only bad and worse ones. I've posted this locked as friends-only, as he does periodically read my journal ... but what would you do? Is well-intentioned deception ever justified?