To: [brother's email address]@ucla.edu
Re: Ashes to Ashes
Date: December 2, 2001
I have some bad news to break to you.
This past Thursday, I went over to Animal Control to pick up Mikey's ashes from his cremation. Having paid to have his remains returned to me when I delivered Michael's body to their office, I assumed it would be a simple procedure.
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 sometimes - I just don't have the strength when one is 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.
"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 ..."
I have to be honest with you - I seriously considered his second offer for a good day or so. I know how desperately you wanted to touch Michael one last time before he passed away, and I understand how significant those ashes are to you.
But after some thoughful advice from some good friends, I've realized that the desire to take the burden on myself, however noble-seeming, is the weasel way out. In weakness, we are tempted by easy answers, and quick-fix solutions that ultimately cost us the trust and respect of those we are closest to.
That day, all I could think about was how, thanks to some horrible twist of fate, his body was dumped and burned with the ignored, abandoned and unwanted, en masse like so much garbage ... one final insult to a cherished friend.
I'll admit it - I cried that day. I'd understand if you do too.
That said, I want to share something with you a friend wrote to me in response to my grief over the missing body:
... but perhaps that, in its own way, has its own glory - dogs that were never loved in their life have their particles mixed in with your dog, who was loved so deeply - and perhaps that is something to think of, to wonder about. I realize this may be not the kind of thing you want to hear, and I'm sorry if I'm driving the hurt deeper - but your dog is free, somewhere, free of organic matter, and his body is symbolically entwined with his brothers/sisters. And he will return to the earth, from whence he came, and the particles that he occupied will be returned and reborn and something new and beautiful will be created of them - flowers, grass, trees, animals. They will all return, matter to matter, energy to energy, in this dance of things.
I hope you take it the same way I did - beautifully comforting words in a time when I really needed them.
The offer for the memorial plaque from Animal Control stands, and I think it's only fair that you be the one to select the appropriate memorial for our furry friend.
I know you'll want to talk I'll call you later this evening.
Love & Understanding.