Today was a hard day. Because it was an unexpected one. Today my son retrieved the ashes of his dog, Miss Poca. The ashes also came with a small plastic bag containing some of her hair and a clay plate of her paw print that we will color and bake (who knew they had these? Not me!). The decision to put Poca down was a difficult one. As a family, we wrestled with it for months and months. She died 1 month shy of 15 years old. For an English Springer, that is a very long life. It had gotten to the point where she could hardly walk. She panted in pain most of the day, when she was not sleeping. We had her on 2 pain medications, an anti-inflammatory, and some glucosamine/chondroitin vitamins. They were literally keeping her alive. When her meds were due to run out I called the vet for a refill. It is usually hours, or at the most a day, when they call and tell me the meds are ready. Well, they called and through some sort of shipping snafu, her meds would not be available for a couple of days. Let me tell you, those were long days. She moaned and cried. She hurt in any position she was in, and moving her was awful. We had to carry her outside to do her business and squatting made her cry and moan, because her hips were so bad. We learned during those two (turned into 3) days that she was truly a very ill dog. The medicines were masking how horribly sick she was. And it just killed me.
Technically, Miss Poca belonged to our son. And they truly had a love affair. We got Pocahontas as a rescue when our son was 10. We had relocated to a different state, leaving behind all he had ever known, and with both brothers out of the house. So we thought his own dog would be perfect for him. When we finally met her in person, she took to him like nothing I had ever seen. She laid on his lap on the drive home, and they were inseparable. She had a pillow on his bed. They were best buddies. She filled a place in his heart that no one else has since, and I think it will always be hers. He knew, in his heart, that it was time for Poca. He saw her pain. He had to carry her here and there, and clean up after her. She no longer could get on or off his bed and had gotten used to sleeping on her bed in our room, because he’s been traveling for work so much. They spent some amazing last days together. Took some short road trips. He even took her to his fire station and had pictures with her on the engine he drives. He let her sleep on his lap as he drove. He took lots of photographs and treated her with bones and canned dog food the last couple of days. The end of their relationship tore up our entire family. And that was two weeks ago. When he walked in with her ashes today and told me, “Well mom, Poca is home again,” and showed me that little box and the cuts of her hair, I pretty much fell apart. He had to comfort me. And my emotional collapse came out of left field. I am the one who had called the vet and made the appointment, because I am the one who was with her the most and I saw her pain level grow each day. In my head, I know that it was an act of kindness. But my heart is beating me up. Badly. I am so glad I gave up wearing make-up years ago.
My mom has end-stage Alzheimer’s. We took our 2-year old Standard Poodle, Kolbe, to visit her not long ago. Mom resides in an amazing Assisted Living Home (ALH). With Covid and all the zany restrictions, we have not spent very much time together over the past year. She no longer knows who I am. Several years ago Mom and I had the hard conversation about what she wants at the end of her life, how she wants to die, and how she wants to be buried. She is currently on hospice care and there will be no interventions. We will allow her to pass away as her body gives up. And for burial, she wants to be interred with her husband, Frank, at the Arlington National Cemetery in CA. She wished to be cremated. And that brings me to my lesson to share today!
I have the option to take mom’s cremains back with me on a plane. I can actually bring them as carry-on and have her with me at my seat, like a puppy or laptop. It just sort of bothered me, even when we were making the arrangements. “Coming through, coming through, cremains on a dolly. Please step aside!” Ewww…who does that? Did you know human cremains weigh about 40 lbs? I did not. I’d never had a reason to even think about it. And I did not think I should check her through as luggage. So undignified for my mom. The other option is that she will be taken via military airplane, because she is a veteran’s widow, and transported to Arlington by the military. We would then have an interment ceremony. After today, experiencing the intense grief at holding that little tea tin full of Poca’s remains, and holding that little baggie of her hair, I cannot fathom having to hold my mom’s cremains. I cannot fathom having them in my home or in my car. It just does not jive for me. I have been crying off and on all day. I’ve gone to stand in my son’s bedroom doorway looking at Poca’s little box, bawling like a baby. I would literally fall apart if I had to do this for my mother. So today confirmed the arrangements for me, for my mom. Grief is a personal thing. It comes in so many ways, and can hit you at the oddest moments.
We have so many different sorts of attachments. Some people say they love their car. I’ve heard of people being buried with their cars. I saw the tail of a plane at an odd angle on a gravesite here recently. So many people fly here in Alaska because we have very few roads, so the plane thing I could understand. I’ve seen dogsleds on gravesites, too. But we connect to a variety of people, animals, and things during our life times and these attachments create a web around us. I found myself looking inward, curious as to why I was so hysterical about Poca’s remains. I was not a, nor am I a, dog mom. I think that term is absurd. I certainly owned her, because I had to sign for everything regarding her death. But more importantly, I was her companion, and she was mine. She was an integral part of our family, and of its dynamics. Our 2-year old puppy has not been himself since she’s been gone. He is mourning in his own way. I hope he snaps out of it soon.
And when I was pondering “attachments,” I thought of all the ones which are disordered and not good for us. There are people in our lives we probably should distance ourselves from. One question to ask yourself is, “Is this a life-giving relationship, or does it suck the life out of me?” We can apply that question to the pets we own. Do we have too many? Do we need a companion? I know people who have dogs that keep them outside, rarely interacting with them. Or they keep them in cages, separated from the family. That just seems odd to me. I’m the sort who lets my animals on the furniture and on my bed. They are a part of the dynamics of our family as well as its rhythm. We got a new wreath for our front door and it says, “Welcome! We hope you like dogs.” Because ours are a part of who we are as a family. We are very attached to our animals. You could say they are spoiled but I think they are borderline spoiled. Not all the way spoiled. Ha-Ha.
Do we cling to things that are not good for us, but have become habit? Are we attached to tell-a-vision “programs” that are sending disordered messages? Are we inured to them so much we don’t even notice? Have we allowed disorder into our lives through various forms of entertainment, that we don’t see the level of depravity or evil that is allowed into our homes? Just look at the “programming” offered these days. We discontinued Netflix. And now they have come out with more shows worse than the one about little girls. Cable is something we need to control. Streaming needs to be monitored and controlled. Music – there is so much to music that just the change of station or genre doesn’t even touch the myriad and immensity of information about music itself, let alone the lyrics. I could go on, but I won’t.
Attachments are something we need to re-evaluate from time to time. We need to really look and decide if this person, place, or thing is enhancing my life or stealing its joy. Every moment of every day we make decisions. Our decisions, which are made from the choices before us, decide which direction we travel. We can walk in righteousness or we can choose the other direction. Each decision is to choose a direction. Towards the light or towards the dark. Which is it?
I feel like my attachment to my dog was not disordered. Her death and her absence are just so very difficult to deal with. I keep listening for her, or looking for her, making sure I don’t step on her. I even try to find her scent and it is slowly being reduced to almost nothing. I know our dog scents her…their noses are so much more powerful than ours. And I know he misses her something fierce. We decided to jump into the pet arena again and are bringing home a little sister soon for our 2-year old. Same breeder, same parents, so it is a full sister, just a few litters apart. We are over the moon in love with her already, but it is still tempered with sadness over the loss of Poca. Our son will be leaving this week for a job and will be gone at least 4 months. So he will get over Poca through time and distance. We will be making room in our hearts for little Miss Magdalene Rose – Maggie. She won’t take the place Poca has in my heart, she will make her own place there. And in the dynamics and rhythm of our every-changing lives.