When your pet is gone - what to do with those ashes

Patty Khuly, DVM
Updated: December 17, 2010
Published: January 14, 2008
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I’ve been cleaning out my house in a fit of Spring cleaning never before observed in my home (not like this, anyway). That’s how I found the woodgrain box with Marcel’s ashes stashed in the bottom drawer of my living room’s overstuffed credenza.

Marcel’s been gone for seven or so years now. I’m far from over it, though. Like most owners who blame themselves in the event of a pet’s accidental death, I still can’t get past the guilt—not to mention the untimely loss of a pet who would more than likely still be with me today were it not for my own utter stupidity.

But that’s not what this post is about. It’s about remains—Marcel’s or any beloved pet’s. What does one do with them once he or she is gone? Do you let them vanish into the ether of the crematory landfill in admission of the finality of death? Do you bury them in a sacred place? Or do you take steps to keep them close at hand through sentimentality and/or a feeling of responsibility to your loved one’s memory? Are pictures enough or are ashes more concrete, somehow?

We humans have a thing for remembrance of loved ones. It’s a big part of what defines our homo sapienicity, it seems. And yet for every death of a pet, there are as many ways to handle its physical outcome as there are people who find themselves muddling through the process. That’s where the obligatory, heart-wrenching decision of ‘what’s to be made of the remains’ comes in. As in…

“Have you considered what you’d like us to do with her remains?”

Try saying that five times a week.

Some people are wholly unprepared for this question, regardless of the amount of time they’ve had to prepare for their pet’s death. In fact, sometimes it seems their ability to accept this question is inversely proportional to the interval of time it took to accept that death was the inevitable solution to their pet’s suffering.

We humans are funny that way. And I’m not immune.

Because I was completely unable to speak coherently about my Marcel’s death for weeks after it occurred, I quickly elected to let him be cremated so that I could defer the question of his remains to a later date. It was easier at the time.

Now, however, I’ve got a few handfuls of ashes in a glorified cardboard box gathering dust in an unused drawer.

Should I bury them?

Spread them in my/his favorite place(s)?

Install them in an urn as I did my two boxers’ ashes? Here’s a pic of their “urn” in which they currently serve to remind me of their beloved boxer-y attitude (I know it’s tacky but every house needs at least one tacky ornament for decorative feng shui, I think).

Or should I have them compressed into a gemstone, as so many services are now willing to do? What would that even cost?, I wonder aimlessly while staring at Marcel’s box. Would I wear him as a ring? A pendant? Is that weird?

Grief is a four-letter word, regardless of its alphabetic math. And so is human nature, for that matter. Damned be our guilt and our bereavement and our ineffectually persistent sentiments. Can’t we just take it one day at time for once? At least in that case there’d be no need for cremation—or tacky urns, for that matter.