Lana, the good Dr., and my friend Coleen say kind sweet words to me. I don’t hear the actual words as I slip Bronte’s collar from her neck. How naked she looks without it. A pattern is left on her neck like the missing wedding band on the ring finger. Our commitment is complete. They leave me with my baby.
At that moment, all of me slips down between the cement walls of the hospital run, nothing is left on the ceiling. My chest falls forward and my head rests on Bronte’s side, her head still on my leg. Completely embraced and covered by me, I just let go and cry. (Even typing now, I’m blinking back wetness. Looking through a streaked camera lens). Bronte smells of her dogness and her cancer-mouth. She is warm and soft. She is my baby’s body, but not her heart.
Everyone comes back. We all curl around Bronte and pet on her and tell a story or just say what a good girl she was. The good Dr. leaves. I know it’s time to prepare my girl. A little white blanket that she liked to lay on seemed appropriate. There is also a little bandana. The bandana says “Teacher’s Pet.” Though Bronte was never really a bandana girl, the bandana had been a gift years ago from a special person. The friend had simply been out traveling, seen it, and thought of Bronte.
It is really amazing what we will do for the love of a good dog. I was lucky; everyone who knew Bronte loved her. Often I came second, and I knew that. Truthfully, I grew rather proud of the acceptance my dog acquired. After all, I did have the “viscous” pitbull. So, at the last-minute, when I had just a trickle of “what if I can’t do for myself?” It was a huge favor, but Coleen had said she would be there and do whatever, just in case. She said yes to me, but she was also saying yes to Bronte. Though Coleen works with me at the kennel, she hasn’t had to do any cremations. She was willing to sacrifice a lasting memory, a way that she would forever see ‘her’ Bronte.
Bronte could make herself look so very small when she curled herself up. There is a painting by Andrew Wyeth “Master Bedroom.” The dog reminds me of Bronte when she nestled into a pillow. I pull her back legs close to her belly; wrap her tail up with her legs. Gently I curl her front paws together. I curve her head into her chest and rest it on her paws. Her eyes are closed, but she has already lost the coloring in her lips. I move ahead while her body is fully still with me.
I pull one corner of her blanket tightly against her back. Then I pull the corner from the right, which tucks in her tail and back legs. Next I pull over the left corner, which brings her head into her belly. Lastly I bring over the top corner and tuck it around the bottom. My baby is now bundled like any newborn safe from the elements. I pick up my Bronte and cradle her to my chest. She is small crescent and yet feels heavier than her forty-two pounds.
I don’t have to whisper the usual good thoughts to this child, or say how heaven will take care of her, or how well she took care of her mistress. I don’t say any of these things. Bronte knows them. With all the grace in the world I lay my baby down in the cremator. I think of the old little children’s prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep: Should I die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take.” I make sure she is flat and centered and just right. Closing the door, I know my Bronte’s soul is no longer in her body. I know what is in the cremator is what held my little girls pain. I say my blessing, “Peto Olympus in pacis. In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.”
It is not until after I push the start button do I realize how dark it has gotten. There is a flood light on the back of the building that shines against my back. I begin to cry and watch my shadow shake along side the cremator. For a while I can only hear my crying. When I gather back my breath, the sounds of the cremator, and the city traffic come back to me. The wind rattles the garbage dumpster and the tree branches overhead. I come back into the world, back into real time. I will go home and wait now. I know Bronte’s spirit left her body; her soul crossed over the “rainbow bridge.” I wait for her body to crossover into ashes.