One of my dear friends lives with just her dogs. She also lives with ashes. She has a doggie shrine shelf. All of her past beloved dogs’ ashes are in beautiful urns gathered together. They are nestled like a family reunion photograph. The urns don’t all have names or tags, but she can tell you who everyone is and stories galore. Though it might sound odd, it is strangely comforting and gives her house a sense of family. Our friendship began sometime after I filled one of those urns.
The last thing I needed to do for Bronte was to be able to bring her remains back home. The hard part really was over, now was my promise to her to make her ashes the very best they could be. I realize that may sound odd. Truth is, most times perfect ashes are not what come out, but they are what I send home. I think we all believe in the “dust to dust.” I know as a child forming my first pictures from church readings, that is what I imagined “ashes to ashes” meant. Ashes are the fine pieces that simply wisp away off your hand at the slight whisper of a wind.
Lana waited for me in another part of the building, and I worked alone. I turned up the radio and diligently turned fragments to dust. Surprisingly I found comfort and tears simultaneously. Amazed how warm I felt to the process this time; how intimate it was to me. Suddenly Nat King Cole and Natalie were singing “Unforgettable.” Oh how my heart skipped, and I sang. My fingers sifted Bronte’s ashes for pieces. I found the metal pins from her knee surgery and I smiled. Eight weeks of carrying her up and down stairs, two and three times a day. Yes, I smiled and sang. And still cried.
Bronte’s ashes fit perfectly into the simple walnut box. Lana screwed on the bottom and I placed the brass nameplate on the top. I funneled a small bit of ashes into a tiny locket for her “Aunt Tracey.” Sunday night, the box was on the coffee table in front of the couch, almost as though she slept one more night with us.
Monday morning, I woke staring at it. Right there, eye level. I couldn’t get up. I was frozen and cried. The house was silent. David was still at the vet. There was no routine. No school day: Let Bronte out. Let David out. Me pee. Get Bronte’s breakfast and meds ready. Take my meds. Turn coffee pot back on from Lana. Run upstairs. Feed Sarton-Simone breakfast before Bronte back in. Run downstairs. Let Bronte in and feed. Get showered. Get dressed. Let David in kennel with treat. Leave Bronte with treat. Stop Harley and Erik from wrestling. Poor coffee to go. Gather stuff for schoolbag. Give treats to Harley and Erik. Wish everybody a good day. Grab my keys, my coffee cup and go. Instead nothing. Routine gone. What was I supposed to do?
I lay on the couch for what seemed ages, contemplating and agonizing on how to leave.
Bronte’s box went to the top of the entertainment center. I don’t know where else to put the box. I’m still sleeping on the couch. I don’t know why. I’m not sure what it means to return to my bed upstairs. I’m not ready to leave her ashes alone. I did the parts I know. I don’t know how to live with ashes.