Who knows what brings someone to confess. There are stories ripe with tales of death-bed confessions, but this is not that. There are people who confess to seek forgiveness. In my case, that’s not going to happen; it’s too late. Catholics choose to confess all the time; I am not a Catholic. This is purely a confession for the sake of coming clean. It’s time to tell this tale and let it go. It’s the classic tale of how a lie takes on a life of its own, and you find yourself in a deep pit, willing to do crazy things to cover your tracks. For the sake of full disclosure, my mother is the only one who could have freed my conscience, and I didn’t have the courage to tell her this story, while she was alive. If she’s watching, she won’t be happy.
This story starts with a pug– my mother’s pug, Meea, to be specific. My mother was a dog lover. She adored her pets, but her two favorite pets were both pugs: Doby and Meea. She had Doby for years, when my oldest children were babies. She got Meea in the mid 1990s just before she moved to Michigan, to be near us (at the time). Meea was a terror as a puppy, but man she was adorable! She chewed wood work; she chewed shoes; she chewed just about anything she could get her teeth on. But eventually, she grew out of her trouble making ways and became a wonderful companion to my mother. We all loved her.
As Mom’s Huntington’s Disease (HD) grew worse, Mom often felt hopeless and depressed, but Meea kept her going. She grew fat on Mom’s affection: treats and bits of food, constantly being shared between them. We had to spell the word p-i-z-z-a in front of that dog; she loved it so much. My mother got up each day and went out for short swalks, because Meea needed her to, but neither of them got much exercise. The walks were as much a cigarette break, as they were a walk. I’ve often said: that dog gave my mother a reason to live. But it was not an easy life in other ways for Meea. My mother was a heavy smoker, and not prone to much activity. Meea grew quite chubby as she aged, and I often wondered what all that smoke did to her lungs. She was content to lie snuggled next to my mother; she was not the healthiest dog.
When my mom called one morning, hysterical, to tell me that Meea was dead, I was very sad but not entirely shocked. There had been signs that the little dog’s body was giving out. Nothing dramatic or clear, but I had a hunch things were not good. My mother was alone in her apartment, an hour away from me, when she found her body, and she could not bear to move her dog. I got in the car and drove right down.
I arrived to a horrible scene! That sweet dog had not gone gently… Meea had clearly been very ill over night and had left waste and mess all over the apartment. The smell was shocking, and her poor little body lay beside my mother’s bed. She’d clearly tried to get back to Mom, before she died. My mother was devastated, and her HD only exacerbated the situation: she was paralyzed by her grief. She refused to leave the house, despite the suffocating smell, but had no idea what to do with her beloved pet’s body. I called carpet cleaners, got Mom out for a little while, and offered to take Meea home with me, to be cremated at my vet’s. Mom wanted her cremated, as she’d done with Doby.
Mom’s vet had placed Doby’s ashes inside a teddy bear– I’ll pause here to ask: who puts cremated ashes in stuffed Teddy Bear? What’s the point? Frankly, it gave me the creeps, and was not particularly Mom’s style either, but she kept the bear in her room for years. I agreed to collect Meea’s ashes and bring them back later. I begged Mom to come home with me for a few days, so she wouldn’t be alone, but she refused to leave her house. I drove home that day with a dead pug in my back seat. The whole way, I worried about being pulled over, and having to explain why I was transporting a dead dog.
The situation deteriorated quickly from there. I’d never dealt with a dead dog before, and I had no plan. Sure, I wanted Mom to think I had the situation under control, so that she would feel more at ease about an already miserable situation, but in fact I was flying by the seat of my pants. I had not idea what to do with that dog’s body. Without realizing it, I’d already begun my downward spiral toward hell.
At home, we were in the middle of a major renovation. The construction crew had set up saw horses in my garage, and supplies were stacked everywhere. It was a weekend, so my vet’s office was closed. The body would have to be “stored” until Monday. Thankfully, it was winter and quite cold. I covered her body with a blanket and left her in the garage. The construction guys were more than a little shocked Monday morning, when they showed up for work. “Uh, Mrs. Talesfromthemotherland, do you know there’s a dead dog in your garage?” The contractor was equal parts disgusted and amused. I really should have left a note warning him. Warning, dead pug on the work bench, under the blanket.
I didn’t have a plan; I just wanted to help ease Mom’s pain. The fact that I’d have a dead dog– one that we’d all loved, in my garage for two days had totally slipped through the cracks in my desperate effort to fix things. However, it was when I finally got ahold of our vet that things really got twisted around. I was informed that a “private” cremation would cost about $300. If we wanted to do a “group cremation,” wherein your pet is cremated with several other pets, and you receive a portion of the ashes, it would cost closer to $200. The final option was that for a very small fee, the vet would send the dog’s body off for “proper disposal,” and there would be no ashes. The second option sounded ridiculous to us from the start. It seemed altogether crazy to pay that much for some mixed up ashes, that would contain other people’s pets. Ick. But honestly, I didn’t consider any of this. I simply wanted the dead dog out of my garage– where we were all carefully stepping around her corpse, and trying not to look at her.
My mother had nothing. She certainly had no money. We were going to pay for Meea’s cremation, not her. I felt a sick mix of emotions about what to do. On the one hand: I knew the dog meant everything to my mother, and on the other: I knew my mother was becoming increasingly sick, herself– the HD destroying her memories, physical and emotional stability, and her ability to reason. I believed that the ashes wouldn’t really mean as much to her as she imagined they might, and it seemed foolish for us to spend $300 for something like that. It all struck me as pointless and foolish in the moment; in retrospect, I wonder if we should have done something different. The direction I took instead is the stuff of sitcoms, and would be the ticket to hell I’d have to live with.
I was told that it was illegal to burry your pet in your yard. My plan was to choose the third option and have Meea’s body disposed of. In the moment, I convinced myself that I could explain all of this to my mother, and she would see the reason behind this. I took her body to my vet; I wrote a check for the service, and I said a sincere and loving goodbye to her. I don’t have ice in my veins; I cried for that dog, and I left feeling really badly. Bottom line: I did think that it was the right move… in that moment. However, the more I thought about the stuffed Teddy bear with Doby’s ashes in it, that my mother had kept all those years (to be “scattered with her own one day”) the less certain I was. When I called Mom that afternoon, and heard her grief-stricken voice, I realized that I’d made a terrible mistake. I called the vet back, but it was too late. Meea was gone.
As I heard myself tell my mother that Meea was being cremated, and the ashes would be ready in a week or two, I felt the walls of my lie close in around me. There was no going back. It was then that I began a two-week effort to procure ashes, which would look like cremated pug. If you’re trying to figure out what I mean by that, I’ll be clearer in my confession: I actually researched on-line, how much ash a chunky pug would produce, and what it might look like, and then I began experimenting to make it. Yes, it’s that twisted. I started with regular briquettes, the kind you get when you Bar-B-Q. I tried to get them as gray and fine as possible, but they didn’t look quite like I expected.
I did not act alone; I had accomplices. I won’t drag them with me to hell, but they were there, advising me. “Try adding a few bits of wood; you don’t want it to all be gray,” I was advised. “You’ll need something that looks like bone fragment,” I heard. So I left some broken wood shards. The truth is, I had just gotten the perfect mix, when it rained and destroyed all my diabolical efforts. I was sure God was smiting me! I had to start all over, all the while telling my mother that the ashes hadn’t come back yet. A couple of times, I just wanted to tell her the truth. I almost did more than once, but then she’d start crying again, and tell me how much it would mean to have Meea’s ashes back… and I’d head back out to my make-shift fire pit and work on getting an appropriate collection of pug powder. You’re groaning? Sick humor, you say? Fair. However, if you knew you were going to hell, wouldn’t you try to find some way to make it less… dark?
After multiple efforts to get it all just right, I finally had a suitable amount of ash, which I felt would pass as Meea… cremated. We bought a really nice vase from a local pottery store and gave it to my mother the next time we saw her. I admit; it was awful. My mother was so happy to get that jar. She thanked me over and over, and each time she did, I felt worse about what I’d done. I actually had nightmares about poor Meea, and the other pets that went with her, to wherever they dispose of pets whose owner’s daughters don’t love them enough to have them properly cared for in death. Each time I saw that vase, in my mother’s apartment, later in a nursing home, and eventually beside her bed at hospice, I felt little pug eyes on me. Sometimes I was sure that my own dogs were indicting me with their eyes. We know what you did.
After my mother died, I confessed my sin to my sister. She had loved Meea as much as the rest of us. She has her own pug who she (and my mother) adores, and was a better daughter: she would never have done what I did. She was shocked at first, but forgave me. I felt absolved… for a minute. But over time it just felt worse and worse. By the time our beloved Golden Retriever, Callie, died, I had learned my lesson and we paid for a private cremation. We kept her ashes and her collar in a special place for some time, and eventually spread her ashes in all the places she loved most: The dog park, our yard, the trails at Mt. Baker… and some of the ashes, we spread with my mother, Doby, and the fake pug ashes, in the waters of Puget Sound.
The summer after my mother died, we hired a wonderful catamaran and captain, and we all went sailing on Puget Sound. My mother loved to sail, loved to be on or near the water. We all agreed that this was the perfect place to scatter her ashes. We took Doby’s ashes out of the Teddy Bear, and I collected the fake ashes as well. They had sat in the beautiful urn by Mom’s bed for so long, I felt like they were special to her regardless of what they really were. My sister and I mixed them all together and when we were in the right spot, we reached our hands into the ash and scattered our mother, and the two dogs she loved most, out across the water. We held each other as our grief washed over us. As I watched the ash drift away, some of it floating on the surface and some of it sinking down immediately, I felt ok for a short time, about what I’d done. After all, in the end my mother didn’t know and she found comfort in that urn and its content. Now she was free of her own suffering and I was relieved to see things made right.
My absolution was brief. As time’s gone by the guilt of that decision has stayed with me, and at times haunts me. While my mother never knew what I’d done, I do. I know that I didn’t honor her wishes about a dog she loved so much. While it didn’t hurt anyone, in any concrete way, I feel like I let both my mother and that sweet little dog down. I didn’t worry about where they would “dispose” of Meea’s body, I just didn’t want to deal with it myself; I just didn’t think it mattered that much. Now it’s too late to make it right. I never asked my mother’s forgiveness and Meea is long gone. For this, and a few other things, I will surely go to hell.
** An Afterthought: having read the first many comments, I feel compelled to add this afterthought. Far too many of my readers are kinder souls than I. While I do in fact still feel a bit guilty about all of this, I’m afraid that my point was not entirely clear. I have a wicked sense of humor (note: wicked referring to the Bostonian use of wicked- extreme, much, many; as well as the widely accepted meaning- dark) All to say: I have an over-developed sense of sarcasm and dark humor. So did my mother. While I’m not sure she would appreciate this particular story, she might. But, as a writer, I clearly missed the mark. I thought that the humor might bleed through… “pug powder,” anyone?
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