We Buried Alex on Friday
Friday, we picked him up at the ER clinic. I was nervous. For one, I could not get out of my mind that a mistake might have been made with his body, and he might have been sent out accidentally for cremation. I ... have never liked the concept of cremation. I suppose it's one of those irrational things, like people who refuse to become organ donors because they're weirded out by the idea of their dead body missing a liver. But my spiritual beliefs being what they are, I also like to locate a loved one in the land that nurtured that person and to see that person in turn nurture the land. I don't want that energy, that potential literally burned away. I think of burial, as Whitman put it, that "The smallest sprout shows there is really no death, / And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it, And ceas’d the moment life appear’d."
Alex is leading forth life.
I also wasn't sure what he would look like. After we checked in, we drove around back to the employee entrance while they prepared his body for transport. We had to double park, so I stayed in the car. A tech came out to talk to Bobby; I tried to read her lips and didn't see anything that looked like "cremation" or "mistake" or "sorry." It turns out that, willful until the very end, Alex refused to fit in the coffin box, so he had to be wrapped in his Ravens blanket and brought home that way.
When we unwrapped him at home, they had arranged his body so that he was curled into a ball like he was sleeping, with his back paws under his chin and his head on his paws. We put him on the couch, and it was like so many times we'd find him in that exact position, like this.
We did let Phil see him, and Phil sniffed him but didn't seem to find anything distressing or unusual. I do wonder how they perceive death. Phil clearly misses Alex: He is lost without Alex to take the lead in a lot of their activities, and he will sometimes catch the sound of Alex's name and will start wagging his tail. But he didn't seem upset by seeing Alex's body. Which maybe should tell us something? That all this stressing out over death is really overblown, that everyone but us gets that it is part of life (without meaning to sound like Forrest Gump's mother there) and that, as Whitman wrote, it does lead forward life?
We had a bit more digging to do. My father-in-law came over, and our friend Dawn as well, who used to babysit the wilds when we were out of town. We got the grave almost to the proper depth and then struck what I call the Old Mountains: solid rock. Very long ago, this mountain range was the tallest in the world. It has become humbled over time, and where we live now isn't even mountains anymore--to honor the dignity of the Old Mountains, I call them foothills--but the kinds of high hills that will wind you to climb on a bike and are unnoticed in a car. The last stage of digging was the slowest and the hardest. We had to break the rock to make way. We ended up with tools from three Manchester sheds: ours, Dawn's, and Neighbor Bob's. When the rocks of the Old Mountains broke, though, they were beautiful inside: streaked with pink and white and blue. Alex sleeps in a beautiful place. I like to think that the Old Mountains keep him.
Then it was time to bring him out.
We said our final goodbyes and wrapped him well in his Ravens blanket and Bobby carried him out. We had tucked his orange football under his ear, where he usually placed it in life because putting something under his ear was the only way to guarantee that Phil wouldn't take it.
We checked, and his football was still under his ear. Bobby placed him in his grave. We buried him with one of the Big Pinks, his halter and leash, a can of Xanderfood (wet food), a handful of kibble, photos of us and Phil and all his family members, letters from Bobby and me, and the traditional coins to pay his fare in the underworld.
We covered him back with earth and made a border around his grave with the many stones we'd taken out of the ground and started a cairn on top, just like a Noldorin king. It was the most at peace I'd felt all week. He's home. I imagine him down there, just like he is sleeping, with his football under his ear.
Friday night, we went to Erin's house for a party to reconnect with some family we hadn't seen in a while. When we returned, we took a beach towel out into the yard and poured some Scotch: a glass each for Bobby and me and a small bowl for Alex. Alex loved any kind of alcohol. Most dogs like beer, and he also liked wine; when we found out our offer had been accepted on the house, we celebrated with a glass of rum for Bobby, a glass of red wine for me, and a bowl of red wine for Alex. But Scotch? We were at the firepit one night, and I was drinking Scotch. Alex came over, and I offered him some. He took a lick and pulled back, like, "WTF, Mommy?!" Then you could almost see him mulling it over, and he came back for more. Bobby and I, of course, thought that was brilliant; our dog would drink Scotch! After that, whenever one of us would drink Scotch, he'd always be right there, and we'd always dip the tip of a finger into it and let him have a little.
It was a beautiful, clear night without a scrap of cloud or haze in the sky. The Milky Way was visible, and we saw multiple shooting stars. Cassiopeia rose over the wild tree growing along the street, and when we finally went in for the night, I saw through the tree my favorite star, Capella, rising for the first time this year, flashing crimson and blue on the horizon.
It is not easy but each day does get a little easier. I have managed to laugh and talk/think about things that aren't Alex and even dance a little. I still haven't spoken to my imaginary friends, so there's like this vast silence, and I cut off my fingernails (normally very long and hard, like claws, and a source of pride since they and my double-jointed thumbs were the only things my peers admired me for when I was a kid) to remind myself that it is a time for grief and hurt, and that is okay. I am still just struck like a punch in the gut sometimes that he's really gone. A month ago, we hadn't a clue that there was anything wrong with him. It happened so fast that it beggars belief. And little things sneak up on me sometimes, like when I asked Bobby if he'd bought "them" more food and realizing it wasn't "them" anymore.
A lot of people have asked about Phil. Alex was a big brother to Phil, through and through. Alex took the lead in everything. Phil asks constantly to have the ball thrown, but otherwise, he hasn't quite figured out how to play without Alex for the simple reason that Alex--always so full of energy and not wont to stay still for long--always took the lead. You'd see Alex go off exploring in the yard or barking at someone through the fence, and there'd be Phil, right on his heels. Phil hasn't figured out how to do those things yet on his own, so when he's not chasing the ball, he mostly lays in the yard or on the floor in the house. We've been encouraging him to do things like run and bark, and hopefully he'll get it figured out.
Thank you to everyone who has left comments or sent messages. It's been a rough week, but your kind words and thoughts have helped. I'm so far behind I think I'm in first right now, so I don't know that I'm going to get to reply to everyone who has been so kind to me, at least not right away. Please know it isn't for lack of appreciation.
This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!