This wasn’t supposed to happen.
TW: Pet loss
On April 5th, 2021, following a lifetime of kidney troubles, my cat and only companion of 12 years, died. Two very kind ladies came to my home and made something traumatic and awful as gentle for my cat and me as possible. While they were in my home, I signed a form that said I wanted my cat “group cremated” and I wanted her ashes placed in their memorial garden with all the other puppies and kitties. We’d also already made these arrangements on the phone in advance. It seemed like an idea I could live with, during a time that felt like I wouldn’t live through it. There was an option for individual cremation so that owners could retain their pet’s ashes or maybe place them somewhere meaningful—I don’t know what people do with ashes, I’m Jewish and was taught you don’t bring death in the house—I had no interest in that. So a group cremation and a dispersion of her remains that I had nothing to do with was very clearly the way to go. And then on April 21st, 2021, I got my cat’s ashes in the mail.
It’s a very jarring thing, getting unexpected remains in something that looks like a package from Amazon. It was clearly done in error. I had selected group cremation, I had paid for group cremation, (individual cremation was far more expensive), I had absolutely no indication that this was even a thing that could happen, and thus hadn’t prepared myself emotionally at all. I mean good lord.
Do you know what it’s like to get remains when you don’t want remains?! It’s too much, that’s what it is. It’s too much. Here I was thinking I’d done a pretty decent job of grieving, actually feeling my feelings and not ignoring them so they’d be certain to pop up unexpectedly someday while I’m walking through an airport or something. I think Clementine was the first loss I actually did grieve, I think she’s the first time I had the emotional maturity to do so. I grieved, I felt, I processed, I dove back into work to feel productive and regain some emotional strength, as is my coping skill. In my opinion, I was doing a great job. Then I got a little wooden box with all that’s left of her in it and grieved all over again, just for grins.
She isn’t “remains” to me, what the hell? As far as I’m concerned, she’s on the spirit side of things, and any place where David Bowie is hanging out is most certainly an acceptable location for the 8-pound love of my life. To me, she’s not in one place, or one box, she’s everywhere. To receive something physical with her “in it” is wild goddamned times, I assure you.
I mean obviously I cried. I was shocked, scared, and very confused about how to proceed. I didn’t want her remains, but I can’t just…throw them away, right? That seems fucked. It was a very low moment, but I believe our lowest moments give us some of our finest educations. I stood there crying in my kitchen and as if without my consent, my body said aloud, “I don’t know what to do.” I decided I didn’t have to know what to do in that particularly difficult moment, which felt very healthy and grown-up. I set the box on a bookshelf where I keep family photos, I put on some comfortable pants, and I watched a documentary about Sasquatches for awhile.
About an hour later, a thought came into my head that I’m not sure was placed there by me. It was the idea that maybe Clem wanted to stay with me. She’s on the other side now, and I think that department is certainly more in charge of wild-ass accidents than we are. Maybe she did it. In her lifetime, she despised all living things other than me, perhaps she didn’t want her physical remains placed with a bunch of other animals for whom she had no feeling. Maybe with me is her preference, both in spirit and in whatever is physically left.
I can’t bury her. I am moving across the country in two months and also I don’t understand the legalities of that in Brooklyn which is made almost entirely of concrete. So I’ve decided that her death will be treated just like her life—we stay together. No matter where I move, no matter the natural disaster, we were each other’s family. We did a pandemic together, we’ll do everything else that way, too. I don’t know TSA’s policy on such things, but when I get on a plane to relocate this summer, she’ll be in my carry on. When I move into my new house, she’ll be the first thing I unpack. We’ll stay together, because I can’t work out any other explanation for this in my mind. There are funny little mixups and miscommunications, then there’s getting your beloved cat’s ashes in the fucking package room of your apartment building. There’s no manual for this, so I’m writing each page as I turn it.
What a weird thing. Prior versions of myself would have chalked this up to a negative, something along the lines of “just my luck” or some other lack-based mentality that refuses to see the gifts its given. Now I’m able to see that an accident that upset me deeply might have more to show me than just how bad humans can be at paperwork. So she’s with me, in every way that’s still available for her to be with me. She’s either playing a practical joke or trying to keep me company while I have a broken heart. Both scenarios sound exactly like her, to me.
Shani Silver is a humor essayist and podcaster. You can read all her Medium essays here