Reilly was our first family pet. Not the first of my childhood, but the first of my family as ‘dad’s girlfriend’, and eventual wife; stepmother, and eventual adoptive mother. Reilly entered our lives not long after the kids knew about me. I loved how they loved her. I hoped that if they could love her presence in the house, then maybe they could love mine too. Like they might equate the joy of a new perfect little puppy with a new mother figure. Or at least that the joy would make it easier for me to find my place in their family. Having our Reilly, Reilly Roo, the Roo, helped me to feel like I wasn’t alone; like I wasn’t the only outsider in their house. If she belonged here, could I? It also meant that at the end of every day, there was a living creature under this roof that I could rely on to love me unconditionally. Not that they didn’t. It’s just finding your place in a family is difficult. Reilly was a guarantee.
She truly was the most perfect dog. We always walked her off leash and she never strayed from our side. People used to think we had one of those electrical boundaries in our yard because she never left the property, except for when she wandered next door, scratched at the neighbour’s back door then at the cupboard door that housed her treats. Yes, her treats. They didn’t have a dog but bought treats for Reilly. That is how cool of a dog she was. She even wore a bowtie that they gave her when we got married.
Heart murmurs are common in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. I always told her, “Give me 10.’ She only gave me 8. But they were 8 years of pure love.
The final night of her life in July of 2012 I will never forget. She was dying and it was killing me. I helplessly witnessed her struggle to get comfortable, panting all the while, her next shallow breath never certain. She went back and forth from the couch to the floor and I followed. Lying on a hard floor with no blanket after hours of no sleep, not stroking her for the fear of making her more uncomfortable yet close enough so she didn’t doubt I was there, I desperately wished for her to peacefully fall into eternal sleep. She looked at me in a way that she never had before; telling me it was time. I found comfort in that and played my supporting role, as hard as it was. I brought her to the vet the next morning as soon as they opened. We didn’t have an appointment but the staff were quite gracious.
I had no idea how hard it was to lose a pet. Especially this one. I wondered why we choose to set ourselves up for such pain. I didn’t want to look at our other two dogs when we got home that day. It felt like I was being unfaithful to the Roo somehow.
They say time is a healer. Over time I realized it was true. Passionately, I could talk about her without crying. Guiltless, I embraced our living dogs. Reverently, I spread her ashes in her favourite places.
But not all her ashes.
I was quite curious when the key to the adjoining big box reserved for larger parcels unexpectedly appeared in our mail at the super mailbox recently. It was for the B box, meaning whatever it was couldn’t fit in the smaller A box. My curiosity heightened. The childlike wonder increased as I impatiently struggled to open the box with the old, rusty key. Finally, box B squeaked open wide and there was a rather large box inside that almost filled the entire chamber, wrapped in brown paper and totally secured with tape. Lots of it. Necessitating two hands, I eagerly pulled it forward. My eyes searched for the sender. In that moment, everything went still. For in my hands I knew what I held. It was precious and sacred and deserved nothing less than the most delicate transport to my house.
Upon entering the house I hollered for my husband to come quick. “Roo’s here! Roo is here!” You see, inside the box was her urn. Some time ago, maybe a few of years now, I sent some of Reilly’s ashes to Karen, a very dear friend who is an exceptionally talented multidisciplinary artist. In this case, I called on her pottery skills. I asked her to make an urn for all that remained of Reilly’s ashes and to incorporate what I sent her into the clay. I collect pottery and this would be a welcomed and prized addition. She graciously accepted the request. Understandably, a time line was not discussed. She is quite busy and told me she really wanted to put her soul into this project. I trust her entirely and left it to her capable heart and creative hands. Hence the surprise at the mailbox.
If you read my previous post, you know that boxes have become very important to me. Up until now, they have been immaterial; emotional boxes that were welded shut inside me, full to the brim with memories and experiences that I chose to bury temporarily until I was softly encouraged to open them by people I trust and who trusted me to be able to deal with an opened box. It was not lost on me that in this moment, in my hands and in my home, I held a physical box that also housed a great deal of emotion. Masterfully crafted art infused with the remains of a deceased canine body that loved me in a way that I didn’t know I even deserved at the time, or at the very least, thought I had to work hard for. On this particular day, the interconnectedness between me, my dog, my friend was revitalizing. The love I felt was too real to feel anything less than effortlessly merited.
The concept of death is something I have struggled with my entire life. Having released Reilly’s ashes in her favourite places and sending some to Karen, it’s helped to define what death is to me. Indisputable is the fact that every living being will die one day. However, I believe we all seek an acceptable understanding of death that helps us to live and more importantly, feel alive. That’s exactly how I felt from the moment I opened the mailbox to eventually pouring Reilly’s remaining ashes into the urn made with remnants of her physical body by a soul friend with whom I have spent many memorable experiences. Alive.
She also included some extra surprises that I share with you here. It may seem a little creepy to some of you, but we love them!
From left to right: a cup for my husband, a mug for me, a Christmas ornament, and beads to make a necklace. While the finest particles of her remains were used in the urn, you can see bone fragments in these pieces. Now, much more of her remains.
Our entire collection: