Our friend who rents our cottage had a bird who had been with her for 29 years. Monday, the bird died. Our friend feels deep grief.
I worried that I might insult her, but I sent a Facebook message with the offer to help her bury the bird in our yard. Far from insulting her, she saw it as a gift.
Come to find out, it costs $200 to cremate a bird--shocking! It only cost us $325 to cremate my mother-in-law. Our friend didn't have the money for a cremation, and she wasn't sure what to do. She was happy to have our yard as an option.
I knew that my spouse would play the violin. I wondered if I should create some sort of liturgy. But in the end, we kept it simple.
My spouse had already dug a hole, which was good. Our friend had wrapped the bird in some fabric from one of her old shirts. I said a prayer, with references to God paying attention to the fall of the smallest bird and death not being the final answer.
Do I really believe in the resurrection of animals? Yes, in some ways, I think I do.
Do I believe in a Heaven where our pets wait to be joined with us again? I am less sure. In the spirit of full disclosure, let me say that I am less sure of answers to all questions that concern Heaven. I am fairly sure that Heaven will not be the way that most of us envision it--it's much too saccharine sweet a vision.
Once we prayed, we put the bird in the grave and replaced the dirt. Our friend had collected a variety of natural objects, which she laid on the grave. I offered a variety of glass objects that I collected when we were working in mosaic.
I confess that I hadn't really thought about the graveside as art project. It made me wonder if we treat our the graves of our pets differently. Do we feel we have more creative freedom if a pet is buried in a back yard than we would in a cemetery?
Then we sat in the twilight as our friend wept some more. Finally she was ready to return to her cottage to try to get some sleep.
I am already thinking of some of the ways we could have had a better burial. We could have had a reading, either from the Bible or a great poem. We could have sung. We could have done some sort of responsive reading.
The mercenary impulse kicked in immediately, that voice which always wonders if there's a market for any project that's underway. I thought of a couple I know who will arrange weddings on the beach: he's a minister, and she's a photographer, and people are willing to pay for wedding packages.
Would people be willing to pay for people to come to their homes to offer a funeral ritual for a pet?
I am thinking about the ways that funerals help us deal with death and the need to come to terms with the fact that a loved one has gone. And even if the theology is shaky, a pet funeral may be a significant way that we can minister to those who grieve--whether we turn it into a small business or not.
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