by Sylvia Ann
You mercy-killed him on a Thursday.
‘Call us next Wednesday.’ the vet nurse tells you. ‘It takes five or six days.’
Wednesday arrives, with no word. Eleven days later – the following Monday – a man with a blandiloquent voice answers the phone at the crematorium. ‘Uh…what’s the name again?’ he inquires, with a tincture of unease. He puts down the phone and returns in several minutes. ‘Sorry for the delay. We’ve fallen behind. We’ll return him to the clinic tomorrow.’
At last you have him back. Or have you? Are the ashes are his?
Surely they are. The staff had explained the procedure to you months ago, describing their two retorts: one for communal incineration, the other in which each tagged animal lay in its own space1 or in a container.
Which doesn’t address the readiness of people, when they have a reason, to do to others what others wish they wouldn’t.
Where there is a chance of avoiding detection, is it so rare it deserves to be gracefully overlooked if employees whose work can be unpleasant seek ways to make it less so? Is it wrong if they’re wearied by the pressure of deadlines or by the premonition that something may have been botched or overlooked? If there’s no one to see them, do they deserve to be pilloried for taking shortcuts now and then?
Self-respect is the belief that nobody’s found us out yet. [Mark Twain]
Wool-pulling. Self-serving ploys. Law bending and breaking. Whether or not we deplore such misconduct, or indulge in it ourselves, the world can be rife with shenanigans. Or – if that unsettles your outlook – unwitting mistakes. Are they few and far between? No. Are they ubiquitous? No. Are they under more than one hedgerow? You decide.
- Pococurante indolence
- Marital infidelity
- Raunchy humor where life hangs in the balance (without insisting on attributions, think ‘operating room’)
- Slack-lipped addictions
- Congenital befuddlement
– the whole enchilada is common as gnats or rare as four-leaf clovers, depending on your bias.
To nudge this along another inch or two:
- Students sometimes cheat on examinations.2 3
- Recently, a hundred Air Force officers in charge of deploying nuclear warheads cheated on theirs.4
- Studies have shown a decline in productivity dating from the day the workplace welcomed the Internet.5
- Investigative reporters are warning consumers of toxins in ‘organic’ produce.6
- Palace domestics and political insiders reliably churn out best-selling ‘tell-alls.’7
- Tempted by lucre, veterinarians abandon their oath not to harm animals.
- A semi-relevant fact of death that can happen in a hospital: years before its legality in a few states and countries, an axillary needle granted the wish of terminal patients begging to die, an act of compassion that could have landed their M.D.s in a cell with Dr. Kervorkian.8
- The helping professions discuss their patients’ private lives (hopefully, without naming names). Beginning at least in the 19th century, patients have furnished the grist for their analysts’ treatises and books.
Mortuaries land in the headlines. Sometimes. Not often.9 10 11 12
Closest to home, the mushrooming multi-million dollar companion animal death industry, not to be outdone, has splashed its way into the headlines. Sometimes. Not often.13 14 15
Human ingenuity in doing or not doing what eases the daily grind, pumps a dash of frolic into this Vale of Tears, feathers the nest, snaps in two or bends the law into a pretzel may argue the wisdom of sharpening your awareness of things that can happen through guile or disrespect. Or simple human error.
There’s every chance they’re your fur-child’s ashes; the funeral industry likely takes enormous precautions in upholding its integrity. Yet the thought may simmer on your back burner that hope and faith are flimsy substitutes for knowledge.
To spur your misgivings:
- Remember a book you read by the psychoanalyst, Erich Fromm, who describes the bliss of a necrophile on a funeral home staff, who – late at night – siphons with a soda straw and sips urine from the corpses?
- Another downer for people who pity animals: visit a public market someday, pretend you’re at a baseball game and watch the fishmongers entertain the crowds by lobbing and catching dead salmon. Everyone applauds.
- A finishing touch? ‘Afghani polo,’ in which the horsemen batter the remains, usually the severed head, of a butchered calf or goat.16
Funeral directors are immensely reassuring. Their words enfold you in velvet. It’s part of their training. Which raises the question: is it a good thing to believe what we are told?
Belief can be exhilarating, sometimes perilously so.17 Unnerving.18Relaxing.19 A 40-proof kicker compared to a skeptic’s watery brew. Though he might have enjoyed the peace of mind that passeth understanding if he hadn’t been cursed with a fidgety intelligence, Thomas Huxley avoided reassurances with nothing more to offer than their ‘likability.’20
Is any of this significant? It is to parents who want their fur child back. He’s left you. He’s entwined in your heart. And you twist in the wind to think of his ashes dumped in a landfill, or scattered in some rain-lashed North 40 because of budgetary constraints. Mistaken identity. In-your-face antics.
If you could bear up under the sorrow of being there (though Shaw wasn’t sad21), you’d know the ashes were your fur child’s. So far from resenting your Hovercraft presence as an intrusion, reputable providers would have every reason to welcome you or – at the least – courteously assent to your witnessing the process.
A second less reliable safeguard? Laxity of conduct could blow the lid sky-high. If the operation was family-owned and the ovens stoked at odd hours, you might not stand a chance: some crematoria burn the bodies overnight. But if it had staff on a payroll, what management-owners would place themselves under the thumb of former, loose-cannon, disgruntled employees who’d seen and done things that would catapult the clientele into frenzies of wrath, reducing the phony ‘Haven of Peace’ to a bulldozer bedlam, its perps – hats askew – running for their lives?
A worse-case scenario, of course. The industry, whether for people or animals, would invite disaster if it were less than scrupulously careful in how it runs its business. If you run into delays, though, in getting back your fur child, you may want to be present another time, either for yourself, or for family and friends immobilized by grief.
The key concept? If you fall down a well, hordes of strangers will scramble to your rescue. Once they’ve hauled you out, however, do not expect them to tour your ‘inner landscape.’ Unless it already matters to them, the hallmark of your maturity is your stoic acceptance that strangers – be they ever so complaisant – haven’t a trace of interest in what matters to you.
The term individual cremation is well understood within the pet bereavement industry but it is a term that is largely abused. Many so-called pet crematoria will try to avoid being pinned to the term “individual” by using other descriptions such as “return of ashes service,” “cremation in numbered trays,” or even “special” or “private” cremation. If you see this, you should suspect that the pets are being cremated together. There may be some kind of separation, but since cremation is a volatile process [emphasis added], nobody could guarantee the ashes could not be mixed. Unfortunately, even if a cremation is called individual, it may still be carried out in this manner. If you are happy with a system like this, then well and good, but many people receive this type of service when they are expecting their pets to be individually cremated. This is wrong.’ Association of Private Pet Cemeteries and Crematoria APPCC.org.uk — Questions: ‘How do I know my pets will be cremated on their own, and will I get the correct ashes?
Academic Cheating Fact Sheet – Stanford University
News Flash…Harvard Students Cheat Too|Time.com
Air Force Fires 9 Officers Over Scandal Over Cheating on Proficiency
Internet and Productivity in Workplace – Wikipedia
Even organic foods not free of environmental toxins. Vancouver Sun
One that out-Greeks a Greek tragedy: The Politician: An Insider’s Account of John Edward’s Pursuit of the Presidency and the Scandal That Brought Him Down, by Andrew Young.
The House of God, by Samuel Shem (pseudonym of Stephen Bergman), a near-autobiographical novel.
10th Anniversary of Bodies Discovered at Tri-State Crematory
Funeral director Benjamin Siar gets more prison time…
Police: ‘Creepy’ embalmer sold gold teeth from corpses – U.S. News
Parents of Teen Found on Gym Mat Sue Funeral Home – ABC News
‘…some crematoria advertise individual cremations, when in fact the animals are put on separate trays, which can result in the ashes from different animals becoming mixed.’[Emphasis added.] Facing Prison, the pet crematorium boss who gave dog owners fake…
‘That was not her pet. It was a scoop of whatever happened to be in the crematorium at the time.’ Pet Lawsuit Rises from the Ashes, Chicago Tribune
Freakonomics: The Troubled Cremation of Steve the Cat
Afghan Horsemen Play Buzkashi: a Kind of Polo – The Telegraph
The Authoritarian Personality, Theodore Adorno, et al.
In his The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce portrays the fears of hell that darkened his childhood.
‘…God is just an invention of lazy minds.’ Lawrence Krauss (A two-dimensional putdown.)
Thomas Huxley’s Letter on the Death of his Son.
She Would Have Enjoyed It – George Bernard Shaw – Classic