Cremating Poppy: Oh, if only I had..!

Fran Hall 2 Comments
Fran Hall

Guest post by former GFG Director John Porter

On 20th May 2023, our beloved Poppy was put to sleep. We knew this act of love, mercy and kindness was the right decision and it was handled with great sensitivity and compassion by our vet. Poppy was with us 13½ years and, unbeknown to me, I took her for her final walk the day before she died. She was a precious member of our family and, as her guardians, we loved, cherished and nurtured her with all our heart. Our home is empty without her, yet she is everywhere. There is an urgency about what I would like to share with you now.

As a former director of The Good Funeral Guide and funeral celebrant since 2014 you may think I would have thought through everything concerning Poppy’s death and what we would do with her body. I hadn’t and, as things turned out, paid a high emotional price for not doing so. I’m not a person who uses the phrase ‘if only’ but found myself saying it over and over.

I did think about meeting with the vet a couple of months ago and researching pet cremation companies but did not act on this intention. We had though, at least, decided to cremate her. The first huge clue of my unpreparedness was when the vet asked me to sign a form just before she administered the injection. I had no idea what I was signing and was in no state to ask. My focus was on Poppy, now being cuddled and stroked by my husband as she laid on a beautiful light blue blanket with white paw prints on it. This was a moment of profound peace and love. As I joined them the vet mentioned the name of the pet cremation company and something about a scattering tube. I could not take it in.

We left half an hour later without her. Heartbroken. During those first few hours of acute pain and sadness some fledgling questions began to form in my mind:

What is this pet cremation company like?

Why does she have to be transported 90 miles away?

What scattering tube did we choose?

Can she go with her special blanket?

When will she be cremated?

When can we collect her ashes?

We checked the company’s website and felt she would be treated with dignity and respect. I called them on the Monday and the person I spoke with was very understanding, compassionate and sensitive to our needs. We felt very assured. She asked me to write down our special instructions and email them to the vet practice. This is what we sent:

  1. They confirmed they were happy that Poppy can be transported in their care on her rug that we will deliver to the practice before she is picked up from you to go to the pet crematorium this Friday.
  2. The rug is not to be cremated with Poppy but returned to us with her cremains to the vet practice for us to pick up when ready.
  3. We ask that Poppy’s cremains be placed in a C02 scatter tube (not a C01 box that we discussed with the pet cremation company this morning).
  4. We will deliver an alternative Dog Paws scatter tube that we have ordered and deliver it to the Thornton Practice when it arrives by next Monday. We would like the cremains to be transferred to this prior to our collection if possible. If not, we will do this.
  5. We would like to know the day and approximate time that Poppy will be cremated by email (address given) or text to John Porter’s mobile (number given) so we can remember her in our own private way.

The tube arrived early on Thursday so we delivered it to the vet practice and they said they would make sure it would travel with her the next day. For some reason I felt I should check with the crematorium company this was okay. 

This was the call when things started to go wrong. The person I spoke with this time was insensitive and uncaring. She said: “It’s against our policy for customers to supply their own scattering tubes.” She added: “…you’ll have to call head office for a copy.” I was shocked and spoke with their Head of Customer Service & Sales who was very apologetic and said she would speak with the person concerned. She gave a reason for the policy being to prevent damage in transit to customer supplied scattering tubes. (I can hear the funeral directors and celebrants among you sighing, knowing there is always a way to resolve an issue—in this case bubble wrap and a strong cardboard box!)

Poppy was picked up as planned on Friday 26th May, the bank holiday weekend. I telephoned the pet cremation company the following Tuesday as I had not heard when Poppy would be cremated (point 5 above). I spoke to the same insensitive person and this is how she responded to my question: “Oh she was cremated on Sunday at 6pm.” She said it in such a casual, flippant way I was shocked, angry and overcome with sadness all in the same moment. I could hardly speak. The impact of her uncaring attitude had a profoundly negative impact on me. We had decided we did not want to attend the cremation event (I now know we couldn’t have anyway) but we would have paused, lit a candle and remembered her around the time of her body’s transformation.

I telephoned the Head of Customer Service & Sales again and could sense the despair and concern in her voice. She said she would, that week, visit the site and speak with the staff to get to the bottom of why I had been spoken to so insensitively and put any training needed and policy reviews in place. For me, however, it was no remedy. I had to experience, process and live with the pain it caused and the feelings towards them I was left with at such an emotionally charged time. The next day a large bouquet of flowers arrived as an apology. As I put them in a vase another wave of sadness welled within me. This gesture was well intentioned but to me it felt hollow.

Poppy was brought back to the vet practice the following Friday and we requested her ashes be brought out to us as we waited by our car. What happened next was a beautiful demonstration of respect, compassion, dignity and love that overwhelmed us in a positive way. Tears of joy ebbed and flowed amidst our grief. We were watching the front entrance. Another entrance gate to the left of the practice was opened by a nurse to allow the receptionist to carry her precious gift towards us. Poppy’s carefully folded special blanket was placed on her outstretched arms with the presentation box containing her ashes in the paw prints tube on top. It was as though she was carrying the Crown Jewels towards us. We melted. Her demeanour was amazing; she looked at us with clear compassionate eyes and with a respectful smile said two simple words: “Here’s Poppy.” She stepped back. We thanked her and there was a silent pause of acknowledgement and thanks before we parted. Perfect!

Her tube now sits on the bottom shelf of a bookcase next to C.S. Lewis, Tolkien and The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy—a spot that Poppy spent many contented snoozing hours next to me as I worked. We will decide what we do with her ashes when we are ready.

My earnest plea to all animal guardians is to please learn from my experience and think and talk about what you will do and what your wishes are before your beloved animal passes. Much of what the Good Funeral Guide suggests concerning humans can be applied to animals too. I now know there are many amazing pet burial and cremation companies across the UK.

Sometimes our beloved animal’s death can come unexpectedly, so now is the time to act. Please don’t follow my poor example and be left with many ‘if onlys’. Writing this guest blog is helping me to offer help to you. I will write more about grief and animals, lessons learned and practical tips another time. 

John Porter, June 2023

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Marie
Marie
7 months ago

A wonderful blog post. John mentions those sad words – ‘If only’ – and reading it has given me a different sense of ‘if only’. I am wishing now that I had shared my experiences when my dog died in Spring 2022, because I think it would have been helpful. So, a bit late, and in brief, here they are: Our old lurcher had a ‘funny turn’ in the summer of 2021. Probably a small stroke, and he came back from it really well. But whilst it was looking uncertain, I knew that when the time came, we did not… Read more »

John Porter
John Porter
7 months ago
Reply to  Marie

Thank you for your comment. It is heart warming, assuring and brought some deep happy tears to the surface. Conversations about the beautiful animals we care for are very imporetant – particularly as they approach their final days with us. They reach out to us in special ways before, during and after they pass from one dimensuin to another. There is a PS. Even though I found out about when Poppy was cremated in an inappropriate manner from a human being, Poppy revealed herself to me in a special way at 6pm that Sunday evening. I had cycled to Blackpool… Read more »