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

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

RIP Ted and Poppy

It’s been a tough few days here at HQ, to be honest. Ted, our faithful, faulty bull terrier was put down on Wednesday morning. He had lymphoma.

Ted was rescued from Essex where he had been brutally treated. Thereafter, it was difficult to know which of his eccentric/dysfunctional traits to assign to nature and which to nurture. Always a dog of very low self-esteem, he also had the uproarious sense of humour common to bullys (other delightful traits include complete untrainability) and, while gentle as can be most of the time, he had a hilarious penchant for nipping people’s backsides. He got to know a good many undertakers and was one of the country’s leading experts on natural burial grounds (from a particular point of view).

Some years ago he went to see the team at Arka, where he met Jean Francis’s golden labrador, Poppy. The two of them chased each other round and round the office and nearly wrecked it while Jean and I collapsed in laughter.

Poppy died just a few weeks ago, so Jean and I have been exchanging condolences. We both agree that it’s much easier to be sensible when humans die. 

Jean sent me the following poem. If you’re a sensible sort, you may think it thoroughly sentimental. Well, Jean and I don’t. 

The Rainbow Bridge Poem

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.

There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old, are restored to health and vigour. Those who were hurt, or maimed are made whole and strong again. Just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.

The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing. They each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together…but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers.

Suddenly…he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster, and faster.

You have been spotted.

When you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again.

The happy kisses rain upon your face. Your hands again caress the beloved head. You look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then… you cross the Rainbow Bridge together.

Funeral for a peacock

Carmella B’Hahn, of Bowden House Community, near Totnes, has allowed us to share here her letter to friends about the death and funeral of her significant companion-animal. 

I feel compelled to write about a happening here that has touched me to the core. Many visitors to Bowden House will have encountered an iridescent display of blue beauty and a shimmering show of an intricate, many-eyed tail as you passed by our beloved peacock on your visits. Peaky, our ‘Lord of the Manor’ flew in, of his own volition, to join us in June 2009, just after we completed the leases that said that no one was to ‘own’ a peacock. No one owned him and he chose to stay. We found his body on January 3rd (with a bite mark on his neck) lying in the orchard as if he had lain down to sleep. And so the actual cause of death will remain a mystery. 

My wolf-like howls that echoed across the estate probably spoke for the hearts of many of us. We gave him a full burial ceremony to be proud of, with songs and memories and farewell strokings, followed by a ‘Peaky Wake’ at my house, where a challenging peacock jigsaw was completed so that we were left with a whole peacock image in the middle of the floor. 

I have had some of the most buy cialis and viagra profound moments of my life with our ‘Peaky’. We used to eye-gaze by my Buddha in the awning when I lived in a caravan, and then for the last two years at my new house he joined me when I was writing. He would sit opposite me, peering through the glass doors of my deck for hours on end, and I felt his magical influence. But the most astounding memory I have is of the first time I completed the aforementioned jigsaw. Immediately afterwards, I went to pick a couple of apples and was gone for about four minutes. Peaky was nowhere in sight. When I returned, I found him in my lounge standing on the jigsaw. How? God knows! 

Each of us has our own memories and stories and will integrate his death in different ways. What I am left with is a desire to imbue the qualities that were displayed before us so often. I want to expand my vision to see with many eyes and to express iridescent beauty in a shameless display of confidence that uplifts spirits. Well, I always have aimed high! 

Carmella’s longstanding interest in the transitions that include death were reinforced after her firstborn son drowned at the age of five. She describes his living and dying in her book, Benjaya’s Gifts.

Do animals have souls?

Cat-loving cleric and huge character George Callender, one of the GFG’s favourite and most admired funeral celebrants/ministers, talks here on Channel 4’s 4thought about what happens to our pets when we die. Sorry, we can’t embed it.

“I have officiated at many pet funerals over the years, and I believe that animals, like us, when they die, return to the collective essence of all that has gone before.”

1 min 42 secs

Faithfulness and fraudulence

Dogs who remain faithful to their masters and mistresses after their deaths have plenty of aah factor, always have done.

Take Hachiko the Akita (pictured above), for example. Every day he would meet his owner, Professor Ueno, off the Tokyo train. One day, Prof Ueno died at work. Unable to take it in, Hachiko padded down to the railway station every day at the precise time of the arrival of what should have been his master’s train for the next nine years until, to much sadness, as you can see below, he expired in his own right. Read all about him here.

When Navy Seal Jon Tumlinson died in Afghanistan on 6 August 2012, his inconsolable Labrador, Hawkeye, kept vigil at his funeral

Below, you can see Leão purportedly lying by the grave of his master, a victim of floods in Brazil in 2011. Actually, it is more likely that Leão was the gravedigger’s dog and was simply chillaxing. He doesn’t look overly grief-stricken, does he?

Britain’s most famous graveside vigilist is, of course, Greyfriars Bobby. He was almost certainly a fraud, too. Both of him. According to Wikipedia, “he was originally a stray that hung around nearby Heriot’s hospital, but became such a nuisance the hospital gardener threw him into the graveyard. James Brown, the curator of the graveyard, was fond of Bobby’s company and began to feed him to keep him around. Visitors saw Bobby and liked to believe he was loyally staying by his masters grave, and provided Brown with tips to hear Bobby’s “story” …  in May or June 1867 the original Bobby died and was replaced with a younger dog.

Lots more faithful dogs here. All the dirt on the Scotch fraud pictured above here.

RIP Waldo

A special funeral was held at Joint Base Charleston. It wasn’t for an airman but instead for a member of the base’s security team.

There wasn’t a 21-gun salute but instead just three guns fired three times. Heart-felt salutes were offered by members of the base andTaps was played. Even the howl of a fellow comrade filled the air. A 10-year service career came to an end as 11-year-old Waldo, a German Shepard was laid to rest in a rainy ceremony.

Read the whole article here

Death of a best friend

posted by Quokkagirl

I received a moving email the other day from a friend telling me that Archie, her beloved and faithful old Westie had finally lost his battle with cancer.

The last time I saw Archie was a couple of months ago – looking older but still the feisty little man he had always been – busily galloping around the smallholding all day, dealing with the ducks and hens, making sure his estate was all in order, then finally flopping down curled up by the Aga at night – so long as he was touching his mistress’s feet somehow.

My friend is pragmatic by nature and used to dealing with the death of animals – she rears all sorts, is devoted to them, never eats any of them and suffers losses frequently with courage and a philosphical approach.

However, this email was full of exactly the same words, the same emotions and the same pain that would be present when telling of the death of a beloved human.

And of course, those of us who have said goodbye to pets know what it’s like. They are not ‘just a dog, cat, rabbit, ferret or rat’. My brother lost his faithful old springer, Fern, some three years ago and still can’t bear to try and replace her. There seems to be no room in his heart for another yet. She lays beneath a beautiful stone in his garden with her name lovingly chiselled by his own hand. And he still has pictures of her on his phone that he will happily show around. She was the best friend he ever had and is unashamedly grieving for her still.

The love for a Best Friend is pure – like the love for a baby.
Nothings spoils that love because there are no bad memories. They never hurt you, never spoil your life like humans can – they only ever enhance.

I was shocked the other day to be told by a devout Anglican that animals do not have souls. I didn’t dignify their comment with a response. Tell that to those who have wept over the loss of their pets and whose pets practically joined souls with their owners in their lifetime.

In my local vets there is a little corner put aside to display a range of mini urns for amimals. It’s so good to see that the pain of losing our Best Friends is both openly and unashamedly acknowledged at last.

A poem for our Best Friends.

Four Feet

I have done mostly what most men do,
And pushed it out of my mind;
But I can’t forget, if I wanted to,
Four-Feet trotting behind.

Day after day, the whole day through —
Wherever my road inclined —
Four-feet said, “I am coming with you!”
And trotted along behind.

Now I must go by some other round,
Which I shall never find
Somewhere that does not carry the sound
Of Four-Feet trotting behind.

 Rudyard Kipling