Monday, July 7, 2014

Pet Loss: Keeping the Secret of a Cremation Mistake

[Reviewed and updated November 21, 2022]

We dance round in a ring and suppose, but the secret sits in the middle and knows. ~ Robert Frost

A reader writes: I wonder if you could give me some advice. Recently our pet cat died and we decided to have her cremated so the ashes could be scattered in our garden. I have just learned from our vet who sent the cat to the crematorium that accidentally our cat was not labeled and was mass-cremated. It now leaves me with a dilemma as I know my partner will be distraught about this. Should I get another set of ashes (which my vet says they can supply) or should I tell her the truth? I honestly don’t know where to look for advice on this. I hope you can point me in the right direction. Thank you.

My response: I’m so sorry to learn of the death of your cat, and sorry too to learn of the awful mistake that was made in the cremation process. Through no fault of your own, you’ve been placed in a very difficult position. Please understand that you know your partner far better than I do, and you know yourself as well, so any advice I can offer will depend on many factors that I know nothing about. That said, all I can tell you is that, if this were me and my cat, I would want to know the truth.

You say that if she knows what happened, your partner will be distraught—but it seems to me that such a reaction on her part would be perfectly normal and understandable. If you tell her with that attitude in mind (understanding that she has every right to be outraged and upset about this), it may help you deal with her reaction.

Perhaps you are afraid that she will blame you for this, or that you will be the target of her anger, and you don’t know how to respond. It may help for you to play this out in your mind ahead of time. If you were to tell her what really happened, what would you say to break the news? What words would you use? Knowing her as you do, can you predict how she may react?

Would you be able simply to let her feel her feelings—that is, to let her react in any way that she might, and know that you can withstand her reaction? Can you simply listen calmly and without judgment so she can express all her thoughts and feelings about this, even if her feelings seem neither fair to you nor rational? If she lashes out at you (wanting or needing someone to blame) can you let her do that without accepting her accusations as justified, but merely as an expression of her feelings at the moment?

It may help to remember that feelings are neither right or wrong, or good or bad, and they’re not always rational, or fair or justified. Feelings just are. But once they’re expressed, worked through and released, they usually dissipate. Finally, once your partner learns the awful truth, can you think of what you could do to comfort her?

It seems to me, my friend, that this won’t be the only time in the course of your relationship that you’ll be confronted with very bad news. There will be times when you simply cannot protect each other from the truth. Only you can decide whether you can be truly honest with each other about things like this, so you can face and work through the harsh realities of life together.

I thought perhaps this article I wrote may be of some help to you and your partner as you come to terms with this. Even though you don’t have your kitty’s cremains, the love you had for her will be with you always, as long as you keep her memory alive. If you read the article, I think you’ll understand how it might apply to your situation: Explaining Pet Loss To Children: Some Do's and Don'ts.

I don’t know if what I’ve said is helpful to you, but please know that I’m so sorry this has happened, and regardless of what you decide, please know too that I wish you all the best.

Note to other readers: If you are faced with making end-of-life decisions for your own companion animal, I strongly encourage you to learn what your after-death-care options are before your animal’s death. When you’re struggling to cope with the pain and trauma of loss, you’re not in the best position to ask intelligent questions and make an informed, well-thought-out decision about body care. Make sure that your choices are based on your own values and beliefs, and that they meet your emotional needs and financial requirements. See, for example, Body Care for Your Companion Animal by Laurel Lagoni.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below.
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