Ashes to Ashes

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Saturday was April 16. While that may not be a date stamped into anyone’s mind, it’s one that haunts me. It’s the day we said goodbye to Louis last year. I’ve been anticipating its arrival for months and carefully carved out plans to honor him away from home.

Weeks ago I received an invite to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine Leadership Summit for April 16 and was excited to hit “accept,” then realized the date conflict. After receiving a few follow up invites, I decided to make both work. It felt like a sign to be there. Spending time hearing the latest in PCRM’s work for the animals began to also feel like a way to honor Louis.

Saturday I woke up early anticipating the morning’s Leadership Summit and subsequent jaunt to the Shenandoah mountains. I was packed and ready for our overnight adventure. After consuming a yummy plant-based lunch, Tim picked me up with Mookie in tow. There was a Mid-Atlantic Pug Rescue pug meet up happening nearby so we wanted to support it on our way out of town. Mookie lasted exactly eight minutes. Yep, eight.

His anxiety is overwhelming despite meds, behaviorists, and two people that love him dearly. He ran around, appeared enamored by a fawn pug in a tutu, and then came to us barking uncontrollably. It’s his thing. We don’t know what he wants, but we know we need to move on to avoid disturbing others. So we scooped him up, soothed him, and headed to the mountains.

En route I remembered taking Louis to a dog-friendly winery on our last trip and began doing some googling. Although I couldn’t recall that winery, I found one right off 66 that allowed dogs in the tasting room, Three Foxes Vineyards.

We pulled into the long drive and it was packed with a local band covering songs from various decades (hello Supertramp), couples, dogs, and picnic tables strategically placed along the river that bordered the property. We parked and made our way to the tasting room. Mookie was behaved until a woman tasting next to us acknowledged him. He gets upset with too much attention. I picked him up to stop the barking and he gripped on to me for dear life—shaking with nails embedded into my shoulders.

After a round of dog therapy (aka time, space, and lots of “you’re okay”), we purchased a glass of our favorite white, sat outside, and watched the time. 3:30 was fast approaching. At the one year mark we lifted our glasses in honor of Louis and took a moment. Tears rolled down my cheeks and I could feel that I’d come a long way from that day. While the grief is still palpable, it is no longer debilitatingly raw.

We finished our crisp white and headed toward Shenandoah National Park. At the gate we were informed that it was National Park Week, so entrance was free. Happy 100 years National Park Service!

Our special spot is at the first visitor center where we photographed Louis as a three-month-old puppy in a blue and orange striped sweater on top of a rock shortly after we’d gotten him. He looked so tiny compared to the rock and rolling hills behind it. The photo was always known as “king of the mountain.” We took the same photo last year with him.

We made our way to the rock with Mookie and took a seat on its uneven surface. Looking out on the layers of blue ridges, I took a deep breath. Tim pulled out a tiny capsule urn and sprinkled a teeny bit. We watched a few ashes drop to the earth and held one another as the wind carried specks away. After taking it all in, we walked slowly back to the car while a man sang and strummed along on his banjo.

The next day we returned to the park for one final visit before I had to teach. As we approached our sacred rock for the last time on this trip, there was a kid with a stick digging around in the dirt where we’d left some of Louis. Initially I was horrified, then I had to laugh. It truly is ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

While honoring a lost loved one is deeply personal, this experience coupled with the memorial garden currently in bloom with daffodils, monkey grass (his favorite thing to desecrate), and hostas feels right.

Adopting Mookie has helped soothe the pain of losing such a big part of my life. My world has changed in many ways since last April and continues to shift. That’s how life works. I know it and I do my best to honor it despite the raging discomfort. Bisous. x