At 6:30am I rose after a sleepless night and prepared myself to accompany my mom to put down the 17yr. old Pekingese dog Arthur that had been a friend and a brother to me since I was 9. Of course, such an undertaking is tragic to any pet owner, but myself being too-much an animal enthusiast, putting Arthur to sleep was absolutely agonizing. And yet, as surreal as the experience seemed (just as any gut-wrenchingly emotional event seems out of space and time), I couldn't help but rationalizing it and noting how scripted and programmatic the event and our responses to it were. Certainly nothing so prescribed as Victorian mourning, but there was something artificial about it nonetheless. The room was sterile and funereal, and a sitting room was provided in which you can hold your dog while the second injection is given. We were all out of the room before the second injection. The first injection left him immobile and incapable of keeping his salmon tongue from lolling on his cheek. But we were made to feel like it was the passing of a human, all the trappings of those rituals packed into one veterinary space. The antiseptic hospital room, the dim and serene waiting room like a funeral home viewing, ashes and urns, the swiping of credit cards; the only thing uniquely 'animal' about it was the offer to have his paws imprinted in a stone memorial plaque. I don't disagree with treating the passing of a loved pet-animal as distinct from the passing of a loved human-animal, but the experience of putting down Arthur seemed like a summary of American mourning rituals.
I am happy about the animal/object my parents get to receive, the paw prints in cement. But I of course believe in a return to earth, not ashes in an urn. The need for 2 objects seems obscene. Thinking of my own death, the only reason parts of me will be preserved is because I wish to become a block of cement used for constructing artificial reefs. It is both an economically sound and it satiates my irrational concerns with the goings-on of my corpse, something I of course will know nothing about. And perhaps having an unconventional treatment of my lifeless body will provoke unique responses in people instead of programmed tears.