Get a cup of coffee and settle in for a few minutes. You’re in for a bit of a long ride. But consider that it’s taken me far longer to put this tale together — a good part of a lifetime, now that I think about it.

Lake Srinigar, Kashmir. No, there was nothing in that hookah. We were just weird.
Lake Srinigar, Kashmir, my ex-husband and I and the boatman. No, there was nothing in that hookah. We were just weird.

Ashes to Ashes

No one is rational about death, especially the death of a loved one. No one.

A belief in heaven doesn’t protect you from a case of the crazies; neither does atheism. Grief just manifests in different ways, some more socially acceptable than others.

Indeed, the very fact of grieving a pet, in whatever fashion, is considered irrational in some circles, though not the ones I frequent if I can help it. If you’re reading this, I imagine you share those sentiments.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of my key forms of irrationality relates to the physical aftermath of death. I’ve never been particularly squeamish about the living.  And when you have a dog, it’s virtually impossible to avoid contact with bodily fluids, including — often — blood.

But the dead. Ugh.

And that includes their ashes. You’d think that dry detritus would be unobjectionable, especially for someone who lives in the desert, but not for me. It might be the bits of bone I heard don’t get burned, or the reduction of something animate to a dirt cognate. I can’t explain it. All I know is that, although cremation seemed the best option when I was unable to donate Frankie’s body to science — see Five Things I Want to Tell You, While I Can Without Sobbing, About My Dog’s Departure — I couldn’t cope with bringing his ashes home. I had my friend John pick them up from the crematorium and take them to his house.

The crematorium also made a paw print of Frankie that John attempted to give me. Ewww! Maybe I should have made one while Frankie was alive, but I didn’t. Now the last thing I wanted was a visual representation of someone paw-printing my poor lifeless sweetie.

If your best human friend died, would you want a postmortem hand print?

That’s what I mean — irrational. Or differently rationaled. I know people cherish such mementos. I’m just not one of them.

A Stint in Limbo

Cowboy Frankie
Cowboy Frankie. Observe the hat

And so John kept Frankie in his house. For a while, I didn’t ask where. And I wavered between joking about Frankie as though he were alive  — did he enjoy the quiet in John’s house, as opposed to mine? Was he a good house guest? — to getting upset when John brought the topic up.

I give John a huge amount of credit for putting up with my Frankie irrationality (during Frankie’s life too, I hasten to add).

He inspired a greeting cards, refrigerator magnet and cocktail napkins
He inspired a greeting card, refrigerator magnet and cocktail napkins

I said good-bye to Frankie on November 1. By the time I went to Thanksgiving at John’s house, I was ready to ask about Frankie’s precise resting place. It turned out that Frankie was part of John’s entertainment unit — specifically, he was perched atop the television. I found that oddly comforting. Jokes about Frankie’s viewing preferences commenced, and I began feeling slightly less like every nerve was exposed when we discussed him.

I don’t know how long this acclimatization process might have gone on, with me getting gradually less upset at the thought of Frankie’s ashes, if John’s departure for a three-month teaching stint in Paris hadn’t been approaching in mid-January.

I couldn’t bear the thought of Frankie being alone for that length of time, and in a house that wasn’t mine. Note: It’s yet another sign of my irrationality that the phrase “a three-month teaching stint in Paris” brought up worries about Frankie’s ashes being left alone rather than extreme Paris envy.

I was now faced with the dilemma:  If I took Frankie home, where would I put him?  I never did find the Day of the Dead urn I was contemplating — I didn’t try very hard. You know, ashes — and I could neither imagine putting the plain box from the crematorium on display nor hiding it away.

It turned out the answer had been staring me right in the face all the time.

My Hippie Honeymoon

Lake Srinigar, again. One of these days I'll have to write about that
Lake Srinigar, again. One of these days I’ll have to write about that

You’ve probably been wondering where that goofy picture on the top of the page comes in. I’ve finally arrived at the background portion of the story.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, I took what I fondly refer to as my hippie honeymoon, a three-month journey from Istanbul through Iran and Afghanistan to India and Nepal, with a return through Uzbekistan and Russia — then part of the Soviet Union — to Frankfurt and back to New York. I mention this itinerary, not to suggest my intrepid nature — I was 21, and if you’re not intrepid (read: foolhardy) then, when can you be? —  but to give you an idea of what it meant to schlep home an unwieldy and rather heavy item that I bought in Afghanistan: A graceful, hand-decorated vessel made of undetermined metal, possibly pewter and copper. I wasn’t sure of its purpose. If I thought about it, I imagined it filled with water and brought to a long table, accompanied by a basin, so diners in flowing robes could wash their hands before or after a meal.

It was not a sensible purchase, to put it mildly, but that was the point. It embodied everything about the trip and about the future that was exotic and magical, like Ali Baba’s lamp.

But while it invoked the intangibles of life’s promise, this vessel was also sturdy, virtually indestructible; I wasn’t worried about it breaking along the way. And I didn’t know how old it was, but there was an ageless quality to it.

More Travels

It stayed with me on all of life’s journeys, through the end of my marriage and another rented apartment in Brooklyn to a smaller co-op apartment in Manhattan, and, finally, to my current Tucson home.

It got pride of place on the top of my bedroom dresser, where I began to drape necklaces and scarves on it. In later years, the dresser top turned out to be a convenient gathering place for Frankie’s squeaky carrots, which tended to scatter. Our nearby bed — eventually, mattress on the floor — was the launching pad for most of the chases.

Frankie shrine 2You may be getting the picture already but, oddly, it took me a while to figure it out — even after I put the wire sculpture that my niece got me on top of the dresser.

But with John’s departure imminent, the proverbial light bulb started flashing.

This item, to which I never attached any noun in my mind, not even “pitcher,”  had found its purpose after all these years: It was Frankie’s urn.

It seemed obvious. Frankie the shy had traveled the world in his imagination — okay, maybe mine. What could be more fitting than for him to spend his days in a lovely urn from a faraway land?

A Well-Urned Rest

Now all that was left was to get Frankie’s ashes back.

If you think I instantly got over my aversion to Frankie’s ashy incarnation once I decided on a resting place, think again. I brought the urn over to John’s house, with the plan to return the next day when the transfer was made. I couldn’t bear to think about the process, including possible spillage, being enacted while I was present.

Yet once I was assured the deed was done, a weird but wonderful transmogrification took place. Frankie’s ashes and the urn, lid secured and spout internally stoppered, became a single beloved object that I could contemplate without fear and loathing.

I put the urn in the front seat of my car, strapped it into the seat belt, and drove Frankie back across town. Home.

Since then, I have been enjoying changing the configuration of Frankie’s dresser-top shrine.

The strands of  Mardi Gras beads that Frankie wore with such grace on the greeting card, refrigerator magnet, and cocktail napkins in which he was featured were among the necklaces that had originally been draped on the urn. And, as I mentioned, the beloved squeaky carrots were already on the dresser.  I started gathering other things from Frankie’s life, including the much mended squeaky chile, the ur squeaky carrot, and the mat on which Frankie’s water bowl had rested. I propped up the card that featured Frankie and AJ Em’s Frankie portrait on an adjacent jewelry stand.

Frankie shrine, the big picture
Frankie shrine, the big picture

Then I thought of the cowboy hat that Frankie wore in the first video trailer promoting Am I Boring My Dog. I’m not sure whether it’s better on the jewelry stand behind the card and picture or on the urn itself. What do you think? Too much?

Frankie shrine with cowboy hat, squeaky chile forwardIn case you didn’t notice, along with putting the hat on the urn, I also placed the squeaky chile atop the squeaky carrot.

I will no doubt go on tweaking this for a long time.

The limits — and limitlessness — of metaphor

I want to be clear: I don’t take Frankie’s residence in the urn to symbolize the death of my youthful dreams — or even of my middle aged ones. Frankie was my first dog, and he opened up another wonderful and exotic world for me, that of furry friendship. Maybe I’ll adopt another dog, this time one who loves to travel. Maybe we’ll go to wonderful places together.

Maybe not.

It doesn’t matter.

Call it irrational, but the rightness of the fit of Frankie with his resting place provided a respite, for however long, from grief. The message that I took from this lovely bit of serendipity was the metamorphosis — and indestructibility — of life’s infinite possibilities.

23 thoughts on “Once Upon an Urn: The Irrational, Magical Tale of Frankie’s Return”

  1. An unexpected role Frankie’s ashes have come to play, what a gift it leads to this. That symbolic place you found, intertwined with symbols of your life-story, beautiful.

  2. I’m so glad you’ve found a place for Frankie’s ashes that just feels right to you. You waited to hear what your heart had to say to you and she spoke loud and clear.

    Some experiences carry the possibility of enlarging us to be more than we ever thought we could be. Travel and loving an animal are two of them. And I love how you married two experiences that made you the amazing person full of contradictions that you are today.

  3. I love the Frankie shrine, especially the wire scuplture, and the story. Great pics of you, too.

    I have kept my gone dogs’ collars. In the junk drawer, admittedly, but they’re there. Forever. Their remains (and those of a cat, Kittykie) are buried in the back yard in the traditional suburban American way. I think once in a while about someone in some future decade or century discovering our tiny graveyard. I hope they’ll find it touching and not creepy.

  4. Oh, Edie. Your story is so poignant and beautiful. I love how just waiting and not rushing into deciding what to do with Frankie’s ashes brought you to this lovely, dear conclusion. I’ve told you often and in many ways that I’m so sorry for your loss, and I’m now I’m also so happy for you that Frankie’s ashes have come home to just the right place on your dresser and in your heart.

  5. Perfect. The Day of the Dead shrines call for things meaningful and personal so you’ve got it just right. About the paw print–reminds me of the Victorian practice of photographing “sleeping” children as a reminder. Ewwww.

    1. I hadn’t thought of it as a Day of the Dead shrine but you’re exactly right — thank you! There’s also that weird Victorian fetish of brooches made out of dead people’s hair. Double ewwwww.

  6. No reason you can’t move the cowboy hat, and other adornments from Frankie’s career, as the mood takes you. A shrine is like a garden. It’s always a work in progress, never done.

    1. I was typing almost the same reply as Rebecca. She said it well, and I agree with the comparison to a well-nurtured garden. Rest well, Frankie.

  7. I love how you set it up, and I think rearranging it is a nice way to still interact with him. My first dog as an adult was Treat, and she was a heart dog for me. When we picked up her ashes, I made the mistake of opening the box and looking inside. It was something I still regret. But I’ve also always regretted that I have never been able to get her the perfect urn. Her box is very pretty, but it’s just not her. I am happy for you that you did find the perfect place for Frankie!

  8. Loved the story and photos. Not sure if I ever had seen a photo of Mr. B. Can’t even imagine what I will do when mine go, tho I have been thru it before. I still get all choked up when I think about those two.

  9. Catching up reading as I’m home with a stomach flu…
    I loved this piece…..a possible published short story?
    I so well remember that urn…mostly in your apt.
    In Brooklyn!

  10. I am so glad you were able to bring Frankie home and have found a bit of peace in his presence and with his memories. Life is so surprising. You never know what items or what moments will become the most important.

    I once heard of a crematorium that bronzed dog’s noses and pawpads. Lovely if this brings comfort to some, but never, ever for me.

  11. I’m happy for you that you have been able to bring Frankie home and be at peace with your decision. I love your shrine. As for where the hat should be, I think it depends upon how you feel at any given moment. My beloved Kissy’s remains are in a little box shaped like a treasure chest and sealed with a burgundy-colored cloth-like material. The treasure-chest shape of the box, to me at least, is very fitting since I treasured that sweet little dog and our bond. And I still do. She was my heart dog. For a long while I kept that box out of sight because the mere sight of it reduced me to tears. Now it’s on my bookshelf where she can look down on me while I work at my desk.

  12. Thanks for sharing your personal journey. Absolutely love the pic of you as a 21 year old hippie. So glad you were able to bring Frankie’s ashes home in a way that felt right for you and that the urn has found it’s greater purpose.

  13. I’m so glad you were able to find the perfect resting place for dear Frankie that, hopefully, brings you a bit of peace as well. I absolutely love the idea of a shrine, too. Isn’t it incredible how things come full circle?

  14. Edie, I can not imagine a more lovely and fitting final resting place for Frankie’s ashes. The meaning is beautiful (and the urn breath taking). I can’t say thank you enough for sharing this story with us.

    I’ve long wondered what I would do when the time comes. The idea of having ashes always made me feel odd, but the alternative of giving them up also felt unbearable. You’ve made me feel like there is hope. (You’ve also made me feel less crazy for putting my mattress on the floor while Felix’s knee is recovering. )

    1. You mean there is an option other than putting the mattress on the floor? I never did put it back on the bed frame. Once a hippie, always a hippie I guess 😉

  15. When my dog Andy passed away I sometimes wondered if he would hate me for the pet memorial we placed him in since we included his favorite dog treat in with his ashes

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