When The Spirit Has Left

The spirit has left its beautiful container – and now what do I do…
Remaining present and fluid in your plans

When I lost Kwinn, my 9 year old shepherd, to cancer – it took me totally by surprise. From the time we discovered the cancer until the time I lost her was about 6 hours. I was reeling in shock and disbelief and I couldn’t get my arms wrapped around this new reality in my life. There are many components of this story that I could share but right now I am going to stick to the reality of the ‘BODY’…. What to do with the body… this beautiful set of clothes that housed the spirit that I loved so much. Kwinnie was now free from the confines her body, but this body was how I identified with her and the tangible part of her that I had grown to love.

In my state of shock, I agreed to cremation and left the vet office into a world that I didn’t know yet how to identify with. Later that day, I realized I wasn’t ready to let go of her body and so I called and begged them to wait… to keep her there… I went back and forth over the next few days but then realized I wanted to bury her on my new land that I bought for her to play on. I built her a custom casket that spoke of her spirit to me and then went through the ritual of a burial. This is not what I had planned… but it was the perfect ritual for her body for me at that time and provided me with the kind of closure I needed for this point in our relationship.

8 months later, my dog Ava died in my arms. It was a perfect passing but one I hadn’t planned on as there was no sign… no discomfort… we were just cuddling and talking and then she was gone. I held her for hours before I realized I needed to make a decision about her amazing body that I had so intensely cared for… I had planned on burying her in the same sacred area that Kwinn had helped create the year before… but suddenly that wasn’t right for me.

Thank God I had done some research for my clients and had my list of references and options. On that list was a place in Oregon called ‘Dignified Pet Services‘ where you can bring your dog in for a private cremation and they were open for private appts 24 hours/day. I never dreamed this option would be for me but at that moment, with my dog in my arms, it was the only thing that felt like an option.


My experience at Dignified Pet Services was perfect. I couldn’t let her body go and they were compassionate and allowed me all the time I needed. There was a chapel where I could be with her… there were beautiful urns for me to look at… there was music and candle and spiritual statues… there were 2 men who worked there that day who knew how to just hold the space for me and provided nothing but kindness and compassion.

When it came time for me to let her body go, I sat by the cremation chamber for the entire time in a state of prayer and gratitude. I think most people wait in the beautiful chapel during this time but again, I couldn’t leave her… I was able to be a part of every step – that was my choice and they honored that and helped me and supported my needs. There was no agenda and no standard procedure, there was only what I needed at that time – something I could have never guessed or planned on before hand.

I chose a beautiful carved urn with water lotus blossoms on it. We took plaster imprints of her beautiful paws. I bought a necklace that had one ceramic heart that I wore and one that she wore and which accompanied her through the fire – an inner heart that was retrieved after the flames and then was re-united back into the heart necklace I wore around my neck.

When I left later that night – I held the warm urn in my arms and I had more attachment to the urn than the fur that I found on my floors when I got home. I had experienced the transition of her body to ash and it held meaning for me and a reality that I needed to embrace. Yes it was excruciatingly painful but any option would have been.

The experience I had with Kwinn’s body was vastly different than my experience with Ava’s. However, our relationships were different, my connection to their bodies was very different and the process I needed to move to the next level of our relationship needed to be different.

At a hospice seminar I attended, I learned that in many faiths, the body is kept for 3 days and is lovingly grieved over as part of the process. Although I didn’t choose this for myself, the knowledge that I didn’t have to do anything immediately with the body was comforting to me – it gave me the time to move a bit past the shock and allow my thoughts to form some clarity around what would feel best as a next step.

What worked for me was to have a list of options for things – so that I would be educated about those options. I had done this research well before I needed it – so that it was gathered at a time when my emotions were still intact. Then I put this list and the appropriate phone numbers in my daytimer – a place that I would find it when my life was in such turmoil that finding anything would be a challenge

– and then knowing it was there – I let it go so that I could return to the present.