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Gus in the urn. Remembering him.


I wrote the other day of the division in my mind between the spiritual and materialistic interpretations of life, a split that Gus’s death both revealed and exacerbated. It is perhaps no coincidence that yesterday, the day I received Gus’s cremains in the mail, I also read these words from the autobiography of the Indian spiritual teacher, Pararmahansa Yogananda, concerning a vision a teacher of his related to him.

The teacher’s guru had just died. The teacher was beside himself with grief. Suddenly the person of his departed guru appeared before him. “The master approached me comfortingly,” the teacher related. “‘Here, touch my flesh,’ he said. ‘I am living, as always. Do not lament; am I not with you forever?’” Yogananda, a Hindu who admired all religions, was deeply touched by these words. Turning to the Christian Bible for inspiration, he quoted I Corinthians: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is they victory?”

I, being of mortal coil and weak, do not yet understand Gus’s death in such cosmic terms. Gus has not appeared before me (although he is often in my mind). When I removed the wooden urn housing Gus’s remains from the cardboard box in which it was shipped, I almost collapsed. It was more than I could bear: this faithful, constant companion of so many years, so pure and filled with spirit and devotion, reduced to dust sent via FedEx.

I confess: I do not know that Gus is “living, as always.” I lament. I don’t know that he is with me forever, except in a metaphorical way. His death carries the most terrible, awful sting. I wish to God I could accept, and be assured that Gus lives in Heaven and that someday I will cross that Rainbow Bridge and be reunited with him. But I can’t bring myself to believe in the supernatural.

When I recovered from the shock of holding his cremains in my hands, the question occurred to me of where to put the box. I had also kept his leash and collar, and of course there was the paw print in plaster that the vet who euthanized him had made. I thought of placing them on the headboard of my bed, but that seemed weird and ghoulish. As sorrowful as I am, I’ve realized all along that I can’t, and won’t, be The Widow Heimoff, grieving for the rest of my life. Then, I ran into a neighbor who told me that, when her beloved cat died, she actually slept with the urn containing his ashes. She kept it pressed to her heart. That worked for her, but as this point, I just don’t want to do that. I can change my mind, but “letting go” of Gus also means letting go of the urn, not sleeping with it. What “letting go” does not mean is forgetting. I’ll never forget Gus; I don’t want to forget Gus. I want to remember my sweet dog until my last dying breath. It honors Gus to remember him, and Gus, in death, deserves no less.

My neighbor, the one with the cat, also told me she can’t look at pictures of her late cat. I’m the exact opposite. I love looking at the many photos I took of Gus over the years. I loved looking at Gus in life: whether he was sleeping, or looking back at me, or just wandering down the sidewalk doing his thing, his presence filled me with peace. I thought often of Whitman’s words:

“I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d, I stand and look at them long and long.”

Here are a few pictures to share with you.

Gus spent a lot of time in his bed.

Or on mine.


This was the one and only time Gus ever experienced snow. He seemed a bit confused.

I used to bring Gus to cousin Ellen’s house, in the Malibu hills. He liked to sniff all the wild critter scents.

Gus loved to find a nice field to lay down in on a warm, sunny day, and get a little shut-eye.

This is one of my favorite pictures. It was taken in the UPS Store, where I pick up wine. Gus was a regular feature there. The staff adored him.

Well, that’s it for now. To my friends in the northeast, I hope you can dig yourselves out from Winter Storm Gail! And to everyone: please wear your mask.

  1. Kate Peltier says:

    I have been, in my more distant way, of course, mourning Gus too. The other day a repairman was in my apartment and upon catching a glimpse of a quickly fleeing Eva, began to tell me all about his beloved cat who had just died a few days before. We spoke about our pets, how much we love them, and how terribly terribly it hurts to lose them. I thought about you and Gus and I thought: what a wonderful joyous thing it is that we can love so profoundly across species! To be laid so low by love for a cat or a dog or a bird. What a painfully gorgeous part of the world are us animal lovers. How brave we are to love what we are guaranteed, by nature, to lose much too soon. As I said to you so many times, Gus was a special, gentle soul and your grief does you, and him, credit. You mourn however you need to, you’ll figure it out.

  2. Dear Kate, your love for Gus was wonderful. Thank you for that. Thanks also for your kind words of wisdom.

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