Sacred Practice


Every culture has its own sacred practices especially when it comes to death. Some of these rituals and practices may seem strange, scary or gruesome to outsiders, but to those within the group these are holy rituals, infused with purpose -- they help make sense of life and death, give it order and allow us a way to explain or at least deal with the inexplicable.

Such is the case with Pugdom. Some of the rituals I did not understand 14 years ago when I first arrived to buy my pug Vader and later returned to visit as a friend. If you had told me then that I would be participating in them now, I'm not sure what I would have thought. Perhaps I would have been repulsed or thought it strange. Today, I take part in these understanding that in doing so I am partaking in something holy.

I refer to the death rituals surrounding the pugs. My friend Joan lives on top of a mountain in rural Vermont. Often the pugs die at inconvenient times -- nights, holidays, weekends. So, their bodies must be cared for until they can be taken to the vet. This often means wrapping them in blankets or towels, then plastic Ziploc or garbage bags and placing them in the freezer until they can be buried or taken to the vet. Often times, the bodies are kept until the rest of us -- the friends who have played a role in the pugs' lives -- can arrive to see them. Thus, I got to see Batman's diminutive form this weekend.

I know it may sound peculiar to those who do not love dogs and those removed from rural life, but there is also the practical side to death and the freezer is a place to protect their bodies from decomposition and other animals until a hole can be dug or they can be cremated. And, there is something beautiful in the care Joan takes with these tiny corpses. She has special blue blankets -- "I love  blue," she says, specifically for the deceased. Batman, she had wrapped, in a washcloth-slice of such a blanket. He looked peaceful, untouched, his long black-fur still shiny. He had grown in the time between I last saw him and his death and it seems a cruel joke that he could have been growing and thriving even while his body was betraying him. Lying there in his baby-blue blanket, he was precious as was our love for him.

I will bring a picture of him to Joan -- the last picture taken while he was alive -- like I have been doing for all the dying pugs since I became a part of Pugdom and she will place in the house. This time she will include the name tag Norma created for him nearby. She plans to bury him alongside his sibling that died at childbirth, down the drive near her new house, which we call 3C.

The viewings and the photos help us cope, to honor the pugs that pass. We talk about their lives, which whether they were 14 years or 14 weeks old, all seem incredibly too short. We are bound by love and ritual and respect for powers greater than ourselves. These are profound moments and I no longer find anything unusual in wrapping the body up and placing it in the freezer until we each have seen, until there is a place to bring it. It is after all, this ritual that helps bring new life to the deceased pug -- carrying its spirit from this world and cementing it in our collective heart forever.