As I stood on the edge of the grave site in progress, I was suddenly grateful that my husband, Patrick, is an archaeologist and so at ease with digging large holes. Skilled with a shovel, Patrick stepped on the top edge of the blade and broke into the outer layer of the soil so automatically and effortlessly. It is a move engrained into the muscle memory of his legs for 30 plus years of leading archaeological digs.
The earth made an unmistakeable cracking noise as the shovel broke through the outer grasses. Pieces of sod came off in big squares, as he had shaped them with the shovel. Patrick put the sods off to the side in stacks and then began digging the depth of the hole. Numbly, through tears I watched-in awe of this moment time which I had anticipated but wasn't ever fully ready for. The home burial of our beloved black lab, Jake.
The early evening sun shone and a cool breeze blew. I was too distracted to be bothered by the cold. My 8 year old son, Stuey, stood alongside with tears coming down his face. He asked the many kid questions about death which I didn't seem to know the answers to but gave answers which seemed to fit the moment. I think my actual reply meant less than the fact that I was replying.
Somehow, yet- it all felt so right, primal. The soil flying out of the earth, the wind blowing, the tears.
"As soon as we get home, I'll dig the grave" Patrick told me at the vet, as we sat waiting to say our goodbyes to Jake.
"Oh we could wait till tomorrow" I replied. Thinking of a service or some more formal way to honor the process.
"No," Patrick insisted. "I just want to do it soon and not have to worry about it."
A few minutes later with one seamless medical injection, Jake quickly slid into what looked like a deep sleep. I was in awe with how quickly Jake was at peace and so still. I had envisioned tremors, or shaking or something akward with pet euthansia. It was such a gentle crossing for Jake into another world. Jake had left us.
The vet assistants asked that we pull the car up to the back of the building as to not upset customers in the front. Jake was brought out on a stretcher. One assistant gave me the warmest, most wonderful hug ever before going back into the building. That hug will stay with me forever. It all felt surreal and slow motion. As soon as we got home, Patrick retrieved the shovel and began to dig.
Patrick was right about digging the grave quickly. No sense in waiting. Thankfully the ground wasn't frozen.
About 15 minutes into digging, Patrick hit the Katmai ash layer. A layer of creamy looking sand. "You see that, kids? That is volcanic ash from an eruption over 100 years ago." Patrick says.
Nora and Stuey didn't respond. Too distracted. Or maybe just not interested right then. Nonetheless, I am grateful for him trying to teach them about the layers of very earth we are standing on.
I sat on the tailgate of the car, giving Jake's sweet face one final pet. He was gone, but still warm and felt very much with us.
About 30 minutes later, the deep hole was done. 4 feet deep and just perfect size for Jake. Stuey jumped in, fascinated with the depth of the hole. Our neighbor and friend, Winston, helped me lower Jake into the grave. The kids retrieved his water dish and I put our late dog, Roxy's ashes alongside Jake. They are buried together.
In those final moments I looked down at Jake and noticed there were words written on the woven blanket covering him. It was one of the two blankets the vet clinic wrapped Jake in, as they had run out of boxes.
As I looked closer at the words, I saw that it was The psalm of David: "The Lord is my shepard; I shall not want. He maketh me lie down in green pastures; he ledeath me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul; lye leadeth me int he paths of rightesouness for his names sake. Yea, thought I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; they rod and they staff they comfort me….."
"Patrick, look-look at the blanket". i said, tears streaming down my face.
"Oh Jakey..." he responded. We shed tears together. We both appreciate this psalm and the timing of seeing it on a blanket at Jakes burial.
Patrick's shoulder needed a break from the shovel. Our friend and neighbor, Winston, who was standing with us during this time steps in to fill the grave in. Shovel full by shovel full, Winston filled the grave as as we watch.
"Stuey, step on the ground to pound it down so we can get all the dirt back in" Patrick said. Stuey jumped and and steps up and down quickly to compress it. These were details about returning the earth in graves which never would've occurred to me. Patrick knew this from his years backfilling archaeology dig sites when its time to return the site to its original condition.
Winston put the shovel down. The burial process was complete. But the grief process was just beginning.
A simple rock was laid on the top to mark the site. Our hearts were still heavy, but a bit lighter now that the the burial was over. There were small amounts of loose dirth on the grass and light outline of the grave. But the square sod chunks were all returned to their places.
Sweet Jake was returned to the earth. The next morning, it had snowed overnight. On the way out to the car Stuey went over to check on the grave site and asked concerned, "Was Jake cold last night?"
"No sweetie. He was wrapped in blankets." I replied and teared up.
Patrick later told me that the area above the grave was clear of snow. The earth had indeed kept Jakey warm.