Our beloved Arden died Sunday, June 24, after a gentle decline. She asked to go outside and wasn't able to get to her favorite place herself. My husband gently scooped her tiny body into his arms and delivered her to the ground beneath her surveillance station. There she drew her last breath.
I had the honor of caring for her body after death, and I prepared a small box with an old towel for the ride to Resting Waters Aquamation, about one hour north of our home. I cut several branches from the shrub that provided the cover for the surveillance station for her adornment.
Resting Waters was absolutely the right place for Arden. I had no doubt. I've come to know the sisters behind his heartfelt service, Joslin and Darci, and knew they would care for Arden as family. Their warm, calm energy is just the sort of thing Arden would appreciate - Arden never knew strangers and everyone she met was someone she was delightfully curious about, especially if that person was interested in marveling at her green eyes or her gregarious personality.
And she loved water. She would wait outside the shower for one of us to finish and trot in as soon as the shower door opened.
I sent an email to Resting Waters on Sunday evening and received a reply within an hour. Resting Waters had room for Arden the next day.
It's a welcoming space. It feels simple and open, and there are small touches throughout that suggest this is more than a business for Joslin and Darci: this is a calling to serve. There are always fresh flowers (and I've been three times - even in winter there were fresh flowers). It smells like a spa, thanks to the delicious candles they use.
This wall is in the reception area and showcases the gorgeous options for urns. This is so much nicer than looking through them in a catalog or online. I would think that for a person who hadn't decided, being able to see and touch them would make a difference. Because we are sharing Arden's remains with our neighbors (who loved her dearly), we opted for the paper scattering urn. It's the cylinder with the turquoise swirls (from the Resting Waters logo) on the right. I know those are supposed to represent water, and the more I look at it the more I also see waves of grief.
I sat in the chair next to this side table and filled out the form. If you think you couldn't possibly fill out a form at a time like this, I'm sure either Joslin or Darci would help you. My vision was blurred by tears and my brain muddled with grief and I managed to get through it. That doesn't mean that the information I provided was legible or accurate, though.
From the chair I could also see one of the displays at the counter. My friend Carolyn, who is based in Tacoma, creates fused glass jewelry and incorporates cremated remains of whom you love. Her work is here and you can see it in person, and this reminds me that I would like to write a blog post just about her and her work.
While I cried my way through the form, Darci prepared Arden for viewing. I'm not sure what I expected. I mean, I had seen photographs of animals in the viewing space and am certainly no stranger to death. Our family had been with Arden's body in the house and I greatly value that time because it helps me see that the body truly is a vessel. It's just a container. So I guess what I'm saying is that I thought the viewing would not be a significant experience in my case because we had already had ceremony at home.
I shifted to work mode because I wanted to document this experience for the Slobbered Lens family (spoiler alert: it's worth the drive if you are in Tacoma or across The Narrows). I photographed the space, the table, The Boy as he flopped around in one of those comfortable chairs, the flowers, and Arden.
Sweet Arden. Seeing her in a reverent space where she was the center of all things was a moving experience. This is what grief needs to begin to flow. It needs that space. It needs that acknowledgement and validation that the feelings are important. The history is important. This life, this connection, this relationship are all important.
I rested my camera on a chair, closed my eyes, and felt the tears barrel down my cheeks. I needed this. This space and opportunity for ceremony, however slight, were necessary for me. Without them I would have missed this final chance to connect with this gorgeous container for a soul I know will be close to me, always. Here I could thank Arden's body for carrying her to be with us when she was four (or was she five?) months old. Here I could thank Arden's body for allowing her to be with us for 17 years. Here I could release her to the universe.
Darci graciously allowed me time with Arden without hurry. I said my goodbye, rounded up The Boy, and headed to the reception area. Darci met me with a heartfelt embrace and assurance that she and Joslin would take the very best care of Arden. She told me she had the ability to begin Arden’s process that day and would send an email when her remains were ready to be picked up.
So, yes. I valued the time I had there. I appreciate that a ceremony or a viewing opportunity doesn't feel right for everyone. What I know from conversations with Joslin and Darci is that they appreciate that, too, and there isn't any pressure to do one thing or another. They also make the space available for larger ceremonies for families who would like to have a service and invite others to attend.
The following Saturday The Boy and I made the return journey to bring Arden’s vessel home (that’s just six days later). Joslin received us and warmly engaged The Boy.
I had the opportunity to see the collection of love Joslin was prepared to dispense that morning. Joslin referred to the stout forest of kraft gift bags as “presents from heaven” and shared with me the story behind that phrase (it is from a young person who visited). Witnessing the bags of various sizes, each with a handwritten tag, was another reminder of how heartbroken so many people feel in this space. And how many of them there are.
Twice I have picked up cremated remains of our animal family, and both times from an emergency hospital. Walking up to the counter and squeaking out the words that named the reason for my visit . . . I want to cry thinking about it. It’s much harder than I ever expected and is definitely one of those grief experiences that people do not talk about.
At Resting Waters, everyone knows. There isn’t a crowd of people in the waiting area to witness your lip tremble or your tears fall. These incredible women and death care professionals are ready to be with you, and they aren’t distracted by triage needs or discharge paperwork. They specialize in this, and it feels that way.
I left Resting Waters with appreciation and admiration for the compassionate and wholehearted care my family received. Working with grief every day is challenging in ways that are difficult to describe, and I am incredibly grateful for Joslin and Darci and their decision to serve families in this way. They are meant for this work.
The little things also made this a beautiful experience. The fresh flowers are lovely and I enjoyed those. One of the things that really struck me was the text on the inside of the scattering urn.
Even death has a heart.
Yes. Yes, it does.
Thank you, Joslin and Darci, for caring for our little girl. Our girly meow.
You can learn more about Resting Waters Aquamation at restingwaters.com.
I'm Shannon, and I love and am loved by four Great Danes, four cats, and one horse (four Danes, one cat, and one horse are no longer walking this earth). Here I'll share stories of my adventures in grief photography for companion animals, my own grief journey, and thoughts on caregiving.