Real Gardens

Where the Bodies are Buried

Because frankly, my garden is full.  Do I dig up a shrub and put LeRoy under it?  Do I take advantage of the fact that we need to deep a very big, deep hole, and choose a spot that happens to be overrun by pernicious weeds, figuring that I can (oh dear, I really am about to say it) kill two birds with one stone? 

Do I carve out some little memorial grove for him, or do I just pick an out-of-the-way spot where his eternal rest won’t be disturbed?  And the problem with little memorial groves is this: where does it end?  We have another cat and four hens, all of whom may well end up six feet under (well, maybe three feet under) themselves.  The place could start to look like a cemetery after a while.

And about those chickens.  They love a freshly-dug hole. They are guaranteed to find that loose earth and start digging for worms.  I mean, we planned to dig a hole that would be several feet deep, but what if the hens started digging and some other creature–a raccoon?  a skunk?–came along and finished the job?  The possibility was just too horrible to contemplate.  So I ruled out the chicken-accessible backyard. 

I also ruled out the front yard.  It’s filled with lovely plants, any one of which could have been uprooted for this purpose, but the front yard just feels too public for that sort of thing.

Leroy
So that leaves the side yard, by our kitchen door.  It’s private and enclosed, but chicken-free.  I’m in the middle of re-planting this area, but I felt fine about putting him under this little statue.

And there he rests, right outside my kitchen window, next to a path I walk almost every day.  In hindsight, maybe I should have tucked him into a corner so he’d have a little privacy. I also realized later that there were a few spots in the garden where he liked to hang out–although they were very public spots in the front yard, maybe that would have been the right choice?   But it’s done, and it’s fine.

How do you do it, if you do? 

And one final note: what about coffins?  My last cat came home from the vet in a cardboard box, with a little flower taped to the top. It somehow didn’t quite feel like we were burying a cat.  It was more like–well, burying a box.  But LeRoy was just–there.  I thought he needed something, so we wrapped him in a towel and laid him in the ground.  It was very personal and very real.  As someone who digs in the dirt a lot, I am oddly aware of the fact that he is down there, with the bugs and the roots.  Maybe that’s a good thing. Weird, but–you know–real.

Posted by on January 7, 2008 at 4:38 am, in the category Real Gardens.
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38 Responses to “Where the Bodies are Buried”

  1. jodi says:

    I’m really sorry for the loss of Leroy, Amy; even though he was old and unwell, it’s still hard to say goodbye to an old friend.
    With a large catfamily like we have, we’ve faced a few mortalities over the years, from age or illness or misadventure. Most of them are buried in the garden; one was cremated, but the rest we wrapped in towels and buried deep in a plot in the back garden where we have Purple Pavement roses. These have spread over the graves (which are each marked with a large stone) so that there’s not likely to be anyone digging there anytime in the next decade or three. It’s somehow a comfort having them there, which might seem strange to those who don’t share their lives with companion animals, as some vets now call pets.
    There’s even a semi-feral stray buried with our other catfriends; we had been working at taming him down so we could get him neutered and needled, but he got either hit by a car or badly injured by an animal, and we had to have him euthanized by our vet. At least in death, he has a home.
    Last year, we lost one of our older cats to the road. Because he had always been an outdoor kind of guy, and because the rose garden plot was still so soggy with spring wet, we buried him down in the woods where I normally ride my horse. Quincy always spent a lot of time roaming through the woods and meadows around our place, and that seemed like a good spot. Somehow, however, I have not been able to bring myself to go back down there since, and probably won’t until we go counting red trillium in May, one of our spring rituals. Peculiar, isn’t it, how these four legged creatures leave such pawprints on our hearts?

  2. susan harris says:

    Gardens are wonderful resting places for our pets, so why not for our human loved ones? I buried my father’s ashes beneath a Virginia sweetspire shrub because he was a Virginia gentleman himself. I feel his presence when I’m sitting on the nearby aged teak bench in the woodland part of my garden.

  3. queenie says:

    sigh. . . . we have an aging cat friend about whom I will most likely have to be asking similar questions one day soon. . . . Thank you for your thoughtful treatment of this.

  4. Rose says:

    My deepest condolences to you on your loss. Gardens are the perfect resting places for our beloved fur children.

    Last year I replanted a new space for our fur children resting in my garden. I find comfort in believing there spirits are there with me in a special place.

    Again, sending our thoughts to you in a very hard time.

  5. Marie says:

    Susan,
    What a wonderful tribute to your father.

  6. Tibs says:

    By the garge, under the deep overhang and under a Douglas Fir. We also have the cremated ashes of daughter’s cat in a floral tin on the window ledge of the 1/2 bath. When this cat had to be put to sleep our daughter was about 10 and couldn’t bear the thought of putting her cat in the ground. Why in the 1/2 bath? Because this is the room that is decorated with garage sale and auction treasures thanks to my Aunt’s holiday practice of grab bags of stuff from her collection. The tin fits right in with the eclectic mix.

  7. Dear Amy, I’m sorry for your loss. There are many cats (8 1/2) sharing my home and heart with me and I know how it feels to lose a beloved companion like your LeRoy.

    A few months ago I lost my cat Sam who was also very old and very ill. Knowing that your pet has had a full life is very comforting I know that from experience but the loss and grief is still there, of course.

    When it’s time to say goodbye, I let the vet come to my home as that is the least stressful way for all parties concerned. Glad you did that with your LeRoy too.

    I buried my cats in the garden, next to one another, underneath the walnut tree. Some were buried in a towel or blanket, others in a towel/blanket and a box.

    I find it comforting to know that all my kittycats have had a wonderful live as beloved pets and that they rest now, buried in the garden they so very much enjoyed playing, hunting, sunbathing and running around in.

    And sometimes, when I’m working in the garden, I feel their presence all around me.

  8. Rachel says:

    Wow. I have to say the thought kind of grosses me out. Upon buying our house 6 months ago, the neighbor informed me that the old occupants had buried some of their beloved in the backyard. The old occupant never told us, let alone where they buried the animals! The old owners had been gardeners who stopped caring for their plot–so a lot needs done and has been done to get things back in tip-top condition. They had several differnet types of stone–in my attempt to clean up and homogenize the stone, I found two stones with brick underneath. I can only guess these are the graves. I imagine if i were to move the brick I’d find a shallow grave!

  9. Amy, great question, great post. So sorry for the loss of LeRoy. A year and a half ago, my 17 year-old cat Joe died. It was not just the snarly cat…it was my youth, the early years of my marriage, Brooklyn, where I’d found Joe in a box in a schooyard on a freezing February night. I cried my eyes out.

    My husband and I buried him together in our country yard on a beautiful, sunny morning. And put a big slab of slate over the grave to mark it.

    As for me, I want to be treated as lovingly as Susan has treated her father. I would like to be buried in my country yard, too–preferably with an Empress Josephine rose at my head.

  10. El says:

    I buried my chicken Maude under my compost area (DEEP under it, like, 4′). Considering how much I revered both Maudie and my compost pile, that was an enormously fitting tribute to her…even as much as an Empress Josephine rose, I would think.

  11. melissa says:

    I had to put my 15 year old chocolate lab down this past spring. I killed me that I couldn’t bring him home to bury, but my yard is tiny. My husband was between jobs at the time, so I couldn’t afford a pet cemetery or cremation. I cried for weeks that I had to leave him at the vet’s office. Your chosen spot is wonderful. I still hate that I don’t have a special spot for old Pete.

  12. Emmakw says:

    Pickle, the cat who lost an argument with a car one summer, is buried next to the barn, right near where she used to hunt for mice, voles and other small furry creatures. We placed a sleeping cat statue on top, and plant impatians each year. And yes, I still say hi when I go out there.
    Good point about passing on grave site info to new homeowners- we were lucky enough to meet the daugter of the original owner and builder of our house, and she showed me where they buried a horse! Do not want to dig that up!

  13. eliz says:

    There is no way I could bury an animal in our space, and honestly, I would not want to. However, we do have my mom’s, Alan’s mom’s, and Alan’s dad’s ashes buried in a few places. Rhododendrons were the chosen plants.

    This is nice but not a big thing for me. I’m more satisfied with photographs and memories. It makes sense that remains go into the earth. I don’t know that it needs to be my earth.

  14. MaryContrary says:

    I made the mistake of not digging the hole before my wonderful vet showed up at the house to give my beloved 17-year old cat the shot. Nothing like digging a 3′ deep hole in the garden on a windy late winter day while weeping unconsolably. After I planted the cat under it, the ugly nearby rugosa that was scheduled for shovel pruning that spring got a reprieve when it suddenly started to perform beautifully and bloom its head off. I now refer to the rose as “Diggs’ last trick.”

  15. Gen says:

    I am so sorry for your loss, Amy.

    We buried our kitty a few months back in the place that he chose. He had a blood clot that lodged in his back leg, and when we got home from work he was laying paralyzed in a dappled shade spot under our apple tree. He obviously went through some trouble to get there since there were things knocked over on his path to that spot.

    After bringing him to the vet and making sure there was nothing we could do for our special guy, we laid him to rest in that spot. We didn’t dig the hole till after he died, though, because he seemed to enjoy laying out there with the grass and everything while we waited for the vet to come.

    His name was Rocky and so now we have Fort Rocks out there, where we place each rock we find in our garden on his spot. He chose a spot that I’d been intending to put a large shrub in some day, but I guess now we’ll keep it open with a few groundcovers trailing about. It doesn’t make for a picture-perfect garden but it makes for one that is meaningful to us.

  16. Lisa Albert says:

    I am so sorry for your loss, Amy. Like other posters, I know your pain.

    When my cat Sasha died, we had only been in our newly constructed home one year. The garden was too new, too raw for me to select a site and know that it was safe from later digging. As hard as it was to lose Sasha, I knew the trauma would be many times greater if I accidentally dug her up later. We left her with our vet (a wonderful, wonderful woman). For a long time, I second-guessed my decision, mostly because of what others chose to do. It took time but I realized that my decision was the right one for me.

    I feel as Eliz does. I keep my memories close to me but – and I don’t mean to sound heartless, I’m not, I’m a softy – where the body is buried is irrelevant to me. This is my mother’s influence on me. The body is only the physical house for the soul, precious to us because of what resides within. Sasha’s body was who knows where but for years after her death, I swear I caught glimpses of her at the very edges of my vision. Turn my head and poof, the image was gone, and yet it seemed so real. I figured it was her little soul gently teasing me, reminding me that all I had to do was close my eyes and remember and there she was.

    See, I told you I was a softy.

  17. Sorry for your loss. It brings up memories of our pets passing when I was young. We buried them, mostly dogs, in spots around my parent’s homes. Ever since then though, in the two homes I’ve owned, I’ve wondered if I’d ever dig up the remains of someone else’s much-loved family pets.

  18. Commonweeder says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. We have had many animals die over the years. When our cat Mr. Mo died, I was able to hold his paw while he breathed his last, seemingly not in pain, just one yowl and a wait for the inevitable. We have usually buried our animals under our rose bushes, a suitable memorial and good for the rose bush. Once, while the granchildren were visiting, one of our month old chicks died. We held a ceremony and when I asked if anyone had something they would like to say, 10 year old Caitlin, solemnly took a breath and said. “We hardly knew you, but we’ll miss you.” Indeed we do miss them all.

  19. Jeff Gillman says:

    I’m very sorry to hear about your loss Amy.

    Growing up I lived on a small orchard, and when our pets died we usually buried them underneath fruit trees and sometimes under lilacs. When I travel to my parents house in Pennsylvania it’s comforting to walk among the trees and know where all of my childhood pets are (We kept a barnfull of cats — all spayed or neutered — mostly adopted from shelters — and we usually kept two dogs).

    Now that I live in suburbia our animals are cremated — and it kills me to think of putting their ashes anywhere but in the landscape — but I haven’t got what I’d consider a permanent house — so I’m saving the ashes for “one of these days” when I get back to PA to bury them in the orchard. In the meantime they sit on an old dresser. Kind of morbid really….but it would kill me if/when my wife and I sell the house to think of leaving a pet behind, even a dead one.

  20. Pam/Digging says:

    Our dog is buried in a blanket in the back garden near the fence, where I wouldn’t have to worry about disturbing her remains. Come to thing of it, there are a couple of gerbils out there too.

  21. Susan Hagen says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. It’s always hard to say good bye to a beloved pet.

    My deceased but never forgotten cats are buried in the yards of houses where we lived at the time.

    Soda Pop, or Sody was my childhood cat. She is buried in the back yard. My mom had a little marble brick carved with her name. When she sold the house she took it with her and I have it on my back porch now.

    Inkling died when I was renting a townhouse so I buried her on some land we own on the Shenandoah River. She’s near the river bank in a spot that is carpeted with Virginia bluebells in the spring.

    Tigger is buried in the yard of the last house I shared with my ex-husband. She’s buried under a witch hazel in a bed of daffodils.

    Josie was hit by a car and is buried in a bed right outside my kitchen window. She’s between two rose bushes.

    I’ve mostly buried them wrapped in a blanket and in a cardboard box.

  22. Marte says:

    After our wonderful English cocker, Zen, was put to sleep when nothing more could be done for him, we received such a thoughtful card from the doctor: “The best place to bury a beloved dog is in the heart of its owner.”

  23. Reading Dirt says:

    So sorry to hear of LeRoy’s passing. I’m glad the end was peaceful for him.

    We have three gerbils, some goldfish, several zebra finches, and a kitten buried in our yard. I marked the kitten’s resting place with a stack of flagstones and a little sleeping kitten sculpture. Poor little Spats got so sick, and died in my arms before the vet could figure out what was wrong with him.

    Pet funerals weren’t a part of my childhood — pets were “put to sleep” at the vet when they were too old or ill, oftentimes while we kids were at school, and we never saw them again. I think it was my mother’s way of making it all clean and tidy, but I would have much rather been able to say goodbye to the pets and lay them to rest. There was no grieving for them or even talking about how much I missed them. Once they vanished from our household, they were gone, period.

    So I made sure my boys’ pets were properly honored, even the goldfish.

  24. naomi says:

    My cat Zoe died a bit over three years ago, and was cremated, but we couldn’t bury the ashes for a long time. I discovered, after we evacuated for Katrina, that my beau had brought the ashes, because, he said, “She was always afraid of storms.” After our return, she was finally scattered under a palmetto near her favorite courtyard spot. I tend to think a body is nothing more than what carries us around, though. Lose a piece to cancer, another to infection, more to a car/pedestrian accident, and watch neighbors fighting to return home die from overwork, building accidents, depression, and I just want to put living things in the ground, and help them grow. My neighbors love the plants too, and tell me how good to see the green here again. My body will go to science when I die, and hopefully a tree will be planted in my memory.

  25. Peg says:

    I am sorry to hear of your kitty. Sounds like a lovely pet. It is very moving to read of everyone’s experiences here.

    I buried my cat Ziggy in my garden plot…in a public victory garden. I lived in an apartment with no outside space so the garden plot wwas the closest thing I had to personal real estate. I also had to dig him up and rebury him because I moved to a plot next door to my original one, A good friend helped me bury him the first time and dig up and rebury him the second time. (Which makes me laugh when I hear the old joke about “true friends”). The first time we sang as much as we could remember of “Ziggy Stardust.”

    Eventually when I had to leave that garden for one in another section I dug up and replanted the rose bushes growing over him, as they had been imbued with his essence. I think burying pets in the garden is a fine idea, especially if they loved the outdoors. I am glad I opted not to cremate him.

    My father died just over a year ago and was cremated…two of my siblings spread some of his ashes at his favorite fishing hole. I am planning to plant two apple trees in his honor in my yard (my partner and I now own a house), and am trying not to worry whether I will bury any of his ashes there or not. When we move on from here I will do the same again. He taught me to appreciate plants.

  26. cindra says:

    Marycat is planted right where she used to roll in this sandy spot next to the 100 year old liliacs by the clothes line. Everytime I hung out the clothes, she would keep me company and roll and roll and roll. I would always tell her that someday I was going to plant her there.
    Mary was part-native american, as myself. I lined the bottom of her hole, dug two foot deep, with boughs of cedar, I placed her in a restful catlike position, put in food for her journey and planted her. While saying a few words over her grave, a raven flies slowly over and lets me know she passed. I know she is happy there.

  27. Susan Hagen says:

    Yes, if I can I wrap mine in a favorite blanket. I remember putting votive offerings of cat chow and catnip in the box with Inkling. I always read the Burial Office over the grave.

    My friends lost a beloved cat, Emma, this year. I gave them a native azalea, R. austrinum, to plant over her grave in the pocket woods behind their house.

  28. jodi says:

    I’ve written a post about my memory garden, and added a link to this post, Amy/other ranters. Hope that’s the proper netiquette. It’s at http://tinyurl.com/2eluam.

  29. jodi says:

    Whoops, the period at the end of that sentence got added into the URL. It should be http://tinyurl.com/2eluam

    Sorry about that! I couldn’t get back in and correct my own comment, my apologies.

  30. Tibs says:

    Reading all these comments remined me of more cat buriels in the family. My sister and I were in our late 20′s when our mother let it slip that our beloved Tommy had not been buried under the purple aster, but had been wrapped in an old pillow case and put out with the trash because the ground was frozen too hard to dig. We were appaled.

    Our family alwasy plants flowers each spring on human family graves. My father’s family cemetary is a lovely rural setting on a hill. The kids and I would take a picnic and enjoy the day in the country. After cleaning the graves, they would run the weeds etc down to the cemetary compost pile. They cam back with a old wood cross with faded plastic flowerrs that someone had removed from a grave and dumped. They were so pleased with themselves. It was to go on Mishka’s grave, our first cat to pass. It was the tackiest thing I had ever seen, but it stayed on Mishka’s grave until it finally fell apart.

  31. ewa says:

    What a loss… I feel so sorry for you. LeRoy was handsome and lucky cat having comfortable and great life – this is what matters most. In a way he stays with you as long as he is ‘around’.

  32. Eric says:

    Amy – I’m so very sorry for your loss. About 6 years ago I lost both of my male cats, only 5 days apart – one died from disease, and the other one had a heart attack 5 days later because he was so grief stricken over the death of his feline companion (he howled and wailed for 5 days under my bed non-stop until he induced his own heart attack – he made sounds I’ve never heard a cat make before or since – it was dreadful and there was no consoling him. Anyone who says that animals do not grieve is lying, because I’ve seen it first hand.)
    Anyway, I had them both cremated and I sprinkled their ashes in my garden. I often think of them and am comforted by my sense of their presence when I am gardening in the soil where they were sprinkled.

  33. Molly says:

    We have a small burial ground down the meadow and across the pond, next to a huge old cedar stump. But it didn’t seem right to bury Eamus there, not when he never wanted to venture more than a few feet from the house. So I buried him in the flower bed and planted a hosta over his grave because he loved to chew on hosta leaves.

    That hosta is always the first one up in the spring, shoots 12″ tall when the others are just barely poking out of the soil. In 5 years it has gotten so huge that I’m going to have to move, or at least divide it. I just hope the towel and the cat wrapped inside it have decayed completely by now. . .

  34. For those who are grossed out by the thought of all those pets buried in the garden: there’s no need. After only about 1 year there’s almost nothing left of a cat but the skull, a bit of fur and some bones. A big dog would take a bit longer to decompose, maybe 2 to 3 years.

  35. Suzanne Marie says:

    When we finally bought our home a few years ago I became an overnight dawn to dusk gardener. I never wanted to go inside again. Until one day I decided to dig up a crappy, hilly area and in that area I dug up the skeleton of a very large dog. The head was the worst. My neighbor tried to tell me it was a deer. Then he admitted the previous owners had lost their Great Dane cross and buried him in the back yard in the middle of the garden border!!!!! I was pretty freaked out when I brought up the skull (my boys thought it was creepy-cool). I would have appreciated a heads up. I reburied the old guy in the bush, not my border. I was going to until I realised I had a problem with planting then digging up and replanting, and I didn’t want to move him or unbury him again. I don’t think I could leave my babies buried in a yard that I had to sell to someone else.

  36. lucia says:

    A pigeon came to die
    in my garden.
    There it was this morning–
    A sooty bird cowering in a far corner.

    I hate pigeons –
    Rats with wings, feathered filth,
    But pigeon, can I refuse you hospice?

    Autumn is the dying time,
    You’re right about that, pigeon.
    There is no reward you go to
    after scrabbling out a life on the streets
    that began on a crude mass of sticks.
    To come to this inglorious end,
    bagged in plastic,
    tossed into the trash.

    Instead, I dug a hole behind the lilac,
    then, eyes averted (who wants to look at death?)
    nudged you in with the shovel.

    There, deep down,
    beneath the roots,
    where rock crumbles,
    where water seeps,
    you cease being a winged one
    with feathers, beak and beady eye,
    and begin your slow apotheosis
    into spring’s burning green emergence.
    – Lucia Monfried

  37. Cindy says:

    I need help. We purchased our home almost 4 years ago. The previous owners had lived in the home for at least 40 years and there was what looks like was once a beautiful flower and herb garden in a group of pine trees behind the house. The couple was elderly and no longer able to care for the yard, but she had been an avid gardener. The problem is this — when we bought the house, the previous owner’s daughter, who grew up there, referred to the area as ‘Lokey Park’ — named after her childhood dog. There are probably 8 or so solid granite ‘headstones’ in that area, each marked with a letter — ‘C’, ‘L’, ‘T’, etc. These must stand for other pets, probably cats and dogs…

    We desperately need to add on to the house, and cannot do so without disturbing this ‘cemetery’. How can we do this in a dignified way? The last time a pet was buried was probably 8 or 9 years ago, but I’m afraid of what we’ll find. They obviously loved these animals dearly… Any advice would be greatly appreciated…

  38. Just as our pets now receive“ human- quality” medical care, many dogs, cats, and other pets are being remembered in ways similar to human funerals. Remember that grief is a normal occurrence. If you are having difficulty after the death of a pet, seek professional assistance. Allow yourself the time to grieve and to celebrate the precious life that you have lost.

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