You were sick with God
And I stood close by which
just goes to show
That there was something
bigger than me …
Nothing will make this untrue
There’s no one better than you
I was singing through my
The heavens remain
— “The Heavens Remain,” by Bethany Larson & The Bees Knees
The ride home from Davis was mostly silent. I dropped Steve and Blue at home in San Francisco and then continued on to Kickie’s house in San Jose. When she opened the door I could see she’d been crying, and she took me in her arms like any mother would in a time of such grief. We held each other tightly on her porch under the setting autumn sun.
“Come in the backyard,” Kickie said through her tears. “I want to show you Jazzy’s morning glory.”
There, climbing up the back fence, were the morning glory’s voluminous vines, and in the center of all that green was one perfect pale blue flower. I walked through the garden and stood before it, remembering the day Jazzy and I planted the seeds together for Mother’s Day. Well, I planted the seeds and Jazzy supervised, stretched out on Kickie’s chaise lounge soaking up the sun. It was hard to believe that just a few months ago she was feeling so good.
“These seeds are your Mother’s Day gift to Grandma — the least you could do is help me dig,” I said. “You’re really good at digging holes at home, so I don’t know why you can’t come dig a hole here, where I actually need you to.”
Jazzy gazed at me from her sunny throne, her big blue eyes sparkling and her tongue hanging out as it always did from one side of her mouth. She smiled that happy pittie smile, jumped down from the chaise lounge, and wiggled across the lawn to where I was sitting on the ground planting the seeds. She licked my ear, which tickled and made me laugh, which made her wiggle and lick me all the more. “You’re a goofball,” I said, hugging her big neck. She rested her chin on my shoulder and nuzzled her nose against my cheek; I could feel the tumor, hard and warm, as it pressed against my skin. Over the next few months, the tumor grew larger and larger, but Jazzy’s spirits remained high. She took everything in stride, and we continued our visits to Grandma’s house where we watched the seeds turn into seedlings and then tender vines. By late August the vines were winding up the fence, so I bought Kickie a white trellis to help them find their way.
Monday morning I faced the unpleasant task of calling Bubbling Wells, the pet cemetery I had chosen in Napa, to arrange for them to pick up Jazzy from Davis for cremation. I chose a beautiful pine box to be screened with a photo of Jazzy in better times, covered in sand at the beach.
“Do you feel up to doing a few errands for me?” Kickie asked.
“Sure,” I said. “It would probably do me good to get out of the house and keep myself busy.”
“Take an umbrella — we’re expecting that storm,” she reminded me.
“I can’t imagine a storm,” I said, gazing out at Jazzy’s morning glory. “It’s warm, and the sun is out.” To make Kickie happy, I took the umbrella just in case.
I went to the grocery store and a few other places, and for the first time in three days I felt a little hungry so I stopped at the Red Lobster for a bowl of clam chowder. As I was leaving the restaurant, my phone rang. It was Dr. Kent. At first we talked about Jazzy’s last day, and how he wished he had been there instead of in Chicago administering board exams.
“I understand that you do that every year and it was already planned, but you were always there for Jazzy, and she loved you very much,” I said.
“Well, I loved her too. She was such a special dog, and the two of you had such a special bond.” Dr. Kent’s voice grew even softer. “There’s another reason I called,” he said. “There was a mistake — a pathologist at the hospital checked the wrong box. Instead of owner private cremation he checked county cremation.”
“Oh no!” I began to sob.
“Jazzy was cremated at a state-run facility in a group cremation. I’m so sorry Ms. Reynolds. I wanted to be the one to tell you, not some random person from the clinic, and I feel like this is partly my fault. I should have been there.”
My knees felt weak, and I sat down on a bench for a moment to catch my breath. “I’m in shock,” I said. “I am just in shock.”
“I should have been there,” Dr. Kent repeated.
“No, it’s not your fault,” I said. “You did everything to save Jazzy, and I know that’s a big part of why she lived for two years instead of the two months Dr. Theon originally gave her. Please, Dr. Kent, don’t think it’s your fault.”
“I’m just so very sorry, Ms. Reynolds,” he said again. “I was able to catch the facility in time, and I have some of her ashes. They’re mixed with other dogs, but if you want them I can get them to you.”
“Yes, of course I want them,” I said. The “other dogs” were likely euthanized by the Sacramento shelter because no one wanted them. Ironically, they were probably mostly pit bulls — perfectly healthy pit bulls that weren’t as lucky as Jazzy.
I hung up the phone and headed to my car, still sobbing as I opened the door. Suddenly the sky grew dark. In the distance, I heard a rumbling clap of thunder, and then a giant flash of lightning streaked from the dark clouds to the ground. The next clap of thunder was so loud that it shook the trees and the nerves of everyone in the parking lot. As rain started pouring down, I closed my eyes, raised my face, and let it wash away my tears. As I sat in the car watching the storm, I couldn’t help but think it was Jazzy’s way of telling me that she wasn’t in those ashes, she was everywhere; she was with me, in my heart, in my soul. She was in the morning glory that bloomed the morning she died; she was in the storm that darkened the sunlit skies; she was in the heavens, and the heavens would always remain as a reminder of the joy she brought to the many lives she touched during her too-short six years. I decided I would still have the ashes put in the special box to honor her memory, and I would honor the memory of the other dogs whose ashes were mixed with hers too. Unlike Jazzy, they died alone, unwanted and unloved. Despite the fact that Jazzy’s life was taken too soon, it was a great life, a life that all the sweet pit bulls abandoned in shelters across the country deserve but rarely get.
When I returned to Kickie’s house, just a few miles away, the sun was out and she was in the backyard tending to her garden. I didn’t want to tell her about Jazzy’s ashes right then, because I knew it would only upset her more.
“That was a pretty scary storm, but I guess it moved on fast,” I said.
Kickie looked puzzled. “What storm?”
“The storm we just had — the thunder, and the lightning, and the pouring rain,” I said.
Kickie shook her head, pointing to the dry ground. “Not here. It’s been sunny the whole time you’ve been gone.”
I walked across the lawn to that single, perfect morning glory and looked toward the bright blue sky. As always, Jazzy had managed to put everything in perspective.