I was living in a 150-year-old farmhouse in Pennsylvania when Pasha, my cat died. She was hit by a car. The motorist stopped and took her to the vet, but she developed peritonitis and died two days later. I was so sad because she was a beautiful Persian cat with a very sweet disposition and she’d lived with me for five years. The veterinarian identified her from her tags and called to let me know what had happened and to ask if I wanted her to dispose of the body or if I wanted to do it myself. I wanted to do it myself.

I didn’t have a car in those days and it was a long walk to the veterinarian’s clinic. And though I had lots of time to think about death and bodies and so forth while walking and had seen many deaths, I’d never actually been really close to a dead body and had never handled one. So I really didn't know what to expect when I arrived. The vet brought her into a room and laid her on a stainless steel table. Her open, unseeing eyes, matted fur, cold stiff body, and the overpowering smell of disinfectant were certainly not what I was expecting. All of a sudden I felt…um…a little less inclined to embrace her in a parting farewell. I was a bit confused by that. But not so confused that I forgot what I’d intended to do. So I lifted her (gingerly) onto a white sheet I’d brought, wrapped her in shroud-like fashion, and carried her home. Walking the walk home, holding stiff Pasha wrapped in a sheet was memorable.

Anyway, I got home and thought I should probably set to digging a grave as soon as possible. So I found a shovel and holding it in one hand and dead Pasha in the other, went out to the yard. The “yard” was about two acres of cultivated land - hedges and rose garden, holly bushes and a wonderful grove of bamboo (that might seem surprising, but some varieties of bamboo flourish in that climate). There really wasn't all that much open space. But I finally chose what I thought would be the best location, befitting a grave.

I knew (from movies I’d seen) that other animals might dig her up if I didn't bury her deeply enough, so I intended to dig three feet deep and then cover the grave with something heavy, like rocks. I started digging and when the hole was about 18 inches deep, I hit what I thought was a rock with my shovel. So I started digging sideways around the rock so that I could lift it out of the way and use it later to cover the grave. And I dug and dug and dug....

It was an awfully big rock.

I dug down and I dug this way and that for a time and began to fathom that this thing was flat and extended a long way. So I bent over the hole and swept away the loose earth with my hand. And etched in granite I read:

Joseph Halpern
1792 – 1837

I sat there for a bit, looking at a headstone, dead cat beside me, arguing with myself about what to do about this. I mean, this is no small thing, digging up someone’s grave.

Well, in the end, I decided Joseph wouldn't really have a problem with this since his grave was already partially dug up, there wasn't anything left of him to speak of and no one knew he was there anyway. So I dug around the edges of the tombstone and dragged it out of the hole (that took me the best part of an hour because it was incredibly heavy). Then I dug a little deeper, laid the cat in the hole, covered it over, and put the tombstone on top of the grave.

Then we had a little ceremony of sorts, Joseph, the cat and I. We all sat there for a bit. After a while, I got up and said "Goodbye" to Pasha, and "Sorry Joseph, but I had to bury the cat somewhere..."