I used to work for a company that did maintenance work on properties that were foreclosed upon and had become bank-owned. Our company contracted with vendors who would do lawn work and maintain the interior of these non-lived-in homes all over the country. Among other things, we also did clean outs of homes that the previous tenants or owners had left their stuff in for one reason or another, typically for the most depressing reasons. I didn’t feel particularly good about that work, but this post isn’t about that.
This post is about one particular clean out a few years ago. Crews would send photos of the interiors and the debris within before removing it so we could determine if there was anything of value–specifically something we called “personal belongings”–left behind. Of course, “of value” has a different definition in that world, and very few things (among them mostly irreplaceables like family photos or obviously expensive jewelry) constituted stopping a trash out and holding up the bank from getting their hands on an empty and marketable house. But one day a crew called me with one of those very few things.
Typically we identify this kind of stuff prior to beginning the trash out, and then put the whole thing on hold as when one thing is identified as a “personal belonging” then everything in the home falls under that jurisdiction, but in this case, the crew was halfway through when they called me. Dear Reader, you don’t want to get a call from your crew saying they’ve already brought a load to the dump and then found “personal belongings.” And you definitely don’t want them to tell you that what they found was a fucking urn.
To make this news doubly stressful, my manager was out of the office that day, so I had to go to another manager who I did not know that well for help. (This other manager had, in fact, trained me when I first started at this company, but I have always been incredibly forgettable most of my life, and she didn’t remember me though she seemed to remember literally everyone else. So I guess it wasn’t that I didn’t know her that well, but more that I felt very small and embarrassed that she didn’t know who I was and I had to do that whole introduce myself to her even though we’d met and worked together a lot already thing that only you other poor, forgettable fuckos understand.)
So I went to this manager, reintroduced myself, and explained my predicament. Her eyes went wide. “An urn?” she asked with both the horror and excitement of the realization we almost threw away human remains and now we’d have to deal with this. “An urn,” I told her with a solemn nod, holding back laughter because humor is how I deal with everything and this was, at its core, kind of ridiculous.
We shut the trash out down, obviously, and the manager set to contacting everyone she could in regard to the house in question. Somehow, through the long line of everyone who had handled the house thus far, she had gotten in contact with the former owner of the house. This was unprecedented as, in my particular position and department, we were typically very far removed from the former occupant of the houses. Talking with people who think you personally are taking their home from them is particularly terrible–I would learn this a year later when I picked up overtime by answering our emergency phones after hours and got yelled at and threatened by all sorts of people who didn’t pay their mortgages–but speaking with someone who has lost their house AND the remains of their family member? Horrifying.
So the manager called the woman (thank the gods) who was now residing on the other side of the country, and when informed we had found an urn amongst her abandoned belongings, do you know what she said, Dear Reader?
“Well, I thought we left someone behind!”
As it turned out, the remains were not human, but of the family dog, and we were all a little relieved this wasn’t someone’s grandma, but still, right? You see, a lot of people, when they’re foreclosed upon, leave behind a bunch of stuff sometimes out of necessity and sometimes out of spite. I don’t blame these people, I basically had a job because of this, but very rarely was something of this caliber discarded so thoughtlessly.
So the manager asked the lady what she’d like to do. This was, after all, all that was left of a beloved pet, and the family had already been through enough losing their home and packing up with little they could take and relocating, so we were willing to send the ashes to her–something we wouldn’t have done for any other belonging–and the manager was going to pay for it out of her on pocket.
But to our surprise she said no, and for a moment I was particularly upset and not just because I like animals more than people. First she forgets Fido, and then when given a second chance through an incredibly kind gesture, she blows it off! But her reasoning was thus: that house we found the ashes in had been the dog’s home its whole life, and that was where she belonged. Not tinned up on someone’s shelf or, worse, in the back of a closet, but there, at home. So she asked us if we could bury the ashes on the property so the dog could “watch over the house forever.” Those words will stick with me my whole life, Dear Reader, and I don’t think I will ever be able to tell this story without crying.
The crew completed the request and sent me pictures, digging the hole, putting in the ashes, filling it in, and even placing a handful of wildflowers on top of the spot. We sent the photos to the woman and received a heartfelt thank you. People who clean out houses for a living are incredibly tough, foul-mouthed, strong people. Often they lied to me because the system was a game and they needed to win so they played dirty, and to be honest I respected that, but I think in just about everyone’s heart there’s enough room to get it together to bury someone’s pet with the love and honor it deserves.
I like to think that even though she was abandoned for a bit and never reunited with her family, that dog is very happily haunting that yard to this day, raising the hair on the back of the mailman’s neck and chasing off the errant squirrel, and, pleased with a good day’s work, she curls up on the back porch every night to sleep. So yeah, I helped trash out foreclosed houses–I don’t feel great about that–but I know I did right by that ghost doggo.