‘Burn the beaver’ and other unanticipated domestic advice

Things I've learned from my husband, who is living with ALS

Kristin Neva avatar

by Kristin Neva |

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“You should burn the beaver,” my husband, Todd, said.

Over the last several years, since he has been paralyzed due to ALS, he has given me a lot of advice on various house projects, but that was not something I ever anticipated hearing.

Last weekend, I was walking with our dog, Comet, when we came across a beaver carcass. Our neighbor said he had seen our dog sniffing it, and then apparently, Comet dragged part of it back to our property. I put on disposable gloves, bagged it, and put it in the trash in our shed until I could take it to the waste transfer station. But the next day, when I went to the shed to get the lawn mower, the acrid smell was overwhelming. I knew there was no way I could stomach hauling it with the trash to the dump in Todd’s accessible van.

I went to check on Todd, and I told him that Isaac, our 13-year-old son, and I were going to go bury the rotted beaver carcass.

“That won’t work,” Todd said. “Comet will just dig it up.” That’s when he told me to burn it. I had been planning to find large rocks to cover the spot, but building a bonfire sounded much easier.

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It’s difficult to plan for the future with the varied progression of ALS

Over the years, I’ve written notes on various things that I’ll need to remember when Todd is gone, such as using the leaf blower to clean the grass from the lawn mower engine.

A couple weeks ago, our bathroom door kept swinging shut. I knew something was wrong with the hinges and sought Todd’s advice. He said I should use our impact driver to tighten the screws on the top hinge plate. Problem solved. Now I know how to address that problem, and over the years I’ve developed other competencies.

My dad used to plow snow for us, but after he died we needed a way to deal with the 200-plus inches of snow we get every year. My mother and I went in on a tractor with a snowblower, and I learned to use that.

Last weekend, a key broke off in the tractor’s ignition. I couldn’t get the key shaft out, but I figured out how to unplug and remove the entire ignition assembly from the tractor. I brought it into the house, and Todd offered a few suggestions. But our son was the one who ended up figuring it out — he used a screwdriver to turn the mechanism to the off position and tweezers to pull the broken key out.

Our son has become quite competent, too, over the years with much coaching from his dad. Among other things, Todd taught him how to start fires.

So I told Isaac we needed to burn the beaver, and he was much more interested in that than digging a hole in our rocky soil. Isaac collected kindling and sauna wood, which he split into smaller pieces with an ax. After getting the fire going, I retrieved the beaver carcass and set it over the flaming logs.

My phone rang.

It was Todd calling. He was watching from his office. “You need more wood.”

I added more wood, and after tending it for a while, I went back into the house to feed Todd lunch.

While we were eating, Comet returned to the back patio with something in his mouth. I offered him some freshly cooked chicken, and he dropped what he had. It was the beaver’s jawbone.

“Oh, gross.” I added it to the fire and pushed an ember-covered log over it with a shovel.

I marveled that most of the other bones had been reduced to ash and small chards.

Todd said, “Well that’s why they call it a bonfire. The word comes from bonefire, when they used to burn carcasses and bodies so they wouldn’t smell.”

Who knew? Todd is a wealth of information and word etymologies.

As much as I can plan for the eventual loss of my partner, there’s no way of replacing him being with me, in real life, responding to and advising on situations as they happen.

Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.


Starr avatar


Great piece!

Kristin Neva avatar

Kristin Neva

Thanks for commenting!

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