On how we came to bury the wrong cat

The time has come for me to tell you how we came to bury the wrong cat.

One weekday when I was 10 or so, my dad was taking me to school. We hadn’t gotten out of the driveway when a neighbor came up to the driver’s side window and said, basically, “I think your cat is dead on Reese Road.” (This is a fairly busy street near my childhood home.)

Of course I went nuts. The world seemed to stop then and there. Weren’t kitties supposed to live forever? My dad, meanwhile, reassured me and said all the right things. He then said we would have a proper burial.

After school, we found a shoebox and Daddy explained how you needed to put lime in it, and wrap it up all nice and tight, and then we walked to some nearby woods and dug a grave.

My dad led a little funeral service, the whole bit. (It’s probably how I ended up Episcopalian, come to think of it. Daddy marked EVERYTHING with ceremony.)

Next morning, we were all at the breakfast table. Our back door had a screen door covering it. The main door was ajar that day, so we could see out.

Lo and behold, Kitty showed up on the stoop!, healthy as ever. In my youth, I thought he’d somehow gotten out of the shoebox and had come back to life.

My dad laughed, I’m sure. He knew we buried the wrong one.

Lucky for us, Kitty rejoined our family and had many more years of accident-free living. Thanks be to God.


First loss

Funny how vintage songs on the radio will jar your memory, taking you back to a period of time, if not particular scenes.

Some ’70s song came on yesterday and whenever I hear it, I’m reminded of when my family’s first cat died. This song was on when my parents broke the news to me and my brother that the family cat got run over. I can still see us running around the house, yelling and crying and absolutely consumed in our grief.

My dear parents surely consoled us with hugs and words, but if my most vivid memory is of running wild in grief, it meant that they allowed us time and space to have our sadness, in whatever form.

Digression: Remind me to tell you the story of the time my dad and I buried the wrong cat.

A wise person once advised of someone enduring hardship: “Give them the gift of their pain.” We outsiders can’t fix it. We can encourage, soothe, pray, bear witness. But we cannot change it, minimize, gloss over or deny it. Grief knows where it comes from, and where it will go. Next time you feel the need to run around your house screaming in grief, do it.

A new adult education class at our church will be based on the book “Praying Our Goodbyes” by Joyce Rupp. We’re focusing on this, in part, because many of us just said goodbye to our priest of 13 years. Whole groups of people, like congregations, grieve.

Rupp’s thesis: You can become whole again, after huge losses, but you do so by paying attention and going into the heart of it. Saying goodbye is both a one-time event and a process.

Becoming whole doesn’t mean forgetting. I have never forgotten my first big loss–the loss of the family cat. It doesn’t mean that it has the power over me it once did. But I always manage to remember when I hear the song.