“He was ready to die”
–Bob Dylan, “New Orleans Rag” The Times They Are A Changing” 1964
Today, we made preparations for Dylan’s death…
This afternoon I checked out a children’s book from the library called Cat Heaven by Cynthia Rylant to read to Katie as part of our early evening talk with her about how Dylan was dying and would no longer be with us. (Our friend and my PHPC colleague Anna B., has ordered us a copy of the book. She often gives out Cat Heaven or Rylant’s other book Dog Heaven to church members who have lost a pet.) Katie went with me to the library to find ocean creature books. She checked out a huge pile of them and noticed that I had thrown Cat Heaven into the mix. Katie asked me why I got it, and I told her that it was a book about Dylan and that we would read it when we got home.
Then we stopped at Lowe’s to get wood for the box to place Dylan in for his burial. I simply told Katie that I needed to get some wood to make something special and that I would tell her more later. She went along without fuss and got pretty excited about watching Preston, the Lowe’s employee, measure and cut the wood. I am grateful for Preston and the Lowe’s worker who pointed out the right type of nails to use for Dylan’s box; both men helped me find what I need while adhering to my need to be discreet in front of Katie until Elizabeth and I could talk to her at home.
We got back to the house about 5 and ate dinner a few minutes later, a nice “picnic” on the floor of our den. After we finished the last bite, Elizabeth and I took deep breaths and began the talk with Katie while Nana sat nearby on the couch. As timing would have it, Dylan walked slowly into the room as we tried to get the words to come out of our mouths. We told Katie (who knew Dylan had not been feeling well) that sometimes animals get so sick that their bodies stop working and that they can no longer stay with us. We said that was the case for Dylan. She immediately told us that she had felt Dylan’s bones (his spine) when she petted him earlier that day and we told her that was because he wasn’t eating due to being so sick.
Katie asked where Dylan would go and we said that he would go to heaven and God would take good care of him, which allowed us to segue way into the book. Katie listened intently and gazed at the colorful pictures (noting joyfully on a couple of pages that the black cat was Dylan) while I read about how cats are greeted by angels and given a warm bowl of milk and given lots of fishy treats by God in his kitchen. Elizabeth, tears streaming down her cheeks, wrapped her arms around Katie the entire time.
When I finished the story, Katie wondered out loud if Dylan might get better. We told her that he wasn’t going to get better, that he was going to “die” (Elizabeth and I agreed previously that it was important to be simple and honest with Katie by accurately using the words die, dying and death). Katie started crying and shaking her head. “I don’t want him to die,” she whimpered. We hugged her tight and said, “We don’t want Dylan to either. We love him very much. You have been such a wonderful friend to Dylan. You play with him and chase him and feed him. And he loves you very much. But we don’t want him to suffer anymore. And God will take good care of him.”
Elizabeth added, “The wood you bought today with Daddy is going to be a box that Daddy will build for Dylan so we can bury him in the front yard.” Katie perked up a bit and asked where the location would be. “I’ll show you Goose,” I said, taking her hand and walking out the front door. I scooped her up in my arms and walked over to a spot next to a tall pine tree in the yard. “We can bury him here and maybe put up a sign or a picture to help us remember where he is and you can always come out and visit him and think of good memories of Dylan.”
Katie smiled and asked me if Dylan might get better. I repeated the line from before and she buried her head in my shoulder. “I don’t want him to die.” I gave her the same comforting words and then she asked me if she could keep the Cat Heaven book. I told her that Anna had ordered us a copy of our own and that once it came in the mail, we’d return the current book back to the library. “Can I read the book under the tree?” she asked softly. “Yes my girl. That would be very nice.”
Katie then asked if she could help me build the box and dig the hole and whether we should go get Dylan but I explained that we still had some time. We went back inside and Katie asked if she could go see Dylan who had returned upstairs. I held her hand and we went up to mine and Elizabeth’s bedroom to pet Dylan who was sitting quietly on the bed. Katie told Dylan that everything would be ok before he jumped off the bed and proceeded slowly to the hallway (feeling a little anxious about Katie’s grand 4-year-old movements). Katie walked behind him and said gently but matter-of-factly, “Dylan, tomorrow you won’t exist but we’ll put you in a box or something like that.”
Considering that neither Elizabeth and I have ever used the word or concept of existence around Katie (she must have picked it up from watching Ice Age over the weekend), I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I just smiled and reveled in the delightful mess that is Katie.
Shortly after, Elizabeth came up to give Katie a bath and tuck her in bed. And I went outside to dig a hole and make Dylan’s box. It took me a couple of hours and I still have some more digging to do. The box is done. But I messed up initially by nailing the side pieces on the outside of the end pieces instead of on the inside, resulting in a box that is too wide for the boards that Preston the Lowe’s guy cut for the top and bottom. I grabbed a 21 inch bow saw from the bucket of garage tools and made some adjustments. It’s not pretty or perfect but as Richard Rohr or Rob Bell would say, it’s in the imperfection that the Holy Spirit enters.
May it be so for Dylan who is ready to die, to be in cat heaven and more importantly, be a part of the redeeming work God has/is/will do for all of Creation.