“Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, in the beginning
Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, long time ago”
–Bob Dylan, “Man Gave Names To All The Animals” Slow Train Coming, 1979
“God knows there’s a heaven
God knows it’s out of sight
God knows we can get all the way from here to there
Even if we’ve got to walk a million miles by candlelight”
–Bob Dylan, “God Knows” Under The Red Sky, 1990
“All cats love Heaven, they know the way there, they know where angel cats fly. They will turn past the stars and the moon and the sun…to curl up with God in the sky.”–Cynthia Rylant, Cat Heaven, 1997
This morning, we said goodbye to Dylan our dear cat of seven years. He died peacefully in Elizabeth’s arms with a blanket over half his body as the kind and pastoral Dr. Irish, our veteranarian, gently stuck a syringe into his leg. Already drugged up so that he wouldn’t feel any further pain, Dylan’s eyes immediately filmed over and all of the muscles in his body relaxed. The vet placed a stethoscope on his vitals and said softly, “He’s slipping away,” and in a matter of seconds, Dylan was gone.
Elizabeth and I, sobbing, petted him a few more times, and then we let Dr. Irish take him into a separate room to wrap him up in a cardboard casket so we could take him home to be buried. On the way to the vet, Dylan meowed from inside his duffel-bag style pet carrier while sitting in my lap. On the way back, silence from the casket lying comfortably in the back seat. After arriving home, we put the casket in the fridge to preserve the body until I could bury him later in the day, and then I went to work.
I came home close to 4 pm, changed clothes and went out to the front yard to finish digging the hole for Dylan’s burial. Katie sweetly asked if she could come and help me with the aide of her yellow plastic shovel. Of course, she put more in than she dug out but her effort was genuine. After a few minutes, I suggested that she might want to help Elizabeth paint the wooden box I made for Dylan and put some things inside to remember him. (Earlier that morning she chose a stuffed toy animal of a sea-horse–made by our friend Lindsey for Katie’s birthday–to go in the box so Dylan would have a toy to play with in heaven).
She bounced away to find Elizabeth and the two of them soon began to decorate the box with hearts, messages to Dylan, and pictures of whales. On the inside, they added a bag of cat treats, a couple of small catnip toys, and some of Harper’s hair from a grooming brush.
Meanwhile I continued to dig.
The red clay and roots of the tree were an enormous challenge as I chipped away at the hole using both a shovel and axe. The heat wasn’t much help either. By the end I was drenched in sweat and my left hand was covered in blisters. After an hour and fifteen minutes, the hole was still not big enough for the wooden box and time was of the essence due to the dark grey clouds rolling in overhead.
Emotionally tapped out and near exhaustion, I looked up at the sky as I dug and yelled at God, my own psalm of lament: I AM SO ANGRY AT YOU GOD! I HATE DIGGING THIS F***ING HOLE! WHY DID YOU TAKE OUR CAT?!? AND NOW YOU’RE GOING TO POUR RAIN ON OUR A**ES! THAT’S JUST GREAT! WHY DON’T YOU COME DOWN AND BURY THIS CAT! *@%$#@*!!!!! I kept on digging and then finally tossed the shovel down and put Dylan’s box into the ground. And then I dropped to my knees, and stretched out the upper half of my body and arms over the top of the box. With heavy breaths, I finished my lament: You are a gracious and merciful God who created this incredible cat to be in our lives. He was such a blessing and I know now that he is no longer suffering or in pain, but resting comfortably in your arms. Forgive me for my anger and impatience and for the times I said an ugly word to Dylan. Give me wisdom and courage to finish burying one of your beloved creatures. May he be a part of your redeeming work in Creation. Amen.
I got up and started to pour dirt back into the hole, but took a break from the task when Elizabeth, Anne and Katie came out so we could all say a few final words. Katie (who had said “goodbye” to Dylan several times before we left for the vet) said she was going to miss playing him and then she quickly ran back inside because she was worried that the bees (who hovered above the grave) would sting her. For a brief moment, I was reminded of the episode from The Cosby Show when Rudy’s goldfish Lamont dies and Cliff is adamant about having a funeral for her pet…
Anne shared the memory of Katie’s first word, which was “cat” and then hurried inside to keep an eye on Katie. Elizabeth and I stood in the spitting rain for a couple of minutes before Elizabeth bent down to talk to Dylan and tell him goodbye once more. I said a prayer and then Elizabeth and I took turns covering the box/filling the hole. (Speaking of prayers, the emails, Facebook messages, encouraging words and prayers we’ve received from friends, family and folks at PHPC have been a huge comfort to us. We are grateful for your love and support during this difficult time).
Later, after tucking Katie into bed and reading her Cat Heaven again, I asked her if she was doing ok and whether she had any more questions about Dylan’s death. She said, “No, but my parrot fish does” referring to a stuffed animal of a sock-eyed cod that Anna gave to her after taking a trip up north a few months ago. She moved the fish’s mouth open and shut with her hand and began talking in a deep voice to make it seem as if the fish was having a conversation with me…
Fish: “Why did Dylan die?”
Me: “Because his body stopped working.”
Fish: “Why did his body stop working?”
Me: “I don’t know, it’s just something that happens.”
Katie: “Tell him about what you told me yesterday in the front yard.”
Me: “Well, we buried Dylan outside beneath a tree and you and Katie can visit the spot and read books and think about all the good memories of Dylan and how much you loved him and how much he loved us.”
Fish: “Thank you.”
Memories are what keeps Dylan alive in our hearts and boy, do we have fond memories of him:
* Stretching out his paw and tapping gently on the nose, his trademark greeting
* Chasing your shadow on the wall
* Curling up on Elizabeth’s face while she slept
* Jumping straight up from the floor into our arms
* Poking out a window screen in our apartment bedroom in Maryland which immediately woke me up to discover that he was half way out and close to making the plunge three stories down to the sidewalk.
* Staring down Wally the lab (five times his size) and prompting the larger and stronger animal to literally run with his tail between his legs.
* Curling up in a lap
* Allowing us to put Mardi Gras beads around his neck the year the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl. (We took a picture and added the words “Who Dat Cat?”)
* Grabbing the handles on the dresser drawers and pulling each door out like stair steps to he could get to the top one and take a nap
* Knocking down Elizabeth’s glasses and alarm clock every morning so she would get up and feed him. He knocked those two items off this morning one last time, even though he had no interest in eating. I think it was his way of saying goodbye and that he was going to miss pestering us a bit. 🙂
* Sleeping in peculiar places such as behind a row of books on a shelf or in the laundry basket.
* Settling down into our suitcases every time we packed for a trip.
*And one of my all-time personal favorites…playing with a George W. Bush catnip toy, LOL
Goodbye…God be with you sweet boy. We love you and will miss you. Forever in our hearts, you will remain.