A week ago we lost one of our beautiful cats at only 8 years old to kidney failure. The vets had called her a miracle. She'd survived extreme toxic poisoning for over a month after she was sent home to say goodbye to us. We'd been hopeful that she might recover, but in the end her little kidneys just couldn't keep going. We had to resign ourselves to saying goodbye. It seemed the miraculous recovery wasn't going to happen a second time. But then I realised that really she herself was the miracle. Pets often are; and they are one of the most wonderful gifts we can give to our children. They teach us how to love, how to care, how to mourn. They teach us about loyalty, belonging and devotion; how creation is precious and we must treat it with respect.
I was wondering why she had that extra month, why we were able to hope but then ultimately have to say goodbye and looking back it seems clear to me. She was already the best cat we could have ever hoped for. She was empathic and cuddled me when I was alone, followed me round to protect me when I was pregnant and even came babysitting with me at neighbours houses. Everyone loved her. She owned the street; she was loyal, gentle and loved company and was so cool that a neighbour once tried to steal her. She couldn't catch a mouse but took great delight in delivering leaves to us. She was funny. She converted my husband to cats. But for the children, in that last month of her being frail and constantly by our side, Culturebaby really learned to love and care for her; how to be gentle; how to talk to her and feed her. They built up a gorgeous relationship. Then for Culturetot; amazingly one of her first four words was the cat's name. That time really mattered and I'm grateful for that gift.
Culturebaby is young but happily our faith allows us to talk about heaven and a place beyond this earth where people and animals are sick and suffer no longer. Where they wait for us until the day we join them. She seems to understand this and that Sugar's body is where we buried it but her soul is happily cuddled up on Great Grandad's knee. This process is both challenging and important for a little one and I'm grateful for a couple of beautiful children's resources that helped her to understand how to mourn.
Firstly, we are already well acquinted with the stunning films of The Snowman and The Snowman and The Snowdog. Both address complex themes of childhood innocence, friendship and loss. It was Culturebaby herself who started to talk about the boy burying his beloved old dog in the garden at the beginning of the film after we had our own little funeral where we did the same, placed a couple of symbolic items in the grave and talked about what we loved about our beautiful furry friend. Having a ritual and a concrete place she could visualise saying goodbye seemed important for her. In a similar way since, she has also drawn pictures for and of Sugar like the little boy did to remember his dog. Secondly I had discovered a unique and beautiful children's book a few months ago and it seemed a perfect way to talk in a positive way about the legacy of those we love and who change our lives for the better. Rabbityness by Jo Empson is one of those rare picture books that make you stop (have a little cry) and think. It combines a beautiful story with an important message about being the best that we can be and continuing in the footsteps of the inspirational people who have gone before us. Rabbit is in many ways normal - he likes to do rabbity things. But then he is also rather unique and likes to do un-rabbity things too. He paints the forest in beautiful colours, he makes wonderful music and he inspires all those around him and everyone is filled with joy. Then one day rabbit disappears. The other rabbits are sad and mourn the loss of their friend and the vibrant world he provided. They go in search of him; and though he is nowhere to be found, they find his burrow. He has left them his instruments, his paints and materials. They begin to find courage and use these great gifts he has passed on to them. Soon the whole world is alive with colour and sound again. It is a beautiful message and has been a great way to talk about the wonderful things we will remember about our beloved moggy; and perhaps what inspiration we can take from her little but massively love-filled life.
From C.S. Lewis The Great Divorce:
“First came bright Spirits, not the Spirits of men, who danced and scattered flowers. Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. If I could remember their singing and write down the notes, no man who read that score would ever grow sick or old. Between them went musicians: and after these a lady in whose honour all this was being done.
“Is it?...is it?” I whispered to my guide.
“Not at all,” said he. “It's someone ye'll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”
“She seems to be...well, a person of particular importance?”
“Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”...
...“And how...but hullo! What are all these animals? A cat-two cats-dozens of cats. And all those dogs...why, I can't count them. And the birds. And the horses.”
“They are her beasts.”
“Did she keep a sort of zoo? I mean, this is a bit too much.”
“Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.”
I looked at my Teacher in amazement.
“Yes,” he said. “It is like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end?"
Disclaimer: At my request Child's Play International kindly sent a review copy of Rabbityness for us as we had originally discovered this gorgeous book at the library and I knew it would be perfect for handling a sad time such as this.