The View from Above the Close
Easter and the Big Cat…
Less than two weeks ago, as I’m writing this, we had to put euthanize our “big cat”. Vincent had been with us—part of our family—for 13 years. He was a huge gray cat who, in the last few years, had grown fat and lazy—but remained, as always, sweet natured and affectionate. He was the kind of cat that is always jumping in your lap—heavy and unpleasant as he was. Had Bern and I imagined how quickly Vinnie’s life would have to end, we may not have knocked him off our laps so many times….
Well, that’s not true. He was heavy and emotionally demanding and had a habit of digging his claws into my legs when he jumped on my lap. I often pushed him off and would still, even if he could be back with us.
Vincent wasn’t a pleasant cat to live with. He’d run to the basement whenever people came over and hide until they left. Some people who have been at our house many times never saw him. He was the cat we “made up” and had no evidence for…he was a cat just for his family. When he was just a kitten, we had another cat—a big yellow cat named Pajamas, a sweetheart of a cat—who would spend hours cleaning Vincent. When Pajamas got hit by a car and stumbled into the bushes to die on a cold winter day, Vincent went to the basement. He stayed there for days. We’d carry him up and make him eat, then he’d retreat to the basement again. Don’t tell me animals don’t mourn. Vincent mourned his buddy Pajamas for weeks and was never the same again. Before Pajamas died, Vincent was aggressive and loud and independent. But from that cold winter day on, he was calm, sweet and needy. And he never learned to clean himself—Pajamas did it for him. So he was always dirty and unpleasant.
On the way back from the vet’s, with Vincent in a box in the backseat, Bern said, through the first of many tears: “He was a pain-in-the-butt cat…”
We both smiled and laughed and cried.
I dug Pajama’s grave alone. We found him just as Bern was leaving for work and taking Josh to school in New Haven. This was almost a decade ago. So I dug his grave, tears streaming down my face and snow swirling around me. The earth was hard and unrelenting. When we brought Vincent home—mercifully killed by the vet’s needle because of extensive cancer and feline AIDS—Bern and I worked together on his grave.
We have a cemetery of pets in the space beneath our back deck. Annie is there as well as Pajamas and Vincent. Several guinea pigs as well. And Goose, our other yellow cat—we have great yellow cats but not much luck with keeping them alive—is buried there too.
Anyone who shares their lives with pets will have lots of sad days and lots of graves to dig. We human beings outlive most of the creatures we share our homes with. Sometimes I think the pain is too much to risk. And then I remember how wondrous they are—what unmotivated and unconditional love they give—and then I know we’ll dig other graves before graves are dug for us. We’ll weep profusely each time and miss them terribly. But there is something humbling and humanizing about sharing your life with other creatures.
At any rate, the day after Vincent had to die, Bern said something about how she thought that the best heaven of all would be a place where Pajamas could be cleaning Vincent again. And I’m hard pressed to disagree.
Theologians might have some issues with such sentimental thinking. And people who’ve never had pets might think it daft. But Bern is right—I can’t imagine a heaven worth being in that didn’t include animals and two creatures as connected as Pajamas and Vincent should be connected always and forever. The Kingdom must have room for pets.
The next day I got an email from Bern’s Brother, Dan, who is a member of the Alexian Order of brothers in the Roman Catholic Church. Dan is a psychiatric social worker for a religious order that specializes in health care. His message consoled us about the loss of Vinnie—and went on to say, “at least Vincent and Pajamas are playing together again.”
Well, if an Episcopal priest and a Roman Catholic brother can agree that heaven’s like that, it must be so.
Easter is that time when we have an opportunity to imagine how all the pain of death can be washed away with joy. Easter is a time when “dead things” need not stay dead. Easter is the time when all the rules and assumptions about death get turned upside down and inside out. Easter is the time when God simply went into the tomb and made Jesus—who was dead—alive again. Easter is the time when we can dare to imagine life beyond life, eternal and abundant life. Easter is full of eggs and lilies and balloons and good things to eat and chocolate and old, sick cats who are kittens again, washing each other and playing together in a eternal spring afternoon on grass too green to imagine beneath a sky too blue to speak of when nothing else matters but the wonder and gift and blessing of being alive….
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia….
Joyous Easter, JIM