Monday, July 20, 2009
I pulled a shoe out this morning from under our shoe rack near the front door. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I keep sweeping and cleaning, cleaning and sweeping and it still somehow seems to live on. I find it in cracks, in vents, behind the magazine rack. The fact that it has found its way into our living room in this past year has been almost too much for me. It’s the worst part of having a cat. She and I were constantly at odds these past few months about her toilet being in my living room. But now, in some cruel act of fate thumbing its nose at me, the cat is gone and all that remains is her litter.
A week ago, Sassy, my friend and nemesis for 17 years, was tragically killed in a fight with a pit bull. To my wife, she was an angel….actually her own personal angel. Anyone who watched their relationship over the years would agree. Those who knew her will say that her end was, in a way, a fitting exit. She went out in a final burst of attitude. If I hadn’t been there in the midst of the jaws and the shaking and the fur, I might have agreed. If I hadn’t been toe to toe with the pit bull (what was I thinking?) even while realizing that this was one jam that I was powerless to save her from, I might have agreed. If I hadn’t held her and looked into her eyes while trying to, in one last act of denial, comfort an already dead friend, I might have agreed. I had to do all of those things, all with the sound track of my wife’s anguished cries coming from inside, somewhere behind me as friends thankfully kept her from the worst of it.
Afterwards, in the brief quiet that comes immediately after a traumatic, did I just see that, kind of moment, I was able to carry her across the street to the quiet and comfort of our back yard…to find a box that would be her final resting place. I’ve done plenty of funerals in my life as a pastoral artist. I’ve worked with many funeral directors. I’ve never been one, and never wanted to be one. But that was our relationship… She seemed to take great joy in making me do things that I never wanted to do, like swearing, buying cat litter, and placing it in my living room. She took great joy in reminding me that I’m not all that. She was my humility “fail safe”. In recent months, just when I seemed to have a sense of my own dignity, she had me buying “Old peoples” bed wetting pads at the local drug store. She had this curious habit of climbing in the litter box and then peeing over the side, all the while looking at me with an“excuse me” look on her face.
Not long after the trauma of Monday night, I took her litter box out of the living room, near the shoe rack, and swept, once again, the floors surrounding it. I was trying to remove, quickly, the practical reminders of her. It’s kind of hard to do though with a 17 year relationship. She was nearly as old as our children. She was family in every close sense of day to day living. If you knew us, you knew her. She has been in every year of our lives of ministry, from the Midwest to the Northeast then onto the Northwest. She was small town, she was country, and she was city. So the sadness comes in waves and unexpected moments. We were walking through Target the other day and without realizing, walked right by a big display of litter on sale. The sharp blade of grief quickly stabbed through what had been a light hearted moment. This morning, as I fumbled for my shoes, only to find remnants of her presence still in hidden places, I felt it again. So I can resolve to sweep those floors one more time, but to be quite honest, I’d be happy to have the litter back again.