I buried a cat yesterday. It was a very difficult process. I don’t mean emotionally — although I’ll get to that part soon enough. I mean physically difficult. The house where I live is adjacent to several acres of woods, and there is an abundance of spots in the woods to lay the body of poor deceased Beaker to rest. However, the land around here is exceedingly rocky; this must be where a glacier stopped at the end of an ice age or something. The only digging tool I have is a shovel, which would have been sufficient in, you know, dirt. But in soil that is something like 80% rock, the shovel was not fit. I tried several places that looked promising, only to get about an inch deep until I found I simply couldn’t go any further. Finally, at about the sixth potential location, I was able to get a hole about a foot deep, and a few feet across. My kids and I wrapped Beaker in a blanket, and laid her in the hole. We covered her up with dirt and rocks, and I think it’s at least a half-decent burial. My five-year-old was crying a lot — this was the first death he’d ever experienced. My ten-year-old was more ponderous; she’s lost three cats and three great-grandparents in her lifetime.
And me? I’m not one to get too attached to pets. I love cats; I’ve had cats pretty much my whole life. But this loss has hit me — it’s different. For one thing, this is the first time I’ve buried an animal myself. (Well, that’s not quite true, and I’ll get to that.) The other cats I’ve owned were buried (or cremated, or whatever…I didn’t ask) by veterinarians.
But that’s not why this is different — this the end of an era. Immediately after my wife and I got married eighteen years ago, we started collecting cats. We adopted our first one, Willow, just a month after the wedding. Escher followed about six months later. And Beaker about two years after that. They weren’t kittens when we got them, but they were young and full of life. We were a three-cat, no-children family for five years. We loved those cats. We called them our Monsters: there was Monster #1, Monster #2, and Monster #3. I always thought it would be nice to get more — my goal was seven cats. I could never convince my wife of that, and when we decided to have children, and she got pregnant…well, I no longer wanted more and more cats.
The cats and the kids got along fine, but the cats started to get old, one by one. First Escher slowed down, got all scraggly, and finally had a fatal stroke. A few years later Willow slowed down, got all scraggly, and finally couldn’t even walk anymore; we had her put down. And a few years later, Beaker slowed down, got all scraggly, grew some tumors, started sleeping all the time, and finally died in her sleep yesterday around noon. And now — it’s over.
No more Monsters. No more cats. I haven’t lived in a house without cats in almost twenty years. And that feels really weird. Empty. No litter box to clean. No more fur to find everywhere. No more feeding them. No more need for a cat-sitter. I’ve been having lots of memories not just of Beaker, but of all the Monsters. There’s a cat-sized hole in my heart right now. And it’s just…weird. We’ll probably get another one before too long, but not yet. We’re just going to live like this for now.
I said before that this wasn’t quite the first time I’d buried an animal. I’ll tell you that story. When I was in high school, I mowed the grass at my church to earn a little extra money. I would walk down there each week, pop a tape in my Walkman (yeah, remember that?), and spend an hour or two pushing the mower around, back and forth. One day, I was going along, listening to whatever, and I saw a family of rabbits hopping along in front of me, heading under a bush. It was an adult and three little ones. I smiled, and said to myself, “I’m sure glad I saw them before I accidentally hit them!” I got to the end of the line I was mowing, near the bushes, and turned around to do the next line. And then I saw that I had not in fact seen them in time. I saw a baby bunny, small enough to fit in the palm of my hand, lying on the ground where I’d just mowed. And a few feet to the right, I saw its head. I’d run right over it. My heart broke. I couldn’t believe I’d done that to an animal, and a baby at that. I had committed murder. Or at least manslaughter — err, hareslaughter. Either way, it was bad.
When I finished mowing, I went back in the church and found a shovel. I took the rabbit back behind the church, and dug a shallow grave for it. Every time I walked past that spot, I looked there and felt guilty. I’m confident I could still find the spot today.
There’s a connection between these burials — since the house I live in now, and the adjacent woods, belong to the church I serve as pastor, I buried both the rabbit and Beaker on church property. And there’s a deeper connection as well. The feelings were different, but both of them left me with a sense of loss, a change of identity. (“Who am I if I can kill an animal?” “Who am I if I don’t own cats?”) I pray that that rabbit might forgive me, and I pray that both he and all my erstwhile Monsters might rest in peace.