We said goodbye to Sheba this week. It was a fast, slow ending to a long, good life.
In these days of terrorism and wars, of heated and shallow debates at the margins of political ideologies, maybe it’s good to stop and consider Sheba’s remarkable life.
She was a stalker when we met in New Mexico. I don’t know how, but she would sneak into a slightly opened rear window of my minivan secured inside the garage and bolt out before I drove to work in the morning. She would return at night, when the family gathered for dinner, to press pathetically against the patio door, face turned away in feigned disinterest.
As her visits became more frequent, my wife and daughters took more interest in her. My daughters sat on the patio after school and allowed her to jump into their laps as they napped in the afternoon sun. My wife encouraged me to think about leaving some food by the door.
We learned more about her life after she moved in. She ran away from a neighborhood family, figuring her survival chances were better in the wild than as the tormented prisoner of a cruel child. A pellet in her leg came from the gun of our neighbor’s boy who tried to keep her from feasting on the birds in his father aviary.
She was a quiet shadow, preferring solitude while she healed her wounds.
Sheba was part of our family for so long that we really can’t remember the exact day she moved in. Was it 15 years ago? Maybe 16. How old was she when we met? Her small size from her life on the streets made determining her age difficult. We settled on 17, maybe 18. That’s around 90 in human years.
She learned to talk. She could say “lasagna”, one of her favorite dishes. She could not say “chicken”, though, which she got every night for the past year or so. And, she liked to play Marco-Polo. Ask visitors, if you don’t believe me.
Sheba and I formed a stronger bond during the two years of The Separation, the time my wife moved to Utah and my daughters were out of the house. She greeted me at the door each evening, and we sat together, alone, in my chair until overriding fatigue forced me to bed, where she slept by my side until morning.
She returned to being her mother’s cat when my wife moved back to the ranch with two more black cats. It’s a witch thing, being surrounded by ebon familiars. She reached an uneasy acceptance of the two usurpers, but demanded to be the first to sit in her mother’s lap in the mornings.
Sheba’s kidneys failed her in the end. Her eating dropped off dramatically. We took her to the vet on Thursday. She stopped drinking on Friday. She had a couple of tablespoons of cantaloupe Saturday morning, the last thing she would eat or drink. On Sunday, we cried and told her it was time.
Monday morning, after a long and sleepless night, we carried her to the hospital where we met our daughters and our new grandson. We stood by her and stroked her and whispered to her our love as the drug quickly, too quickly, let her pass from us in peace.
It was a good day. No rain, no clouds. Sunlight through the window of the hospital created an inviting spot on the floor, and a bird on the roof peeked inside.
So, why it is so hard to lose a pet? I believe some people should not be allowed to have pets, just as some people should not be allowed to have children. Pets and children should be only for people who love them and appreciate them, in happy times and in bad. When the bonding is true and good, we project upon them our love and not a small amount of our personality. We look at them and see a little bit of ourselves. We see facial expressions and expressions of love others will not see. And the love we take is equal to the love we give.
Our children move on and create lives of their own. Our pets, however, stay with us and become a greater part of our lives, so that when the time comes to say goodbye, the ache we feel is truly heartfelt because we lose a part of ourselves, the good and loving part.
I don’t know, but I believe God has a place for animals, just as he has a place for us. The God who created all things in heaven and on earth, who knows and sees all, even unto the falling of a single sparrow, surely must have created a Paradise for pets. And it is there, I am sure, that Sheba sleeps in the sun, upon her own princess perch, and dines on fresh chicken and tuna. And it is there she visits with our first cat, Mrs. Chinchilla, who will learn from Sheba all about our family, our sorrows and our joys, and about our love for them.