Peace in a Time of Crisis

I felt the Lord with me today, sure as you can feel the wind on your cheeks.  It was a very real presence, a very real power.  It left my heart full of gratitude.

We have been very stressed about what to do with the cats for our move to Texas.  Our 10 year old cat, Lola, has become less social and more volatile over the 4 years we’ve had her.  We had just convinced ourselves last week that she might be best left with another family here in Oregon – maybe a family with older (or no?) children.  I sent emails to friends and church members, contacted the local no-kill shelter just in case.  We were certain that we would keep the 4 year old cat, Maya, because she had an incredibly strong bond with our 13yr old daughter.  She was almost always our daughter’s shadow.  She’d wait for her outside the bathroom door, look for her out the window after school, sleep with her at night, curl up on her lap when our daughter was reading or listening to music.  A life without Maya did not seem like an option for our family.  So…leave Lola, bring Maya, and make all those arrangements before we leave. 

With the first Sunday of every month being an opportunity to fast in our religion, we had agreed as a family to focus our fast on doing what was best for the cats.  And then, suddenly and strangely, Maya died.  She had been *completely* fine.  No changes in eating, sleeping, or outward behavior.  Up until 5 minutes before she died, she was playing around with the kids in their room.  She jumped up onto my 9yr old’s bed, fell onto her back, thrashed for a minute, let out a few long, sorry meows, and by the time my husband and I ran to see what was the matter, she was gone.  It was SO sudden.  Our 13yr old was in the room, and when she realized what had happened, she fell to the floor and started screaming.  I’ve said that it was like a scene from a movie.  I’ve never seen such despair.  She screamed over and over, “NO NO NO NO NO NO!”.  Soon there were other words, like “This is not happening!  This is a bad dream!  What is happening?”.  It was heartbreaking.  She was crying, too, of course, and had very little muscle control, except to thrash and rock.  As soon as the other kids realized what had happened, they began to scream as well.  For about 30 minutes it was total mayhem in our house.

My husband remained very strong and got Maya into a comfortable and discreet location, spending a little time with our 13yr old saying goodbye.  We also let the other cat see her and our son was insistent on seeing her as well.  It took just a little while before we could sit down together and start talking.  The FIRST thing each and every child said was:  We are NOT getting rid of Lola!!  My husband and I quickly agreed.  Then we started sharing stories and talking about what the grief might feel like over the next many days.  That it will hit them in waves.  That they may want to talk, or they may not want to.  That nothing they think or say or feel is wrong.  And that they may all think or say or feel different ways about the situation.  It was a very spiritual experience to talk this openly about our grief.

The other kids calmed down and were able to sleep, but our 13yr old was still very much beside herself.  Nighttime is her special time with Maya – they would always snuggle up together for sleep, Maya right under the covers with our daughter.  There was an enormous void last night.  Actually,  my daughter hasn’t been in her room much at all since Maya passed – it’s like sacred ground for now.  So, the night was long.  And the baby must have sensed a lot, because he did not sleep well, either.  My 11yr old daughter woke up at about 3am and needed to talk about everything.  And my husband left for Texas again (his weekly trip for the last 8 weeks) at 4am.  We were a motley crew through the night!

Today my daughter spent the morning with family while I took care of the cats.  I found an animal hospital to do the cremation of Maya – this was my daughter’s absolute request.  She wants to keep her ashes – she says that she could not bear to think of Maya in the ground, and especially not here in Oregon as we leave for Texas.  The vet took a look at Maya and asked me many questions about her health and behavior.  She said many reassuring words to me.  She said that it was very likely a stroke or heart attack, just the very sudden nature of it.  She also said that even if Maya had been sick, she would have never let on – apparenlty cats are very sneaky about being ill.  The vet said it’s their survival instinct to not appear as the weakest of the pack (or else the predator would pick them for lunch!), so cats often pretend through their pain until it’s too late to do much.  So, even if we had guessed that something was wrong, there’s no guarantee we could have prevented anything from happening.  She also examined Lola and found her to be a little overweight, but generally very healthy.  There are no worries that there was anything communicable in the cause of Maya’s death.

My experience today with Lola was so eye-opening.  First, I was terrified of getting her into her carrier.  We have NOT had a pleasant experience with this before!  But I got her in on the first try, taking less than a couple minutes to do it.  And then at the vet, Lola was not her anxious, combative self that she has been in the past with the vet.  She cooperated while they examine her end to end, gave her some updated shots, clipped her nails, the works.  I was shocked.  I see her with totally different eyes.

I don’t know how to explain the peace I feel right now in this situation.  We had prayed to know what to do, and now so many of those decisions have been made for us.  Can you imagine…if Maya was going to have this sudden attack, what if it had happened on the plane?  What if we had given Lola away, only to have Maya die en route to Texas or soon after?  What if Maya had even just died today instead of yesterday? – the kids would have been at school and come home to some very confusing and shocking news.  At least they got a chance to say goodbye.  If you are not a person familiar with faith, then the idea that I have felt God’s hand through all of this may seem very peculiar.  But I do believe that ultimately everything has worked out according to His plan, and according to the benefit of us all (including the cats).  If this was to be Maya’s ultimate end, how grateful I am to have had her in OUR lives.  We were lucky to know such a spunky and sassy – and in my daughter’s case, extremely loyal – cat.  And we were lucky to be spared the pain of being completely without cats by having this happen before we found a home for Lola.

And back to Lola for just a minute – during a two hour stretch between 5am-7am when my daughter finally slept, it was only because Lola had jumped up and curled right against her stomache, something that cat NEVER does.  And she’s been playful and loving with the kids all day today.  There has been such a shift in our world, and though very very sad, I feel peaceful and optimistic about it.

My daughter will likely spend at least one more day at home.  She spent much of today wandering the house or laying in my bed.  She has hardly eaten anything.  She has been talking with me a lot (a good sign, I think), and even shared some laughs with her siblings today.  I have confidence that she will be alright very soon, but I’m carefully helping her navigate her way through this grief for now.  I’m grateful for so many things tonight:  for family, for God, for strength that comes from within and from above, for what it means to be human and feel pain, for the ability to notice the blue sky and sunshine through our tears, for the fact that the sun will come up again tomorrow, and that we will still be here, ready to experience another day in our lives, with more opportunities to learn and to grow.  I’m grateful that there is Peace to be had and Peace to be felt and Peace to be shared.  And I’m grateful that all of this is happening for my little family right here and right now.