A few nights ago as we lay on your bed chatting as we always do, you recalled a memory.
“Remember the bad cat who scratched me while we were playing with blocks on the rug?”
I tried to hide my surprise as I replayed the scene in my mind and you continued to describe it with such clarity.
Yes, of course I remember. You were about 18 months of age. But how can you still remember that over three years later? You were so young. How traumatizing was that moment for you?
We were sitting on floor together stacking and crashing the cubes that were just the right size for your tiny hands. He sprinted towards you and before I could stop him he opened his jaw wide and nipped at your arm. You were frightened and crying and I was torn between being livid at the cat and a comfort to you.
Cartman did not fair so well with the addition of children into our family. That was the beginning of the end for him. Despite my efforts to appease him, by the time your brother came along and his companion cat Smokey had passed away, his behavior had become unruly. You were rightfully afraid of him. Just as I was beginning to search for no-kill shelters, he took his own leave. I have always felt so terrible about that; I missed him, but I was also so relieved that he was gone.
Then you asked about the other cat. You remembered there was a good kitty. Smokey was old and kind, but timid. He rarely came near you.
You asked what happened to them, and though I had always evaded the conversation before, I decided you were old enough now and that it was time to come clean. I explained to you that Smokey had become ill and died, and that Cartman had run away shortly after. Though I never knew what had happened to him, he was likely killed by another animal or a car. You expressed that you were glad that Cartman was gone, but you were very sad about Smokey.
I watched your face change as your eyes swelled with tears and you choked out a sob. “I miss him so much!” you cried.
It was alarming and confusing to me as I watched you allow yourself the experience of grief. Mourning for an animal you can barely remember and has been dead for nearly three years.
I thought of Grandpa and how it has been less than a year since we lost him. I explained death to you when he passed as best I could, but I could tell that you did not quite understand.
You now understand the fragility of life, and it saddens me. You know now; plants, insects, animals, people, we die. And still, now that you truly understand you haven’t asked me the most important question.
Where do we go when we die?
It’s coming. I know that it will not be long before you ask.
I need more than ever to be prepared for the answer. The answer I know I can never truly give you.