(Editor’s Note: This a tale of our cat, Mindy. Through her death, I was able to help my sons understand more about Heaven, Hell, the need for a Savior and Jesus Christ. It is a long post.)
Today is July 30, 2004, the day our beloved cat, Mindy, died. Actually, we had to put her to sleep. We had to make the hard decision yesterday after she refused to take her medicine and her health condition continued to worsen. Cindy was the one who made the tough decision. Where she got the strength and fortitude to do so, I don’t know. I know it was tough to do so. I don’t know if I would have had the strength to make that decision.
Today started out as a sunny day. Mindy was sleeping in one of her favorite corners, as usual, not suspecting that in just a few short hours, she would be put to sleep for the final time. David and Ian came down to watch TV as usual and, as it has become a custom, Mindy joined them to catch a pet or two. Since Mindy could not get onto the couch herself, David helped her and she settled next to him. I suppose that both Ian and David enjoyed this ritual and Mindy was the benefactor, getting petted by two boys that loved her very much.
We went hiking yesterday to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. When we were finished, we sat in the car and ate some sandwiches. It was during that time that Cindy informed the boys that we were taking Mindy to the vet the next day. The boys didn’t seem to mind since recently, we had been taking Mindy to the vet regularly. We had tests done to determine her state of health. For the past year or more, she had been having regular bouts of vomiting. She lost a lot of weight, and even though eating more than usual, just couldn’t regain it. She looked so thin and small that many people thought that she was a young cat. She was really 14 years old, 126 in cat years.
Mindy was a funny cat. She had some peculiar habits. She had her favorite places to sleep, as all cats do. But she had this one strange habit: she loved to lick plastic. Her tastes in plastic broadened over time starting out with plastic shopping bags and expanding to plastic chairs or other types of plastic. Many nights I was awakened by the sound of her rough tongue licking a nearby bag. It was really strange to hear that sound. She would lick in the night, she would lick during the day. She eventually included pottery to her list of licking prospects.
We have lamps on our night tables made from a pottery. If the bags weren’t handy, the lamps would do nicely. Again, the rough tongue on the pottery made a strange and loud sound, loud enough to wake me up. She would keep it up for 5 minutes or more, an eternity when you are just waking. She also enjoyed our slate hearth on the fireplace. It now sports several tongue prints from her licking episodes.
Mindy also like to suckle on things. We would find her in the laundry basket, hidden under the dirty clothes, suckling on some dirty clothes. Or we would be watching a movie. She would nestle between Cindy and me. Quietly and imperceptibly, she would create a huge wet spot on your pant leg.
She enjoyed being with people. Sometimes, she would sit across the room, others she would sit next to you. You never knew her pattern. It would vary from time to time. If she did sit with us during movies, it was always between us. I guess she felt more secure that way or felt that she was with both of us at the same time.
Mindy loved the windowsill in the kitchen. It is a wide sill with several baskets on it and caught the afternoon sun. She had her favorite basket and curl up as tight as could be into one of them for an afternoon nap. It was funny to see a full sized cat, especially when she was heavier, walk around in circles to eventually squish herself into the basket and then eventually sleep.
If there were a box, she always had to climb into it for some exploration. One time, as we were packing the Christmas decorations, she climbed into one and almost became part of the boxes headed for the attic only to be pulled out the next season.
Mindy was a grey tabby with greenish-amber eyes. She would yammer for food, yammer for a pet, and just make sure that you knew she was there. She would watch me as I washed dishes just to make sure that she got fed. Sometimes she had a hopeful look in her eyes, other times, she would be giving me the “evil” eye because I had not fed her fast enough. She had many emotions and expressed them.
Born in March of 1990, Cindy had gotten Mindy about the same time that I had gotten Caesar. Caesar was born April 1990. Caesar died during our house fire April 26, 1996, along with his buddy, Brutus – a cat that I had gotten about a year later to keep Caesar company while I was on business trips – something that I did regularly for extended periods in 1991.
Caesar and Brutus were the best of buddies from the start. There was never any quarreling or fighting between them. The day that I picked Brutus up from the vet, Caesar and Mindy were there also, for some type of checkup. Caesar liked Brutus immediately; Mindy hissed at both of them. That basically describes the relationship between the three of them until the deaths of Caesar and Brutus. Brutus and Caesar, Caesar and Brutus – two peas in a pod. Mindy just didn’t like them. In fact, her personality changed quite a bit until after the fire. Then, she became sweet as pie to everyone who entered our house (she never did like squirrels or dogs though).
Anyway, the boys didn’t really understand that Cindy meant that we would be putting Mindy to sleep. So I explained that meant that Mindy would not be coming home again. David understood and immediately became sad. He couldn’t eat anymore and his stomach immediately began to hurt. His stomach has been bothering him for several weeks. I don’t know if it is related to Mindy’s impending death (we had mentioned this situation a few months back, but have been pushing it off for as long as possible – maybe that really effected David). Ian didn’t understand. He didn’t seem to react, which I thought was peculiar, but I just didn’t know.
David could not eat breakfast this morning because of stomach yuckiness. I think he was really worried and upset knowing what was going to happen to Mindy. Ian just acted normal. We all were going to go to the vet with Mindy, but David was just too sick. It was probably a good thing – I was not handling the situation too well myself. I had a similar reaction to Mindy that I had with my father many years before when he was passing away.
I had a desire to scoop them up and run away because I didn’t want them to die, but at the same time, I couldn’t do it because I knew I couldn’t save them. I had to stay away.
Ian was playing on the computer when I told him it was time to take Mindy to the vet. His reaction was one of “ok, we’ll take Mindy and then we will be back.” I didn’t know if it was because a 6-year-old didn’t have a concept of death, or that he didn’t grasp that Mindy just wouldn’t be around anymore, or if he just didn’t realize what was to happen.
Since it was time, I decided that it would be good for me to get Mindy to put her in the box for her final ride to the vet. It would give me a chance to say goodbye to alias “Fat Butt”, although she wasn’t fat anymore more, or “Puke Face” since she was always vomiting. No, I couldn’t call her those names this time. I could only call her Mindy, “little girl”, and “buddy.” I could only hold her in my arms and think how much I would miss her. “Did she know what was going to happen?” “Was she happy?” “Was she afraid?” “Is this what she would want since she was basically starving herself anyway?”
We had Mindy on steroids and two antibiotics. She had stopped eating about three days ago and the little that she did eat once I put dry food down only came up and more. Since she had nothing in her system, and the antibiotics messed up her bowels, she had really bad diarrhea. The problem is that she didn’t use her litter box. She was losing her ability to either control herself or understand where the box was. Over the past month or so, she used other spots as a litter box such as laundry, shredded paper, and eventually, some throw rugs near her litter box. The signs were there. The signs of deterioration and death – the final end.
While I held Mindy in my arms, I felt that it would be good to let David say goodbye to her. He was very tearful and sad. He was really upset that he didn’t know where her body would go. I was so upset, I was crying like a baby and whisked Mindy away, but decided that I should bring her back to David for a more proper goodbye.
Cindy asked me what was happening and I couldn’t make intelligent sounds because of my crying. Finally, we put Mindy into the box and Cindy and Ian left.
David and I talked while they were gone. We talked about Mindy and how bad we felt. He asked what would happen to her body. I told him that I asked Cindy to bring her back home so that we could bury her in the backyard and have a little ceremony for her. That made him feel much better. As we talked, his face brightened and the color returned. We talked about my Dad and my reaction to his death.
Strange, the reactions were so different, but in some ways, similar.
I told David that I had gone out to my parent’s house the last week to help my mother before he passed away, the same house that I had grown up in as a child. I told him how I had not seen him for a while and now he appeared very thin and pale. My father was always slightly above average weight with a roundish face. His face and neck were always a reddish color from looking into the furnaces at the steel mill for which he worked many years. After his retirement, he lost weight, but his face was always roundish with big blue eyes; the reddishness dissipated. There always seemed to be a gleam of adventure or a desire to learn in his eyes. Although he would get frustrated often, he always enjoyed a good challenge because he knew he could overcome it and learn something new.
But when I saw him the day I arrived the week of his death, the roundish face was gone, the color was gone, in fact, it was almost ashen – the color of death. The gleam in his eyes was gone. Although he motioned to shake my hand, he could not speak. I was so afraid, so scared, because I didn’t know what life was going to be like without my father, I was frozen in time. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t shake his hand. I was so ashamed. I wanted to shake his hand so desperately, but I couldn’t move. Finally, he gave up. We never spoke after that, although he was able to speak with one other friend who happened to be at the hospital the day that we took him there. I was too ashamed to attempt a conversation. What does one say to the person you most revered that you are going to lose shortly?
My father was in the hospital for about 2 or 3 days, mostly in a morphine coma. He had set his chin to die. He and my mother had decided during the Christmas season of 1992 that he had had enough of fighting cancer that was ravaging his body. The chemotherapy and radiation weren’t going to work and there was no sense in continuing just to pad the pockets of doctors and hospitals. He would rather leave it for my mother to live on. He informed me while I visited him in the hospital at Christmas time that he was going to stop the treatments. I asked what that meant. He quietly but confidently said, “that means that I will die.” We sat silently for a while. It was very hard. By February, he was now in the hospital for the last time.
It was February 10, 1993. He lay in a coma. His hand lay near his body, curled into a semi-fist. It still looked big to me – strong, capable, and full of knowledge. My father was an engineer, not a laborer, one that worked with his mind. Yet, his hands still represented strength to me. Granted, his hands were probably no bigger than mine since we are approximately the same height, weight, and build. But, for some reason, his hand seemed so large to me.
As I sat there in the quiet, I slid my hand toward his and place my finger into his hand so that it felt like he was holding my finger.
“Dad, I love you, I am glad that you were my father, and I will miss you dearly. I am glad that you believe in Jesus Christ and are saved so that I will get to see you again,” I whispered. I couldn’t say it out loud because it was something that I felt so deeply that it simply would not come out.
He died later that night – February 11, 1993 – just past midnight sometime, just so that it would not be on my mother’s birthday – Feb. 10. Oh, he loved my mother dearly. Even to the very end, he loved her so. His 71st birthday would have been Feb. 15. He was an amazing man; I still miss him dearly.
Funny though, when I awoke that morning, I knew that he was gone. I had heard the phone ring around 2:30 am and I figured that it was a call from the hospital. My mother confirmed what I suspected. I was sad. I was quiet. I was thoughtful, but I wasn’t a blithering idiot like I am today over Mindy’s death. Why am I so upset about Mindy’s death? I don’t know.
I cried over Caesar’s death, especially as I buried him out in the backyard. I was upset that he was gone; I was upset with the way he died – he didn’t deserve that; I was upset that I never found his buddy, Brutus. But I didn’t carry on like I have with Mindy.
As David and my conversation continued, we talked more about Mindy. He asked where animals go when they died. I knew that he would ask that question. I had thought about it prior so that I would have a good answer. Should I just give the pat answer that says all cats go to heaven? But that wouldn’t be truthful because I don’t know the right answer. So I decided that I would tell him that I didn’t know. It would give me an opportunity to talk about how we as humans are a spirit, we have a soul, and we live in a body. I don’t know if animals have spirits.
David explained about the Egyptian’s beliefs and how they believed that their two parts that were separated by death would come back together again because of the burial process. It was a great opportunity for me to show how unbelievers could come to that conclusion of only two parts while the truth is that God made us tri-part beings. I also explained that I don’t whether animals are tri-part beings or not.
I explained that if the animal doesn’t have a spirit, then they simply cease to exist. But, God talks about animals in heaven, so did He create some animals for earth and some for heaven, or did He create animals for earth and when they die, they go to Heaven? I think it would be neat that He created them for earth and took their souls to Heaven when they died. That way, we can see our beloved animals there.
From that, we talked about how God sent His Son, Jesus, to redeem us so that we could go be with the Father forever. We talked about what the eternal fire of judgment would be for those who don’t believe. We talked about the darkness that is so great, that even the light from the fire would not be seen. We talked about the intense heat that would constantly torture those that are there. We talked about the abject loneliness each inhabitant would feel that would last forever.
But we also got a little philosophical. I asked David, “Let’s say someone becomes a believer in Christ with the promise of heaven. Let’s say that after they died, they found out that the teaching in the Bible was false and there is no eternal life? What would they lose?”
We discussed how believers have better lives here because of the Bible teaching than those who do not. So, therefore, what do they lose if the Bible turns out to be wrong? Nothing.
On the other hand, let’s say someone decides that the Bible is not true and rejects its message? And, then let’s say that the Bible is true and that eternal life and damnation is true? What have they lost by not believing? Eternity with Christ. They have lost that. They have gained eternal damnation. The point of the discussion was to cement his salvation in Christ so that he would see that Christianity, the Bible, and believing in Christ are extremely important. I asked if he wants to see Mindy again. David said yes. Then, if God does take animals to heaven, the only way to see her again was to be in heaven with her.
Around that time, Cindy and Ian arrived home with Mindy. I went out to greet them. I asked how Cindy was and if she was able to bring Mindy home. She said yes.
It was about that time that I saw Ian. He was pale, very sad, and holding a pamphlet. I asked Cindy how he was and she said he was a mess. He was really upset. I asked Ian if he had understood what was going to happen before going to the vet. He did not.
I was crushed. I didn’t want him to learn of the situation that way. I hugged him and cried. He hugged me back and cried. I told him that I was really sorry that he learned about it that way. He was crushed. He was really upset. Ian is very sensitive to others and their feelings.
He asked what do we do now. I said that Mommy and I had decided to bury Mindy in the backyard and have a little ceremony. He liked that very much. He was holding tight to the pamphlet in his hand.
Cindy took Mindy around back and I got the shovel and pick. I dug a hole about two feet deep. I couldn’t go much further because of the extensive rocks in our yard. Every time I looked in the box and saw Mindy in there, I started crying again. So I decided not to look anymore. That helped, but I still thought about her while I dug.
It was really humid. I couldn’t tell which were stinging my eyes more: sweat or tears. I was just an outright mess. I hope that my children weren’t hoping for a stalwart rock-of-Gibraltar. They didn’t get that from me today. David cried. Ian cried. I believe that Cindy cried several times also.
Finally, it was time to lay Mindy to rest. I took her out of the box. Her fur was so soft. She looked just like she did when she was alive. She was warm and soft, but I knew that she was no more. I gently laid her down in the grave. I made sure she looked comfortable.
We all petted her for the last time. We all cried again. I slowly and lovingly placed the dirt over her. I so much wanted to take the dirt off and say “Live”, but I knew that would not help. All I could say was no more pain, no more suffering. As the dirt continued to cover her, I felt more upset. Finally, you could see her no more. Her life was over. Complete.
I continued to push the dirt over her. David really cried. Ian was upset. Finally, Ian tried to place the pamphlet that he held onto so tightly into the dirt as a marker. Somehow, he, in his grief, had enough thought to think of a way to locate the grave after all was said and done. Ian is such a caring child – so thoughtful. He reads the pains and hurts of others. He goes out of his way to help those who might be hurting or those who need help.
The other day, David was playing behind one of our neighbor’s home. He had his bike and it was time for dinner. I did not see his bike, so I assumed that he was riding around a loop in our neighborhood. I walked to call him for dinner, but I didn’t see him. I asked several of his friends who also were riding their bikes but they had not seen him for quite some time. I got in the car and scoured the neighborhood. Still no David.
I came back and picked up Cindy and Ian so that we could do another search and broaden the scope. We were beginning to get worried. Finally, Cindy, Ian and I prayed for David’s safe return and protection, continued our search and then came back home. Fortunately, David was there!
That night, at the dinner table, it was Ian’s turn to bless the food. He thanked God for the food and other things, but most importantly, he thanked God for protecting David, keeping him safe, and helping us find him. It was really moving.
When he placed the pamphlet on Mindy’s grave, it was really touching.
We prayed over Mindy thanking Jesus for letting her be a part of our lives and asked Him to always keep her in our remembrance. I believe that the ceremony will be a part of my children’s memories forever, but most importantly, what I want them to remember is that our beliefs and Jesus Christ are a part of us. Not something that we learn from a book or recite on Sundays only, but something that we live each day. I believe that our children understand that we live the Bible, not just know about it.
After the ceremony, we went into the house to clean up from the dirt. While in the bathroom, Ian asked if we would see Mindy again. I told him I don’t know where animals go when they die, but if they go to heaven, the only way we would be able to see her was if we were in heaven. I asked, “You have received Christ as your personal Savior, right?” He said yes. I told him, “Ian, the most important thing to me is that you, David, and Mommy be in heaven with me. Otherwise, it will not be heaven. If Mindy is there, we will get to see her again. But you have to be there. Promise me that you will always believe in Jesus and follow what the Bible says.” Huge tears were streaming down my face. It is so great when God gives us opportunities to witness and confirm the faith of our family. My children are precious to me, but they are more precious to Jesus. I am glad that He has both in the palm of His hand.
The day continued on. But, we all had a quiet, sad spirit. Since we had made an appointment with a doctor for David because of the stomachaches, we went there and then went to McDonald’s. No one was interested in eating before, but now we had some hunger. But the mode of the boys was very somber. We were all thinking about Mindy. We talked a little bit about her. We were all sad that she was gone.
When we got home, we all expected something, but the house was just not the same. Mindy was gone. We watched a movie, went to karate, and came back to finish the movie. Again, the mood was very somber, although Ian seemed to be recovering faster than David or me.
After his shower and before getting into bed, Ian looked out the window to see if he could see Mindy’s grave. It was too dark, but he was glad to know that she was still with us.
I write this tribute because I am still upset. I miss that cat. I feel the feelings of my sons. I am sorry that they had to go through this, but I can’t protect them from pain. This is life. We yell. We scream. We laugh. We have fun. We get in trouble. We are family.
Now one of our family members is no more. She has left us and we pray that she is in a place that God has designed for her. In David’s prayers tonight, he prayed that Mindy was in a place far better than here and that she was having fun. I pray that animals just don’t cease to exist.
This is life. For me, it is the fact that my children believe. They know that there is a heaven and a hell. Both have accepted Christ as their personal savior. They believe. This is not fables or fairytales. It is truth and it is life. My children understand that. If that is all that I accomplish in my life is to bring my family to heaven with me, then I am the most blessed of all men. I praise God that my children believe and know that there is a God. I praise Him that they know that the God they serve is the God of Heaven and Earth. That He is the Father of all, that He is the Lord Jesus Christ, and that He is the Holy Spirit – three in one. I praise God that they understand and have a personal relationship with the God of the Universe through His Son, Jesus Christ. I praise Him that each of my family members has professed Him as Lord and Savior, King of Kings, and they know they are heaven bound. I praise God that they walk around singing praise hymns to Him instead of other music. I am above all, most blessed.
Thank you, Father, for giving me the opportunity through this sad event, to cement into my children’s minds their need and dependence on You. I thank you that You will quicken the words spoken today to their spirits so that their souls will be saved and be with You forever.
David A. Zimmer
July 30, 2004
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