Today we said goodbye to a furry member of the family. A little over a month ago, our cat Dusty started losing his appetite and, consequently, weight. Long story short, skipping over expensive vet visits and whatnot, he never regained his appetite, lost almost half his body weight, and became very weak. On Wednesday night, while we still sat around the dinner table, we told the kids that we’d made the difficult decision to have him euthanized on Saturday. Their responses fascinated me and distracted me a little from my grief.
I didn’t really get through telling the kids the whole plan before I started crying. That immediately triggered crying from them. Once the initial wave of sadness passed, which was pretty uniformly intense for all involved, further mourning and processing proceeded according the differing personalities.
Lily (5) reacted most dramatically, crying very hard and yelling “Poor Mr. Cat!”. Alex (7) was fighting back tears. Joel (6) had watery eyes, but he sat quietly, appearing deep in thought. Then came the questions. They all asked intelligent and astute questions. Examples:
- Why is he sick? Why is he dying?
- What’s cancer? What are tumors?
- If he’s going to die anyway, why do you have to take him to the vet to help him die?
- Why Saturday? Why not today? Why wait?
- If you can wait until Saturday, why not wait until his birthday [at the end of the month]?
- How will the vet do it?
- Will it hurt?
- What will be done with him after he’s dead?
- What’s cremation?
- Can we have a funeral for him?
- Why can’t we bury him in the yard?
- Can we get another cat? How soon?
While I couldn’t have exactly predicted how they would each react, they all reacted in ways that perfectly fit what I know of their personalities, which I found fascinating. All in all, I was very proud of them. It was a hard conversation to have, and it was emotionally heavy for all involved, but I really couldn’t have asked for it to go any better than it did. By the time we were done chatting, the crying was done, and everyone was ready to get on with the rest of the evening.
The conversation wasn’t completely over, though. While the kids were getting ready for bed, Alex suddenly asked, “Will Earth ever end?”. That seems to be the way gifted brains work – quietly following long, branching tracks of thought and resuming conversation at a distant and seemingly unrelated end. I figure he was following thoughts about life and death to logical conclusions and realizing the even the very planet he lived on was impermanent. I told him yes, Earth will end, and we know because both science and the Bible tell us so. I told him about the sun expanding, etc, and the competing theories of universal heat death and Big Crunch for the science part (which I’ve since been told are dated and discarded theories). For the Bible part, I told him about the end of time, the second coming, and the new Heaven and new Earth. It was a cool end to a tough day.
Kids really do say the darndest things.