Last Monday, our cat Button had six kittens. It was a surreal experience watching those tiny creatures being born. They were so fragile and so helpless and so cared for by their mother.
I could do nothing, so I chose to just observe for only a moment. Then I left the room to let Button do what she had great instinct to do.
On Tuesday morning, my wife and I awoke and went to peek in on our cat and her babies. There she lay, in her little laundry basket bed, outstretched with six little ones wrestling their way to a spot where they could nurse. It looked like a free-for-all, but no one was hurt (as far as we could tell).
Later that day, Button moved her litter to a duffle bag that my daughter, Catherine, had left lying open. "Okay," we thought. "Let her be. She can tend to her kittens best and if she wants them to nurse in a duffle bag, fine by us."
Well that didn't last long. The next day, when I arrived home from school with my two oldest daughters, Button was no longer in the duffle bag. She had found her way to my youngest daughter's room and had set up a little nursing nest on the lower bunk.
After finding the lot of them, Catherine came running out. "There are seven now! Button had another baby!"
No way. Really?
I went back and found Button, stretched out with seven little ones laying up next to her. The six originals and the runt. My girls named him Leopard, because that's what he looked like. Of course he was instantly my favorite and I thought to myself, "We're going to give ALL these kittens away, but I bet we end up with this one."
Well, it proved to be a hard week for Leopard. He just couldn't get up to Button to get food. He was too little and too weak. We found red marks on his neck--from what, we don't know. Button even separated him from the rest of her litter. I assume she knew he wouldn't make it.
My wife, Jacki, tried hard on Saturday to help the little guy. She fed him from a bulb and held him close to her chest so he would feel secure. She even waited until the rest of the kittens were asleep alongside their mother and she put Leapard up to Button so he could nurse from her. But it wasn't enough.
Saturday night Jacki lay in bed with Leopard lying on her chest. She kept her hand cupped over the little one, trying to ease his cries. I think he was in pain. I know he was struggling. It looked like even breathing was a labor. Jacki fell asleep at 9:15 or so, but she didn't move her hand off the little one. He squirmed and made little wimperig noises, but he didn't crawl away.
Around 11:00 Jacki's hand slipped off Leopard and settled onto the bed beside her. Leopard wasn't moving anymore. I thought he might have finally gone to sleep. A half hour later I checked on him, no longer concerned with waking him up.
He was gone.
Sunday morning, just before we left for church, we had a little service in the backyard for Leopard. We dug a hole and the girls collected flowers and berries and other sundry items to put on the grave. I said a few words, remarking at the way God created the world, remarking at how quickly we can grow attached to an animal. My youngest two daughters cried and tried to burrow into my legs and side. Then Catherine began to fill in the hole, placing the dirt right on top of Leopard.
The image was startling. It was so final. I barely knew this cat--tried hard not to become attached to it. But there it was, still and slowly being covered by God's earth. Dust to dust. My little girls placed the various flowers and berries on the grave (as the picture shows). We stood and looked at the spot; the sun even shone for a brief moment.
I've been to funerals, but I've never seen or felt anything quite like it. I suppose it was the dirt. I've never seen the actual filling in of the hole before (other than when Criss Angel or David Blaine attempted the "Buried Alive" escape).
I'm not sure what I think about all this. I am glad for Leopard's life, however painful and short-lived it was. I don't know if he's glad for it, but he is, at least, out of pain now. No more struggle for a place at the table (as it were).
Rain fell yesterday afternoon to water the seeds.