A story of our pets as teachers

A recent post by fellow-blogger Steve Kenagy brought back poignant, important, consoling, and peaceful memories.

One beloved cat (Ginger) simply stopped showing up. We never knew what her life was like after the day she did not show up for dinner. This cat (an independent-thinking, fun, challenging, and loving manx) had “shown up” in our lives, at the start uninvited, but welcome,  first in our yard, then in our hearts, then in our home.  We always suspected she might someday decide to live someplace else.  We never felt as though we owned Ginger, which turned out to be her good training of us as pet lovers. (We did not own Ginger, our first pet, and we have not owned our other two pets: Basil the tabby cat and Lucky the Jack Russell Terrier.)  Ginger was an important part of our family…. we loved her… we miss her… but she had chosen us and our home, and one day she did not appear for dinner, and the rest of her story is simply unknown to us.

Another beloved cat (Basil) was part of our family for eleven of her twelve years. An indoor-outdoor cat does not get to be twelve years old unless that cat is healthy, strong, and smart. Basil was all of these things, and she was also a low-maintenance, loving, and loved member of our family.

Basil sat on our son’s lap as he did elementary school homework. Her presence, heartbeat, and warm soft presence, simply there for contemplative companionship and stroking, certainly shaped the homework experience. Basil would jump into the lap of anyone who sat down to read: a common occurrence in our home.

Basil seems to have thought, throughout our lives together, that the humans never knew that after all the lights were out she would creep up the stairs and jump onto the foot of the humans’ bed to sleep there.  We knew, and it was okay with us, but we thought it was charming that she always waited until all the lights were out and the house was quiet.  This was how she wanted it to be, and we simply honored her bedtime ritual.  She did not have very many votes  in the family routine; this was one.

A lump on Basil’s neck when she was 12 years old turned out to be the kind of cancer that is caused by the preservatives in vaccinations. We knew her life with us would continue only until the cancer made her uncomfortable. When Basil’s life became uncomfortable to a degree that she revealed to us as important to her,  we engaged the services of a veterinarian who came to our home to administer the “meds” that allowed her to drift off to sleep, a sleep from which she did not awaken with us.

We sensed that this would occur in the time, place, and surroundings that we all knew our cat loved the most. Basil hated going to the vet, or going anywhere in the car. She simply loved home. Our son felt that what would be best for Basil would be to remain in her favorite spot – his lap – before, during, and after, her last breaths. We could all tell when Basil’s physical presence with us had ceased to be her and had become her remains, and so we felt when the moment had come to wrap Basil’s remains in a towel and engage the services of a compassionate organization that returned her remains to us as ashes.

We have no doubt that our family learns from each other – each member of the family doing some of the teaching and each member of the family doing some of the learning.  We do not forget Basil, and we do not forget what we learned from her presence in our family. In some ways, her formative presence in our lives gives us what we need to face death and loss unflinchingly.

I am grateful for Steve Kenagy’s post, and for his presence in this community blog space.

2 thoughts on “A story of our pets as teachers

  1. Dearest Liz,

    Oh this homage to your pets brings back fond and funny memories for me as well. Cat-lover that I have been blessed with being. The lengths I would go to keep my dear felines happy. The bad habits that kittens Fabian and George developed (like chewing on my book spines) to get me out of bed on a Saturday morning when I wanted to sleep in. They conditioned me well and quickly. I still have some of those books on my shelves (smile.) The cats I have loved. I fretted over the two of them when I traveled and moved to Seattle and they both had to go in cargo for how could I choose which one was in cargo and which was not.. They took 10 days to come out from underneath the stairwell, before settling into our new abode in Seattle.

    I hope one day you have the honor of meeting Steve Kenagy, who came early on and has graced our community blog with so many funny, poignant and honest posts about how he experiences the world. Oh, that more would write of their lovely and ludicrous observations.

    Thank you for joining our community!

  2. Liz, this is a lovely reminisce. Reminded me of all the stories generated by having 14 cats once upon a time when I lived with Wife # 1 out in the country, + 3 dogs, 3 birds, bushels of plants, & MY tarantula. Thanks for jarring my jars.

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