We live on a farm so death is a big part of our family culture. Those words look so brutal as I type them out. You want your family culture to revolve around heart-catching books, yummy food, memorable road trips, etc, but death? That isn’t the number one response to what you want your family to be known for. Unfortunately, though, if you live out in the country you have to be prepared that death will play a big part in your family life.
We don’t have too many animals on our farm; one cow, one dog and a bucket load of cats. At one time we had 22 cats but now it has dwindled down to 9 with a possibility of a surge in numbers as we have had a few new kittens and we think two of our cats are pregnant again.
It never fails, though, that these cats don’t seem to stay around for long. There have been oodles of times in the past when the kids have come into the house from feeding them to say that ‘Bert hasn’t been at the barn for a few days’ or ‘I haven’t seen Suki in a week.’ Usually it is a quiet leaving. A quiet leaving that leads to a quiet grieving. But then there have been incidences that haven’t been all that quiet, like the time when Emma found her kitten floating in the pool, dead or when a baby kitten ( so new it hadn’t been named yet) fell out of the barn loft and landed on the hard cement floor with my kids watching the fall and having to get rid of the lifeless body. Those kinds of death are all the harder to deal with.
Tessa, though, has had her share of kitten deaths in the last few years. Last year, one of our new mama cats just wasn’t ready to handle babies and she left her kittens alone to die a slow and painful death. Tessa took one of those kittens and nursed it back to health. She kept it in her room and would wake up in the night every few hours to feed it. For two weeks it did really well and was able to go outside for part of the day but, suddenly and inexplicably, it took a turn for the worse and Blue died with Tessa having a front row seat to his death.
She was so excited to find out that three of our cats were going to be having babies this spring. She had high hopes that these cats would be better mamas. They were. We now have 5 kittens with Tessa picking an orange kitten for her very own. She named him Olaf. Olaf was adorable and innocent looking. He received the best care from Tessa. She spent most of her free time at the barn taking care of her baby. She was so relieved that he had survived the perils of being a new-born kitten. He was healthy and strong so we were pretty sure he was going to make it to an adult.
Then we found Olaf by the back step on Friday night with 4 porcupine quills sticking out of his head and eye. Yeah. The actual picture was so much worse than the words. My heart plummeted when I saw that. I knew that we wouldn’t be able to pull the quills out without losing the eye. Infection would surely visit and things could get even uglier than they already were. But I talked to my Beloved just to make sure that I was mistaken. I wasn’t. He said that we would have to ‘take care’ of the cat.
When I told Tessa about Olaf’s fate, a guttural cry\moan emitted out of her being that I have never heard before and hope/pray that I will never have to hear again. This cry was full of deep, deep pain, a pain that she was familiar with and didn’t want to go through yet again, a pain that had the potential to break her heart. It is so hard for a mom to hear such pain in her child.
I held her tight and cried right along with her. My tears weren’t so much for Olaf but more for my baby girl, for all the times death has visited and pierced her heart. She cried on and off for the rest of the night. We cuddled together in my bed and watched movies. By the time midnight slugged by, she had decided that she was able to sleep in her own room.
Then the next day came with more discussions about possibly saving Olaf’s life but reality prevailed and Dad went outside to ‘take care’ of that adorable, innocent kitten. Tessa and I went into my bedroom, closed the windows and doors, held each other very tight on my bed with Tessa pushing her fingers in her ears. Thankfully, she did not hear the gunshots.
We proclaimed the rest of the day as a ‘Day of Mourning.’ We cried off and on, we prayed, we played copious amounts of Dutch Blitz, watched movies, went for a walk and made a huge batch of sugar popcorn. It was a sad day but it was a comforting day because we were together. We were grieving together. Her grieving was due to the death of a loved kitten; my grieving was due to the pain that my child was experiencing. We didn’t have to talk about it, though, as it was a shared grieving.