|Tigger in 2007|
We couldn't bury him right away because the Sabbath was coming, but it was cold enough outside that we could store his body in the shed until Sunday morning. I wrapped him in a small blanket with his head sticking out, and 3-year-old Nick said, "Bye, meow," which is his word for cat. 8-year-old Chris understood death better, and could see that the spirit was gone from Tigger's eyes. It was a very sad time, but also an opportunity to talk about death. Chris asked if he could help me bury Tigger on Sunday, and I said he could.
So this morning we did just that. It had been raining but God gave us a window of opportunity when the rain stopped and we could go into the back field where we have our pet cemetery. Chris and I went together, leaving my wife with the toddler, since she has trouble walking on rough terrain and we weren't sure when the rain would start again.
Chris and I dug the hole together, then lined the bottom with dried goldenrod flowers. We laid Tigger in the grave, wrapped in one of his favorite cat blankets. Chris is part Cree Indian on his mother's side, and he wanted to follow the Native custom of putting tobacco in the grave, so he did. This is not my custom, and frankly it's a bit pagan from the Jewish point of view, but when it comes to funerals, I think it's important for the mourners to be able to express grief in ways meaningful to them. Tigger was as much his cat as mine, maybe more so, since it was his mother who had found him abandoned as a kitten in a gas station parking lot. They couldn't keep him at the time, so the cat came to live with us, but Chris always looked for him when he came to visit.
As we filled in the grave, we talked about the Circle of Life, and how everyone eventually dies, to make room for new animals and people. I told him the story of the Rainbow Bridge, which, although it is a piece of modern poetry and not Scripture per se, is as good a metaphor as any for animals going to heaven. Personally, I do believe the souls of our animals will join us in the Next World. After all, the Jewish metaphor for heaven is the Garden of Eden, and it had animals in it, right? Perhaps that is where the lion really can lie down with the lamb.
We marked the grave with rocks and I told Chris how, when Jews visit a grave, we leave a small stone in remembrance -- a custom dating all the way back to biblical times. So the funeral had both Native and Jewish elements, expressing each of our beliefs. Then the rain started again. We headed back to feed the chickens, then returned to the house. We didn't talk much on the way back, but there was a sense of closure and we felt Tigger's soul was at peace.
Some people may wonder why I didn't have the cat euthanized when it was obvious that he was going downhill. The answer is the same that I would give for a dying human: I believe it is better for the soul to transition naturally into the Next World whenever possible. And yes, I do believe animals have souls, as I have written before on this blog. Although Tigger had health problems, he was not in serious pain as far as I could tell. Up until the last day, he responded to being held, purred in happiness when petted, and slept next to me on the couch. So I felt it better to accept that he was dying, and give him the hospice care he needed for comfort. It was a good decision -- for all of us.
|Tigger (right) and Bugsy, a feline friend |
who crossed the Rainbow Bridge in 2009.