I didn’t see his leap onto the kitchen table, but I heard the hollow thunk when the plastic cup tipped over, and the drip-drip-drip of my soda plinking to the floor.
“Really, Kev? You sent a cat that always wants to drink my Mountain Dew?” I spoke to the empty room, but I know he heard me.
I sighed. Chased the cat out of the kitchen. Debated whether to pop open another can and guard it more carefully this time.
Because only my husband would send us a furry, yellow, soda-drinking angel cat. Knowing we’d need to laugh and smile again. Knowing that grief couldn’t be all we felt every day – there had to be joy and hope and laughter and living, too.
There had to be a cat.
The cat showed up last spring, on Mother’s Day, actually. It was such a hard day; I didn’t feel like celebrating and we’d just got back from our first weekend away without Kevin – to the baseball game. I needed it all to be over because everything about that weekend made me miss Kevin so much. I was in the house talking with my sister when her daughter burst in through the back door.
“Aunt Christy? I’m supposed to tell you Beary found a little cat outside!”
It took a second for the words to sink in, then I jumped up and followed my niece back outside. There sat my daughter, with a gorgeous half-grown yellow cat sitting beside her. Little Bear was crooning in his ear, running her fingers through his fur. He sat there, patiently letting her squeal and squeeze. My breath caught for an instant because the cat looked exactly like the one I had when Kevin and I married – my beautiful Louisa May. Kev always joked that he knew better than to ask me to choose between him or my cat, but because of his allergies, she’d been relegated to the basement, a poor reward for her years at my side, but I didn’t have any other choice. I kept her comfortable and cared-for, but it wasn’t the same as the days when I was single and she was my purring confidante. She died of old age in 2008, and just a few months later, Kevin was diagnosed with cancer. Though dander allergies became the least of our problems, it didn’t make sense to add a new pet to the household when we were trying to figure out how to live with cancer.
But our little toddler Bear grew older and eventually, like all kids do, started clamoring for a pet. Specifically a cat, but that was out of the question. She took it in stride and we compromised on a hamster. Kevin wasn’t sure it would work, but he was willing to try for his little Bear. She’d been a trooper, getting dragged to doctor visits and hanging out during chemo weekends, absorbing all the disruption and uncertainty that living with cancer can bring. Fortunately, the little rodent didn’t bother him and we all got very attached to our furry friend.
But inside? Well, my girl and I both still secretly longed for a cat.
“Mama! Look! Daddy sent me a cat!!”
At the sound of my footsteps on the patio, the cat looked up and met my eyes. I reached out to pet him and he started purring. Loud rumbles of happiness rolled through him and he stretched and pushed his head into the palm of my hand, seeking out a scratch. I felt a bubble of something inside at his movement…joy?
And that was it. He was ours.
We named him Rafael – mostly for the wonderfully kind and entertaining Australian student we’d met at the Yankees game. But then I found out that, in Hebrew, the name means “It is God who heals” and I became convinced that my girl was right. The timing, the name? It was no coincidence: Daddy sent this cat.
He blended so seamlessly into our lives, twining around our legs while we studied, curling up on our laps while we watched TV, the three of us piled into Kevin’s recliner. Beary shouted with laughter when she “taught him a trick, Mama!” and I watched, shaking with silent merriment as she showed me how he followed her around when she had a treat bag in her hand.
“Daddy sent a boy cat, so we’re still two girls and one boy in the house, Mama,” she informed me one morning. And that made sense to me.
“Daddy sent Raffie so I could hold him for comfort, Mama,” she whispered to me another day. And that made sense, too.
Rafael definitely appointed himself as her protector. Sometimes, I found him at night, snuggled up at the end of her bed, instantly alert to any movement that might disturb her. And when grief sharpened my voice and my girl’s tender feelings fell hurt, he looked at me with reproachful topaz eyes and padded silently to her room, letting her tears soak his soft, golden coat. Much later, when she moved on, but I stayed trapped in guilt and shame, he leapt into my lap and purred and I imagined he said, “She’s forgiven you and I’ve forgiven you. Stop being so hard on yourself.” And we sat there in the dark, the two of us, and I felt a bubble of something inside…hope?
It is God who heals.
That’s an awesome promise. And He didn’t just promise it once, but over and over.
Weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you…Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)
It is God who heals.
He knows my heart is shattered and He’s gathered up each shard and is gently putting it back together. He hears my sobs of loneliness, of missing Kevin with every breath I take, and He’s collected all my tears. He sits with me in the closet and stands with me at the grave.
It is God who heals.
I grab a dishtowel, wet it at the sink, and wipe up the sticky sweet soda from the floor. It might seem odd, but it makes perfect sense to me that part of God’s healing plan for me and the Bear is a deliciously soft, purr-happy cat with a taste for Mountain Dew.
And I know that last part was Kevin’s idea.
Just to see me smile.