Ernest Hemingway said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” Well, this hurts. Hard and clear.
Yesterday morning I took Strawberry to the vet to get spayed. I was excited to finally have this procedure done and excited to tell Strawberry that she didn’t have to suffer through motherhood ever again! (Although she was really good at raising those fat, happy kittens, it was clear from her hysterical facial expressions that she wasn’t really thrilled about it.) After a couple of hours, the vet called me to tell me the procedure was finished and that Strawberry was ready to come home.
I rode a motoconcho from my friend Melody’s house (where I was visiting one of Strawberry’s babies, Peeta, at his new house) to the vet. Strawberry was still hooked up to the IV and pretty out of it. The vet thought that having me hold Strawberry down would calm her while the vet removed the IV. She was wrong. Strawberry was having none of it. She made noises I’ve never heard an animal make. It was heartbreaking, but I knew that she was under anesthesia and I told myself she would be fine in a few hours and we would never have to go through this process again. Holding back tears, I told the vet I would wait outside while her assistant held Strawberry down.
Once we were home Strawberry wobbled around a bit and laid down a lot. Since I knew she would want to be with me, I moved her and her bed (which used to be the lid to my hamper and an Ikea rug) into my room. She still seemed discontent, walking around the room until finally I realized she wanted to be in my wardrobe, so I lifted her while she was in her bed into my wardrobe, right where she had birthed four of her five kittens. I brought her food bowl and her water bowl and I went about rearranging my room and dying my hair.
Once it got dark out, I started to get worried. She hadn’t eaten anything and the vet said she should be eating that evening. I tried to feed her by hand but she showed no interest. Her eyes were unfocused and she didn’t react when I touched her. I told myself that if she hadn’t improved in the night, I would go straight to the vet in the morning. I was worried, but I reassured myself that every cat reacts differently to anesthesia. I also prayed.
By midnight Strawberry was clearly worsening. She would flail around erratically and meow this guttural pain-filled meow. Melissa came home and I told her how worried I was that Strawberry had showed no interest in food. Melissa suggested that I try to give her some milk with a straw. That maybe she was hungry and that was causing her to meow. So at midnight I was sitting beside my cat, using a straw to put small amounts of milk into her mouth, crying. Sometimes she would respond and sometimes the milk would just dribble down onto the rug.
Once she started flailing and I was afraid she was going to fall out of the basket and out of my wardrobe. I caught her, with the intention of moving her gently back into her basket. She bit me. Hard. It drew blood. And my tears.
After a couple more tries with the straw and the milk, I realized that there wasn’t much I could do to help her, and that I might as well get some sleep so that in the morning I could take her back to the vet. I moved her to the laundry room because I knew that if she stayed in my room any slight movement would wake me up and I would be checking on her constantly. In three trips I moved Strawberry in her basket, her food and water bowls, and her bowl of milk.
I prayed and cried myself to sleep. Please God, please help Strawberry get better.
You see, yesterday was a lonely day for me. A good day, but a lonely one. Living here can sometimes be lonely but Strawberry always helped. Having her around was such a comfort. When I was missing friends or home or familiar things, I could hold her and pet her and hear her purr and know that she loved me more than anything in her world. With her around I didn’t feel so lonely. I thought that surely God knew that and that’s why he gave me such a wonderful friend in Strawberry.
So I prayed.
At 7:16am I woke up and immediately went to check on Strawberry. At first I thought that she must be sleeping. Last night I had laid a towel over her so that she didn’t get cold sleeping in the laundry room where one whole wall is actually a screen door that lets in the cold night air. I walked over and pulled back the towel, touched her side, and looked for signs of her breathing.
Seconds later I was standing outside my roommate’s door knocking. “Melissa?” I called. “Yeah?” she responded, instantly awake. “Can you -” I couldn’t get three words out before I started sobbing. It took me a while to ask the question. “Can you -” sob, “Can you -” sob, “check -” sob, “if Strawberry -” sob, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but can you check if Strawberry -” sob, “is dead?” Before I finished the question Melissa was there with her arms around me.
Ten months ago Strawberry was born on my patio. Within four days her four brother and sisters were all dead. But she was such a survivor. One time while her mom was trying to move her (for the hundredth time) to my wardrobe, a week old Strawberry fell from five feet onto the tile floor. But she was resilient. And persistent. She grew up in my wardrobe, in my bedroom, in my bed, and in my arms. She birthed her own kittens in a different wardrobe, just next door from where she was born. (Last June, when Strawberry was four months old, we moved to the apartment next door. Strawberry was confused at first and just a couple of days after the move tried to go back to our old apartment and ended up terrified under the neighbor’s bed. I had to coax her out!)
Sometime early this morning while I was sleeping Strawberry died. She was my best friend in this country and I’m not ashamed to say that.
Yesterday, before taking Strawberry to the vet, I read in Mark 16, verses 17 and 18: “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” The day before I read in Mark 11:23-24: “Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
This morning I reminded God: “God I believed! I believe that you are in charge of everything! I believed and I prayed that you would make Strawberry better but you didn’t! I didn’t doubt in my heart! I believed.”
This morning I asked God: “God you know that sometimes I get lonely. God you know that Strawberry was my best friend. Why did you take her away? She was just a cat. Why did you take her away?”
This questions and these feelings might seem so small and insignificant. Even as I was expressing them to Melissa I kept saying, “It’s so stupid. She was just a cat.” But these questions and feelings are big. They are big within me. “God I did what you asked me to and I feel like you ignored me.”
Now, 14 hours after waking up Melissa with a tear-filled request and a heart full of hope that she would check and Strawberry wouldn’t be dead, those questions and feelings are still real. They are still hard and clear. But just as hard and just as clear is the truth that Strawberry’s death doesn’t change who God is. Just as Jesus’s death doesn’t change who God is.
A couple of months ago I listened to a sermon by Rob Turner. He was talking about prayer, and specifically unanswered prayer or prayer that is answered with a, “No,” from a God who promises to give us just what we need. At the end of the sermon Rob talked about one very important and well-known prayer that God answered with a, “No.”
In the Garden of Gethsemane the night before He would hang on a cross Jesus asked His Heavenly Father if this cup could pass from me. If maybe there could be another way to redeem and restore without a painful, painful death. And His Heavenly Father looked down on His Beloved and said, “No.”
To some it may seem ridiculous to compare my less-than-a-year-old cat’s death with the cross but to me and to my Heavenly Father who looks down on me and sees His Beloved, it’s a fair comparison. He sees me hurting and He hurts with me, even over something as seemingly silly and insignificant and losing a cat. And even as I write this through tears, tears, tears that I fear will never stop flowing, I am encouraged by this great truth found in the Jesus Storybook Bible:
Everything said will come untrue. Even death is going to die! And He will wipe away every tear from every eye. Yes, the Rescuer will come. Look for Him. Watch for Him. Wait for Him. He will come! I promise.
And I am grateful, grateful, grateful for the eleven months I got to spend with Strawberry. I am grateful that I got to be her person-mama and that I got this great week with her between me being in the States and her leaving for good. So grateful.
When I told my friend Lorie, who has counseled me through many pet-shenanigans, about Strawberry’s death she said of Straw-B, “She.. had more love than any other cat in that county.” And she’s right.