Before returning to the SF Bay Area in 2002 to work for the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA, I spent almost a decade at the Arizona Humane Society. There I wrote a weekly column for the state's largest newspaper, The Arizona Republic. Quite a surprise then when just this past weekend I received the following email about one of those columns, reprinted here along with that original column which ran over 14 years ago.
Dear Mr. White:
On May 30, 1998, you wrote a column for the Arizona Republic entitled "Love, like people and cats, lives forever." My husband had passed away about a week before this was in the paper, and his cat, whom he had rescued from a snowdrift in Wyoming, had to be put to sleep a few months prior. My mother sent this to me, and I was so touched that I wanted to write you to thank you, but I couldn't make myself do anything at the time.
Fourteen years later, and many re-readings and tears and passing copies on to others who have lost their forever pets, I'm finally getting around to telling you how much this column has meant to me.
I had to research your location on Google, to see that you have been in the Bay Area for ten years now. Thank you for your compassionate work. All my pets have been rescues (I have to thank my late husband and late mom for that), and I am a volunteer at a no-kill shelter in Georgia.
... and that original column...
My family is trying to get used to the idea of saying goodbye to an old friend. I recently wrote about Blanche's failing health, and that our beautiful old cat may have days or weeks, perhaps but probably not months. Certainly she does not have very long. As a family, we're trying to come to terms with what is soon to happen rather than wanting to simply react once it does. We're a family with a strong sense of a life of spirit but not any formal religious affiliation and so, among the hard questions we are asking ourselves individually and as a family: what happens to our wonderful Blanches after she dies?
After a lot of talking, our 8-year-old daughter has asked to help me write this column. This is ours, together, a way of thinking about the unthinkable. It's Hannah's way, our family's way, of understanding what we would much rather avoid.
Here's what we're sure we know. We know that Blanche has a life beyond that of her failing body. We know that Blanche, like everybody around us, is quite literally made of the ancient stuff of exploded stars, dating from the first moment of the Universe, timeless and immortal. We know that the memory of her will live in each of our hearts and that the memory of each of us will live in the hearts of others: as such, we know that Blanche can never really die.
Now here's what we think we know. We think that Blanche will go to cat heaven, which is a part of a heaven for all animals and people, somehow both separate and the same for dogs, cats, people, horses, lizards, rabbits, fish and everyone else, too. We think that she'll have so much fun there that, at first, she won't even remember where she came from or who she would otherwise miss with so much pain. She deserves. The crying will be ours alone, nor hers.
In the very beginning, she'll get to do all the things she wants to do now, even things she's not allowed to do now. She'll take naps on the clouds without falling through them. And she'll take naps on the sun, enjoying its warmth without being burned. She'll be able to run around and catch birds but they won't be real birds because it's heaven for birds as well and it would be unfair for them to suffer just for a cat's entertainment. She'll eat wet food every day, anytime she wants to. And she won't have any electric beeper sounds which so scare her now, or strangers coming to her home that frighten her off her favorite perches.
She'll not be sick anymore because after animals go to heaven everything feels good again. That's really the very first thing that happens when you get there, you're brand new again, Like a new toy that's just been bought.
After awhile, when enough time has passed for her to get ready to fully understand what has happened to her, to learn that she's died, that's when she's ready to become an angel. That means she'll get to come together with the other animals and people that have gone there before her, the ones that have loved her and she has loved. They come together in a special way, a way that we really can't understand, and then they look down on those of us still here and try to help us. Hannah feels quite clear that her mother's wonderful dog, Peaches, is looking down on her mother, Carolyn. Carolyn's own mother, Hannah's grandma, is there with her. They are angels together, looking after the people that they loved so much. And they will make room for Blanche.
Blanche will look down and love us. She will also look out from within our hearts and love us. She will love us forever, as we will love her. Love, like people and cats, cannot die.