Rethinking cats and kids

Rethinking felines and other things

The author is a professor of religious studies and former dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts at Chico State.

My daughter Katherine loved a cat. I hardly knew that. Then, last week, she texted the family: “I just had to put my cat down. Sage was 16 and I’m heartbroken.” Trying to be sympathetic, I wrote: “What was the disease? I recognize the profound attachments between people and pets. So sorry.” Katherine: “She ultimately had kidney failure. I had to do what was best for her. Thank you.” Then, trying to be warm, I wrote: “Want to come over for drinks and mourn your cat this afternoon?”

Much better words came from daughter Anna: “I am so sorry, Kate. I know what a dear companion she was to you for so many years.” And from Rebekah: “Oh, Kate, I’m so sorry. It’s a testament to your love and care all these years that Sage lived to 16. That’s incredible. I remember when you got her. Love to you and Sage.”

How lame and inadequate I’m feeling. So I try again: “I’m ashamed I didn’t know what Rebekah and Anna knew. So here’s to you, Kate. And to what your sisters know about you. We’ll toast family grief this afternoon.”

How is it I scarcely knew Kate had a beloved rescue cat for 16 years? I don’t like cats. I’m afraid of them. So I keep myself from thinking about Kate’s cat or imagining Sage in my house. Yet Kate and I are very close. What else don’t I know about her?

People have things they don’t like and don’t want to think about. When these get attached to people we care about, we cultivate not knowing. In our silos the children are always welcome, but not necessarily things beloved by them, things whose loss they will one day profoundly grieve. And then we will seem obtuse and not know what to say.

So I’m rethinking cats. And wondering what else I’m going to have to start liking. When I discover it’s an important part of my children’s lives.