“If cats don’t go to heaven, then I don’t want to go either!” I boldly announced to the young pastor at my first-year confirmation class. Two summers ago, I related this statement from my youth to three close friends as we sat around my sunroom table and my cat Elsa rubbed tortoiseshell hairs on every leg as she basked in the extra head rubs and ear scratches. “Of course, they go to heaven,” asserted one of the ladies. She smiled softly and added, “They give us a taste of heaven on Earth.”
One week ago, we lost this dear lady. “Heaven on Earth” seems a fitting theme as I consider her life. A bright, warm smile quickly brought strangers into her circle of friends. Likely, these no-longer-strangers found themselves sharing a meal at her dining room table within the month.
The woman loved plants, all kinds of plants, especially flowers. During summer visits to her home, one often enjoyed a tour through the gardens, teeming with flowing grasses and colorful blooms. One sunny spring afternoon, I joined her in a walk through garden paths. Proudly, she pointed out patches of different perennials, readily whipping off their botanical names. I nodded and smiled at what I hoped were appropriate times, not having a clue on the Latin labels. Chartreuse, heart-shaped leaves nearly covered the red bricks in one small area. The dear lady must have seen me admiring the soft green carpet. “That’s Lysimachia nummularia.” She smiled at the blank look on my face. “Creeping Jenny. I’ll send some home with you.” She hunted up her digging fork. One of the end tines was severely bent, but the bend did not hinder her digging, not one bit. I went home that day with clumps of Creeping Jenny and several other native plants which I tucked here and there into my primitive gardens.
The beloved friend also loved cats. They wandered among the trees and flowers at their home. Some met you when you drove into the yard. Others greeted you the moment you walked into the front door. Each of the pets had a story, and heaven-on-earth love shone in my friend’s eyes as she regaled her fellow pet lovers of the many kitties she and her husband had rescued.
Three days after losing this friend, my cat Elsa died. Her death and the intense grief I felt in the ensuing days have been devastating. As I sat at my laptop, considering this story, I wondered for a few moments if writing about my loss was thoughtless, insensitive. After all, others I care about are hurting so deeply over the loss of their wife, mother, grandmother, sister and close friend. I thought of her and her love for cats, and suddenly I knew she would understand.
Last Tuesday morning I lifted the white box that held the body of my Elsa, hugged it close and carried it outside. Gently, I set it next to the serviceberry tree in the front yard. The tree canopies the graves of our family pets: Charlie, Heidi’s precious Miniature Schnauzer, Cowgirl and Salty, Amy and Jennie’s beloved kitties. At the other burials, one of the girls had been with me, but this time I was on my own.
I headed to the garage for the shovel and digging fork. An image of a different fork with a bent tine flashed through my mind.
Tall spires of catnip and a carpet of chartreuse encircled the tree. The golden green vines were Creeping Jenny, the 20th generation of the same plants given to me by the beloved friend.
I pushed some of the leafy stems aside and reached for the shovel. The earth was cement-hard and dry. After removing the first few inches, I pushed the fork tines into the dirt, loosening another layer. Finally, the opening was ready. With another hug and many words of thanks for adding so much to my life, I placed my “Little Elsa” into the grave. My heart cracked a little with each handful of dirt that I pushed over the small casket. Tears mixed with the soil as I remembered all those we so dearly loved and lost.
At last, I gently patted the loose soil before me. I placed five red bricks over the mound in the shape of a cross. For a few moments I knelt there in silence. Finally, I stood and reached for the shovel and the digging fork. Suddenly, something moved in my peripheral vision, and I looked down. As though brushed by an angel’s wing, a bright-green sprig quivered and sprang around. The stem, covered with golden hearts, stopped and settled softly over the new grave.
I looked up and smiled through tear-filled eyes. “Yes, dear friend, you do understand. Give Elsa a hug for me.”
Kruempel’s newest release, Once Upon a Midwest Sunset, is now available on Amazon.com. The book is a compilation of the stories from her NOOKS AND CRANNIES column, which was published in five newspapers in 2020-21. Promises to Keep, the author’s first book series is also available on Amazon. Contact her at email@example.com and receive free weekly stories, recipes, photos and updates.
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