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Saying Goodnight to Derek

Our son, Derek, who lives with us, went to the animal shelter eighteen years ago in order to rescue a couple kittens. The big, beautiful gray and white kitten who ran up and licked his hand when he tried to pet him was a shoo in to come to our home, but so was the tiny frightened black kitty mewling and crying the back corner of the cage. She also won his heart. There is nothing more fun than watching kittens play and we thoroughly enjoyed their antics. 

Time slowed them down. They developed their little routines. They staked out their territories. Blaise, the big boy cat, commandeered Derek’s bed. Soren, the tiny girl, slept on the back of the couch in the living room. She was shy and skittish and wonderfully quirky. She did not like to be held or petted and would only ever sit on Kathy’s lap. Kathy would have to first put a pillow on her lap and then Soren would jump up on the arm of the chair, circle around the back to the opposite arm, gingerly step onto the pillow, gently knead it for a moment or two, before finally sitting down and only then allowing herself to be petted. A few minutes later she would jump off and disappear somewhere in the house.

Kathy would rise early to go to work and Soren would meow at her and they would have a ‘conversation’ while Kathy ate breakfast and got ready. In the evening Soren would sleep on the back of the couch while we ate our dinner and watched television. Her ears would perk up a bit if we talked and then she would doze off again. As the evening wore on Derek would go to his room and Kathy would go find her rocking chair and pick up a book to read. Eventually Kathy would decide it was time to go to bed. She would walk over to the couch and say to Soren, “Let’s go say goodnight to Derek.”

Soren would jump up, run to the end of the couch, leap to the floor, and race down the hall to Derek’s room. She would meow at him and he would scratch her ears and pet her for a moment. Kathy would wish him a goodnight and then head off to our bedroom. Soren would return to the back of the couch. Every night was the same routine. Night after night. Goodnight, Derek.

Soren got older and began having difficulty jumping from the back of the couch all the way to the floor. Sometimes she would hop to the arm of the sofa, step down to the seat, and then jump to the floor. She would still race to Derek’s room and meow her goodnights but she wasn’t as fast as before. Eventually she would run down the back of the couch and Kathy would gently pick her up and lift her down to the floor. 

If Kathy happened to be out of town, I could step in and help Soren say goodnight. When Derek spent a couple months in the hospital with H1N1 flu, she would go to his room to say goodnight anyway. It was heartbreaking to watch her meow to an empty room. She often joined Blaise by the door to the garage waiting Derek’s return. You couldn’t explain to cats what was happening to the man they loved and who loved them. It was an awful time when we wondered if we had all said our last goodnights. God was gracious and Derek returned home. The cats were happy to see him back in his room. So were we. 

We live in an age of decay. Soren started having difficulties with eating. She couldn’t climb to the back of the couch any longer. Walking to Derek’s room was a slow, painful process. We ordered some special nutritious soft food for her to eat, but she eventually ignored that as well. We took her to the veterinarian who told us with tears in his eyes that it was time to end her suffering. The veterinarian gave us a few moments to say our goodbyes. She was too sick to meow as we petted her one last time. 

The house is much quieter now. Saying goodnight to Derek will never be quite the same. 

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