|Deborah Lovel and Sarah Jane, about 1983
Shortly after I moved back to Alaska in 1980, I adopted a beautiful white cat from the SPCA. I named her Sarah Jane. I think she was a Turkish Angora. She was a Grande Dame with the soul of a junkyard dog and I adored her. She was about 2 when she came to live with me, and if memory serves, she was about 12 or 13 when she died. Our daughter Kate was perhaps 3 or 4 years old when we noticed that Sarah Jane was cyanotic – her lips were purple and she appeared to have difficulty breathing. We took Kate up to my in-laws’ house and took Sarah to see our vet, who told us that Sarah was in severe congestive heart failure and there really was nothing that could be done to help her. We made the terrible decision that faces all of us who share our lives with our four-footed children…and then my lovely Sarah Jane was no more.
We wrapped Sarah in a small baby blanket and placed her still body in a cardboard box, went to my in-laws’ house and took our daughter home. I should note here that it was summer, but we weren’t able to take Sarah to the family homestead, where we always bury our furry friends – at least, not for several weeks. Of course the inevitable question arose in our daughter’s autistic mind: what had happened to Sarah? So…we had to explain the whole death thing. Kate seemed to comprehend what we were telling her and took the information in stride. Then she asked The Question – the one all parents fear – what had become of the Sarah-ness, that which made Sarah a warm, living, breathing kitty? Where, she asked calmly, was Sarah? We began to explain that Sarah had gone to Kitty Heaven – thinking, mind you, that Kate wanted to know where Sarah’s SOUL had gone.
Friends, autistic children are often quite literal thinkers. Shades of grey? They don’t care. Black and white, clear, and un-nuanced thoughts? That’s more like it! So while we were explaining lofty theological concepts, Kate interrupted, saying, “No! Where’s her BODY?!?”
At that time, we were storing a large deep chest freezer for my in-laws. We had a freezer of our own in which we stored food, while theirs held mostly things like a caribou cape (skin of the head and neck from a caribou bull). We had placed Sarah’s body, still wrapped in the baby blanket and sealed in the cardboard box, in that freezer – with the caribou cape. So we told Kate that we had placed Sarah in the freezer until we could take her up to the homestead for burial. An expression of shock spread over our daughter’s face, and she stared at us, horrified…and she said: “In the FREEZER?!? With the FOOD??!!!!??” I had to leave the room before the belly laugh erupted…
There you have it, friends…the Story of Sarah’s Death…The Freezer…and The Afterlife of Cats…