Saying Good Night to Derek

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Our son, Derek, who lives with us, went to the animal shelter 18 years ago to rescue two kittens. The tiny, frightened black kitty mewling and crying in the back corner of the cage won his heart. Her brave brother came too. We thoroughly enjoyed their antics.

Time slowed them down. They developed routines. They staked out territory. Blaise, the big boy cat, commandeered Derek’s bed. Soren, the tiny girl, slept on the back of the living room couch. She was wonderfully quirky and yakky. She did not like to be held or petted and would only sit on Kathy’s lap.

Kathy would rise early, and Soren would meow at her. They would have a “conversation” while Kathy got ready to go. 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 to her, and then she’d doze off again. As the evening wore on, Derek would go to his room, and Kathy would go read in her rocking chair. Eventually Kathy would decide it was time to go to bed. She’d walk over to the couch and say to Soren, “Let’s go say good night to Derek.”

Soren would jump up, race to the end of the couch, leap to the floor, and run down the hall to Derek’s room. She’d meow at him, and he would scratch her ears and pet her for a moment. Kathy would wish him good night as well. Soren returned to the back of the couch. Every night it was the same routine. “Meow. Good night, Derek.”

Soren got older and had difficulty jumping from the back of the couch. Sometimes she’d hop to the arm of the sofa, step to the seat, and then jump down. She’d still race to Derek’s room and meow her goodnights, but not as quickly as before. Eventually, she just walked down the back of the couch, and Kathy would 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 good night. When Derek spent a couple of months in the hospital with H1N1, she’d go to his room to say good night anyway. It was heartbreaking to watch her meow into the emptiness. She joined Blaise by the door to the garage, awaiting 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. We wondered if we had said our last goodnights. God was gracious. 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 to have difficulties eating. She couldn’t climb to the back of the couch any longer. Walking to Derek’s room was a slower, more painful process. We ordered some special food for her, 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. He gave us a few moments to say our goodbyes. She was too sick even to meow as we petted her.

The house is quieter now. Saying good night to Derek will never be quite the same.

About the Author

Rod Hugen is pastor of the Village Church and leader of the Tucson Cluster, a church planting effort in Tucson, Ariz.
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