“What this place needs is a box full of kittens.”
This is what I told my fellow patients, my therapist, and
anyone else who would listen in the psychiatric hospital this summer. I wasn’t really kidding.
My kids were spending a good bit of time at a friend’s house
where kittens were in high numbers and they were enamored, but not as much as I. Sitting on my friend’s couch in
those stressful weeks leading up to the panic attacks and hospitalization, I
felt the old familiar calm sweep over me as I nuzzled a snowy white ball of
fluff who purred and clawed against my chest.
My last night in the hospital I sat talking with my husband via an old black phone with the classic silver cord and buttons –like something
straight out of a 1980’s phone booth.
“You’re never going to guess what I saw tonight,” he said.
It was late August and after tucking
the kids into bed, he noticed a small animal scurrying across the kitchen
toward the laundry room and back door.
At first he thought it was a squirrel, but following slowly he realized
it was a small, gray kitten. Then the
little scamp was off and running out the same open door he crept in,
disappearing into the dark night.
“Really?!” I asked, “Are you serious?”
It seemed like
a sign, a good omen, that little gray visitor padding in quietly like fog in
the middle of a dark night. He never showed up again, though my husband called and left
food by the back door.
The following day, after my discharge, we drove to pick up our
kids. They piled out of my friend’s
house, tumbling and climbing on me like love-sick puppies. On our way out to
the van they showed me another pair of kittens who’d shown up during my
hospitalization, two more strays.
Are you surprised that when my friend called the next day to see if we wanted the kittens, I said yes?
She delivered them herself, like one
delivers soup to the sick and we drank them in as the stress and worry of
weeks slowly worked its way out of our family system.
I always had a cat as a little girl, always.
I used to list them by name to impress and wow friends with tales of their adventures and
unfortunate demises. We had
indoor-outdoor cats and they all, invariably, slept in my bed. They were my babies, my companions. I mothered them before I knew what mothering
was. Their calmness and acceptance of my
quiet, slow ways nurtured me before I even knew I needed nurturing.
I have a picture of me as a little girl holding some of
our first kittens. In it, I am sitting on the
stump of a log with one cat tucked under each arm, squinting into the sun. Thinking about it now, it occurs to me
how many pictures we have of me holding the twins in a similar position – one on each side,
two lovable lumps of little boy.
Both, the kittens and the twins, opened me, opened my heart,
my body, to love. Both brought healing and resurrection in their own mysterious ways.
We got two kittens this summer when it didn’t make sense and brought
them into our chaotic home, our anxious hearts.
Soon evenings in front of the TV included a pile of kittens in my
lap. Cooking dinner was not complete
without someone climbing up my pant-leg to beg or riding tucked into the front of
my hoodie, a little furry face peaking out, a soft purr humming against my
They’re our children’s pets, but no one seems to need them
as much as I do and my children, in their intuitive wisdom, seem to know this too. Every day, multiple times a day, they find a cat and, carrying it through the house, present it to me like an offering.
“Special delivery,” they say, lifting the cat toward my waiting arms. With open, outstretched arms I welcome them, drinking in again their sweet, unexpected grace.
Linking with #TellHisStory.
Are you a cat lover, a dog lover, a wild ferret lover? Tell me about it, I’d love to hear how animals bring healing in your life.