Lost and found - FamilyEducation

Lost and found

May 17,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Not too long after we adopted our cat Annie from the animal shelter when she was just a kitten, L. told me that he wished he'd paid more attention to our other cat, Izzy (a.k.a Baby Sweet) when she'd been alive. I didn't realize how much I loved cats, he told me. Three years ago we found out our thirteen-year old cat had cancer. We had to put her to sleep, and the impact of this was a slow dawning on L., even though she'd been in his life for a good eight years. He was suddenly sad, three years after her death, to realize what he'd lost.

On Sunday I took the kids to Lowe's to pick out some herb plants and flowers, and to look for a special shrub for Loopy's spot. . As is customary in our family, when a pet dies we pick out a special plant and have a little ceremony outside that involves sprinkling the pet's ashes into the ground and planting a shrub or other perennial on top of it, so it will flower and grow and carry that pet's memory on each growing season. We did this at our other house with the first pet loss L. dealt with at the age of two: our guinea pig Pepito. We planted a beautiful shrub in his memory and it's still there--I can still see it when I drive past the old house.

We picked out a small blooming hydrangea for Loopy's spot, but L. was completely focused the whole time on selecting another plant for Izzy's spot, even though we'd held our little "planting ceremony" three years ago. He picked a flowering hosta, with tall, proud whilte flowers.

It really suits her memory, I think.

We spent a glorious hour on Sunday planting and watering, and then we held our ceremony for Loopy and scattered his ashes before we put the hydrangea into the hole Scott had dug for it. L. stood back and eyed the heavy blossoms, and then walked over to look at the hosta. He looked thoughtful and sad.

"I didn't pay any attention to Loopy when he was alive," he said, matter-of-factly.

I stopped what I was doing: rearranging flat rocks around the thyme we'd just planted, and I squinted up at my ever-growing (when did he get so tall?), ever-sensitive son standing sihouetted in the late afternoon light.

"Oh, that's okay, L.," I said.

I  had dirt on my hands, and the air smelled rich and sweet, as it does after wild planting session on a warm spring day.

"You know what I just realized, Mama? I just realized that people don't really notice things until they're gone."

He sighed.

"And then they don't ever come back again."