2007 by Elise Crawford
My story began eight years ago, just after I was widowed. I was haunted by dreams of a message to write a book, a book to help other survivors of tragic loss to heal. I ignored the dream, but it continued. I ignored it because of my financial situation and because I felt I wasn’t educated enough; I couldn't even fathom how to write an entire book. Nonetheless, this crazy dream showed me the picture of the cover, the title, the format of the contents inside, the index, everything. I can only describe it not unlike the movie The Field of Dreams.
One day I gave in to the dream. Throwing caution to the wind, I quit working full time and opted for part time work and began to write. My children and I lived from hand to mouth, with only one pair of shoes to my name and two pairs of pants to wear, both now falling apart at the seams and my feet hurt from my battered shoes, the book wrote itself. I cannot describe what it was like. The words fell onto the pages. That was October of 2005. At just over 55,000 words, A Promise Kept © is now written.
This chapter is titled “Bonus Story: Spiritual Intervention” in my book and is the last chapter. I am currently learning the ropes about the publishing industry. Publishing my book and to someday soon become an author is my ultimate dream. Knowing that I helped at least one person, read The Starfish Story, by Loren Eiseley, then the pain of my loss was not in vain.
Recently widowed, my children being the only reason for me to get out of bed and face the world each day, I found it helpful, in the attempt to avoid the suffocating and overwhelming feelings of grief, to dive headfirst into several projects. I just wanted to be busy and forget. Preparing the new home I had recently bought for us was the most time consuming of them all.
Not handy with tools, lacking the major redecorating skills required for the expectations that my imagination had conjured up, and naive of how much effort the work called for, I forged blindly ahead. Every night after dinner I would drive to the new house and spend several hours single handedly scrubbing, wall papering, and painting. When I had accomplished as much as I could for one night, I would drive back to our apartment in time to catch a few hours of sleep before going to work the next day.
Since there wasn’t anyone available that could help me with what had become a very big project, it wasn’t long before frustration, impatience, and exhaustion had me in their grips. The fourth week into my project was when I began to feel the dizzying effects of the hamster treadmill I had put myself on.
One evening as I stood in the center of the living room, the last room to be cleaned and painted, and gazed in awe at the height of the cathedral ceilings and the length of the walls all of my pent up feelings came to a head.
Overwhelmed and overcome, I collapsed into a fit of weeping emotion. I cried like I’ve never cried before. I hit the floor with my fists and screamed “WHY?” and cried, “I CAN’T DO THIS BY MYSELF!” Until I couldn’t cry, sob, or pound any more. Exhausted, I sat in a heap and prayed.
Sitting there a while longer, I decided that the living room would have to wait until the following day and called it a night. I pulled myself together and drove home. Needless to say, I completed the living room by the end of that same week and I have to admit that I did a pretty good job too!
I found moving in more fun than redecorating. So much fun in fact that I found myself so consumed in the task that I forgot about my prayer vigil, but little did I know, answers had already been conceived and were on their way. This story is about one of those many wonderful blessings we received that brought us hope.
It was the end of summer of 1999. We had lived in our new home for about a month when one day my daughter ran into the house, nearly out of breath, and announced excitedly, “Mama, Mama, you have to see what Sasha has!” She pulled me towards the front door where Sasha, her new neighborhood friend, stood. Laughing all the way I followed behind her expecting to see some unexciting thing. Sasha approached me cradling something as equally tiny as her hands. And then she presented to me some sort of a black and fuzzy animal. I couldn’t tell what it was at first. It was so small; with a nub for a tail I thought it was a hamster.
Then Sasha asked, “Can you save this kitty?” “Its mother has killed its four brothers and sisters and I just got this one away from her as she was biting on it, she bit its tail off, see, and your daughter says you’re a nurse, and I was wondering if you could save him.” My daughter was jumping up and down and begging me at this point.
At the time I wasn’t a practicing nurse and my specialty definitely wasn’t in the veterinary field. Hesitantly, I scooped the tiny thing into my hands. As I held the tiny creature, the warmth from its little body suddenly radiated through my hands, traveled up through my arms and my chest, and straight into my heart. My motherly instincts took over. I gave him a quick one-minute examination and determined that “it” was a he and that although his eyes and ears were closed he appeared to be no worse for wear.
He was so tiny and vulnerable. I convinced myself that I could save him and justified my conviction with the fact that caring for him couldn’t be any harder than mothering or nursing. Without hesitation, I hurried into the house in search of a towel to wrap him in. As I passed by my daughter I heard her shout “Yeah!” behind me.
I wrapped him gingerly with a thick cotton bath towel, climbed carefully into my truck, tucked him safely into my lap, and headed for the vet that cares for our other cats. Once there I learned of his fate. The vet said that he had only a thirty-percent chance of surviving; he weighed in at only two ounces. She shared her concern for my recent loss and if I would be able to handle the additional grief if by chance he didn’t survive. She strongly recommended that we find someone else to take on the responsibility of helping him.
Inwardly I argued with her rationale, I just couldn’t abandon him, not now. With the persistence of a pleading child, I assured her that I could handle the responsibility no matter what the outcome. Somewhat unconvinced, she reluctantly pulled out her pen anyway and wrote down the instructions of how I was to care for him.
As is my usual stubborn nature, I chose to deny the reality of how much work and time, as I did the redecorating of the house, caring for this little creature would involve. With my maternal instincts in full bore, I wrapped him in the towel once again and headed for the pet store where I bought kitten formula, a tiny syringe, and a kitten care booklet. While bagging my purchases, the friendly clerk offered me some helpful hints. Ironically, I felt like I did when I was a new mother; everyone wants to see the new baby and give you their best theories of how to care for it.
After I had arrived home, I quickly read through the important sections in the kitten book. It suggested that he have a quiet, warm, dark place to sleep and a wind up clock close to him so he would think that he was with his mother. And then I set out on a scavenger hunt to find all of the things that he required. First, I found a small cat carrier in my garage and with an old sweatshirt of mine I prepared a little nest inside of it for my new bundle of joy. Next, I found a small water bottle, filled it with warm water, and wrapped it up in a small kitchen towel. And lastly I found, to substitute for his mom, a wind up clock and wound it up tightly so that it was ticking at a fairly fast pace. Then the fun began.
I followed the instructions on the canister of kitten formula to make a batch of milk; having breast fed my children, this bottle making stuff was totally foreign to me. Then I pierced a hole in the top of the nipple of the tiny bottle with a sharp sewing needle. Following the vet’s instructions, I propped him up in a semi sitting position in my hand and put the bottle in his mouth. Feeding him was as challenging as it was scary. And no matter how big of a hole I poked in the nipple, he couldn’t find satisfaction.
Finally, after several attempts with the bottle, we both gave up and settled with a needless syringe that a pharmacist had once given me for the kids. At first, I worried that I was pushing the plunger too fast; I thought I was going to drown him for sure. But not to worry, the little piglet sucked the plunger down faster than I could push it. He seemed content with how much the syringe could feed him at one time and what little effort it required of him.
Initially, I worried that he was eating too much. Although the instructions on the can of formula indicated that he should only be fed a certain amount to a certain ounce in weight, he was the exception to their rules, he ate until he was full and sometimes his belly, which resembled a over filled water balloon, took in twice as much as what was recommended, but I let him be the judge as to how much food he needed. I assured myself that it was right thing to do since his cat mother would have probably have done the same. Amazingly he ate by the syringe in super sized quantities every three to four hours.
Continuing to follow the vet’s instructions, I turned him on his stomach and wiped his bottom until he had eliminated. I discovered that this also made him burp. I felt as excited as a new mother does when she masters a new skill with her first born. The toileting process became messier as he grew. Sometimes I wouldn’t have enough tissue to sop up everything and it would end up on me instead. Eventually my hands blistered from continuous hand washing, every three to four hours before and after feeding and toileting him.
Assured that he had a full belly, I cleaned him up, kissed the top of his tiny head, which I did every night thereafter, and put him to bed inside of the carrier, on top of my old shirt and next to the warm towel-wrapped water bottle. Comforted by its warmth, he instinctively curled up next to it. Contented by the rhythmic sound of the wind up clock ticking beside him, he was instantly lulled to sleep.
Nestled within his carrier on the throw rug next to the head of my bed he slept, oblivious to the cruel world from which he had been saved. I snuggled down in my own bed and just before I drifted off to sleep I prayed that the little nest I made for him would suffice for the mother that wasn’t there.
That first night we both fell asleep quickly and soundly. But, it was short lived. He awoke for a feeding promptly three hours later. And usually nothing but the shrill ring from an alarm clock or the cry from one of my children could wake me from a sound sleep, but this little kitty could. He had a meow louder than he was big.
So, barely awake with one eye open, mumbling under my breath a vow to never have another baby, human or animal, carrying my new screaming baby kitty, I stumbled into the kitchen and prepared the necessary apparatus for his midnight snack. I would eventually learn to prepare everything, including an extra batch or two of formula, prior to our bedtime. With just the glow from the overhead stove lamp and with his feeding and toileting arsenal at hand, I sat on the rug in the middle of the kitchen floor and began what would become our nightly ritual for weeks to come.
It took nearly an hour to get him ready for bed again; as well as an additional ten minutes or so warming up his water bottle and changing his soiled bed. But once we were nestled in our beds for a second time, falling asleep again was easy for both of us, him from a full tummy and me from new kitty-mommy anxiety and pure exhaustion.
The kitten posed another dilemma for me. I didn’t know what I was to do with him when I returned to work the following Monday. I called around but couldn’t find anyone who wanted to take on the responsibilities that he required in an eight-hour workday, let alone for the next month or two of workdays; so I had no choice but to call my boss. Thankfully she didn’t have a problem with my “newborn” coming to work with me and even suggested that he could stay in the conference room while I worked.
When Monday morning arrived, I awoke earlier than usual to get both of us ready on time. I packed my lunch and a makeshift diaper bag with his feeding and toileting apparatus. Since it was early fall and the mornings were becoming chilly, I wrapped him warmly in one of my daughter’s a doll blankets. Then I hollered over my shoulder last minute after school instructions to my children and walked out the door with my cumbersome load.
It was awkward carrying so much stuff the three long country blocks to the bus stop. I wished I still had a baby stroller but that would have been bothersome to the other commuters on the bus. “Oh well” I sighed as I thought about doing this for the next three weeks, “we’ll live through this.”
Once at the bus stop I set my load down and reached into my purse for my bus pass, but my fingers found something wet instead. The kitten milk that I had packaged and fit into my purse so nicely had spilled. I panicked; he couldn’t go without his milk for the whole day and kitten milk wasn’t readily available at the corner store, so I had no other choice but to trudge all the way home again and make some more.
In a sweaty, frustrated hurry I cleaned out my purse and made a new batch of milk but in a different container. Because I knew I had missed my scheduled bus, I loaded my things into my truck and drove to the nearest park and ride instead. It was a miracle that I made it to work on time.
At my office he was the main attraction. My co-workers’ watched with anticipation as he grew and thrived. It was cause for celebration both at work and at home when he opened his eyes and ears for the first time and when he took his first steps. Every day he seemed to get bigger and stronger. I looked forward to the weekends when I brought him to the vets to be weighed. Each week he gained another ounce or three. The vet was very pleased with how well he was thriving. She congratulated me on a job well done and assured me that he would survive.
My commuter kitty adjusted well to the hour and half bus ride to and from work each day and all the while he kept our fellow commuters amused with his growth and development milestones; the days and weeks seemed to blend together. But by the end of the third commuter week, he began to protest his confinement in the carrier. He was loud; and like a baby, holding him was the only way to quiet him. Due to the policies on the bus, he wasn’t to be taken out of his carrier, but to console him I would harbor him in the folds of my jacket or put my hand in his carrier for him to snuggle. In my heart I knew that it was time for him to be left at home. But since he seemed still too young I decided to wait a couple of more weeks before attempting it.
When the time came, carefully constructing his care routine around my work schedule as well as my children’s school schedule, although unsure at first if the kitten was ready to be handled by my nearly teenage children as they were really disgusted with the toileting task, they proved to be just as cautious and careful with him as I was. And I eventually spent less and less time giving them kitty care instructions over the phone. Without incident my morning commute returned to normal. For awhile my co-commuters and co-workers really missed him.
Spending most of his early life en route, he came to expect to be taken along whenever the family went out. One Saturday I took him with me while I had lunch with my sister. She doted and gushed all over him. She paraded him around her work area and showed him to all her co-workers. She even insisted on being the one to feed and toilet him; that’s just the type of Auntie she is.
During our luncheon, my sister asked if I had chosen a name for him. Embarrassed, I admitted an appropriate name for him hadn’t caught my attention yet. She said that since I’ve had the kitten I had become a different person, almost like my old self before Mark died.
The mention of Mark’s name and his death invited grief to engulf me in its grips again. As she continued a lump formed in my throat. I nuzzled the kitten for comfort and buried my face into his fur to fight the urge to cry. She said that she believed that Mark had sent him for me. Her statement shocked me; all her life she adamantly denied that there was a Faith to believe in. The thought of Mark continuing to be concerned for me made my eyes burn and swell with tears; I thought I had lost the only person who really ever cared about me.
She continued. She said that the kitty should have an angelic, guardian sort of name or something similar and then she suggested that he be called Spirit. Tears splashed down my cheeks. I cried for my angelic gift and for Mark. I could only nod in agreement that Spirit was a perfect name. A kitty that cheats death and brings hope to a grieving family must indeed be a divine Spirit.
Two summers came and went. All the while, Spirit hurtled many milestones and obstacles along the way and literally grew in leaps and bounds. The vet predicted he would eventually weigh fifteen pounds, but he fooled them! Full grown, he weighed a little over twenty pounds! I always wondered just what was in that kitty formula anyway. As you can imagine, although still sure of the possibility, he no longer fits in the palm of my hand nor can I drape him over one arm. And just as one has to be mindful of the proper lifting techniques when picking up a bag of cement one must be just as mindful when picking him up or they’d throw their back out!
While he grew his body matured faster than his head did. For a while I worried about my disproportionate, pin-headed kitty; but rest assured he eventually grew into himself. Thankfully some of his other kitty development skills also came to him instinctively as well; one of which was learning how to use a litter box and the other, while trying to keep up with my feet as I scooted backwards, was learning to walk. The stronger and more sure-footed he became, the faster I had to scoot backwards; it wasn’t long before he was chasing after me.
And the stronger and larger he became, the lazier he became when he walked. Lacking the social graces of a cat, making him an unlikely candidate as a cat burglar, when walking, instead of a quiet, stealthy, cat like pitter-patter, all his weight seemed to gravitate into each and every step he took. The house wouldn’t even have to be quiet to hear an extra set of footsteps trotting along side mine.
But overall, he seemed to develop normally, with the exception of his character; more dog like than cat. For instance, rather than cat toys, he found it more entertaining to play with or to chew on things found lying around the house. His chew toys of choice: shoes, my slippers, and soft CD case covers. Priceless treasures too precious to chew up were hidden, hair bands, candy, paper, and many other things that we thought we had lost. His favorite hiding spot was underneath my son’s bed. We always got a good laugh from what we’d find there, especially when most of his loot consisted of my cough drops.
I’ll never forget how hard I laughed the first time I caught him in the act of stealing them. Somehow he had opened my toiletries drawer, climbed in, and at the moment he was about to succeed at fishing out a cough drop from a bag was the moment when I walked into the room and startled him; he ended up spilling the wrapped drops and getting the bag stuck over his head instead.
And also like a dog, Spirit could keep time with my shadow anywhere and everywhere I went and would dutifully keep his post at my feet if I happened to sit. And when he wasn’t following me, he could be expected to be hiding somewhere waiting to ambush me at the moment that I walked past him. Although I knew he was going to fly out of nowhere and tackle my ankles from behind, he still scared me half to death every time he did it. I’m sure my dramatic reactions to these surprise attacks were what encouraged him to keep up the little game he had created.
Of course, unlike a dog, Spirit couldn’t bark, but like a dog he could be very vocal. He greeted us when we arrived home, complained and whined if we shut him out of a room we were in, namely the bathroom, whined when he was hungry or when he wanted a bite of what we were eating, and when he wanted to be taken along if we left to go somewhere. He was even worse in the mornings. If we didn’t get up right away when our alarms went off, he’d bump, scratch, and rattle the door nearly off of its hinges until we opened it to assure him that we were up. But even worse than that, he absolutely flipped if I happened to yell or cry.
Also like a dog, he assumed an unassigned position of guard duty every night as the family slept. Rather than sleeping on the comfy sofa in the living room, he’d sleep on the hard floor in the hallway between our bedrooms instead. With his head resting on his outstretched paws, lying a bit on his side, ears at attention, dozing lightly, we could count on him to always be at the ready to meow incessantly and break down our doors with any unfamiliar noise, even leaves and thunderstorms.
And once on guard duty, like an unmovable marble statue, he wouldn’t budge not even if we accidentally stumbled over him to get to the bathroom. He was even more vigilant whenever we happened to be ill, especially whenever my son and I had bouts of asthmatic coughing. He’d keep everyone awake at night with his worrisome yowling, bumping, scratching and rattling of the doors. We had no choice but to leave our doors open so he could check on us.
Instinctively, he also seemed to know when I felt sad or lonely or missed Mark the most. As if on cue, he’d stand up on his hind legs, lean on me with one paw, reach out to me with the other and meow as if to say, “I’m here.” And when I picked him up, he’d wrap his giant gentle paws around my neck and let me hug and hold him as tightly as I needed to.
And as always whenever I felt the need to cry he would allow me to bury my face into his soft furry neck until the storm had passed by. All the while he’d purr loudly and consolingly into my ear, unconcerned about how wet my tears made him or how constricted my hugs were. Words can never describe the love I have for this kitty; he is one in a million and irreplaceable.
Spirit’s third summer, Mark’s birthday to be exact, began one cool evening with Spirit escaping out the front door. Always hoping for an out through the incoming traffic, his efforts finally paid off and he was free from the confines of the inside! I panicked and chased after him, but he was gone, faster than any free bird could fly. Every hour on the hour I called for him, but he didn’t come home. I went to bed that night and didn’t sleep a wink, ever vigilant for his meowing or scratching on the door, but none came. In the morning I searched and called for him again, but he still didn’t come.
Hurrying my daughter to leave for her school bus, we were interrupted by a commotion towards the front of the house. It was a couple of my daughter’s school friends running up our front steps. They rang our doorbell frantically. I came to the door to see what the matter was. Both girls were breathless and had fearful looks on their faces. In between breaths they begged for me to come to the school bus stop and muttered something about finding Spirit and took off down the street.
Panic-stricken and with dread in my heart I ran after them. Although I was running fast it felt as though I was running in slow motion. Fearing the worse, I felt a sense of déjà vu as we reached the bus stop. Spirit was lying on the sidewalk, motionless. For a brief moment I didn’t see Spirit, I saw Mark lying there in his place. Oblivious to the stares from the children on the school bus and our neighbors, I collapsed into a weeping heap at Spirit’s side.
A blanket was offered to me; I gathered him within its folds, just like I did three years before, and held him closely as I gingerly carried him home. I placed him in the backseat of my truck and went inside to tell my daughter. She could tell from the familiar look on my face that something was terribly wrong. “What?” She asked with desperation, “What’s wrong mommy?”
With her friends looking on, I took her in my arms and cried and in between tears I told her as gently as I could that Spirit had died. Just as shocked, she screamed “NO!” and then burst into tears. Holding onto each other as if life depended on it we cried for awhile more. In silence, my eyes stinging, red and swollen, I drove her friends to school.
All the while my daughter held Spirit in her lap; her tears rained gently down onto his silky fur. I excused her from school for the day and together we took Spirit to the nearest animal hospital. Grief stricken, we surrendered him to the staff, but I just couldn’t “discard” him. The staff told us about a man that lived in the community that cremated pets and made special pine boxes to hold their ashes in. I agreed that that would be just what we wanted.
Within a week Spirit was given back to us in his own special box. And ever since that day, he rests on my dresser next to my bed to and next to Mark’s photo. My daughter printed a picture of Spirit from our computer and also placed it beside Daddy’s.
We were each other’s guardian angels. Brought together in our most desperate hours, we saved each other from uncertain fates. He kept me from wallowing in depression and I gave him life-sustaining care and selflessly we gave each other unconditional love. But above all, what I cherished most about Spirit was his companionship. No matter how brief our time was together, I will always be thankful for my heaven-sent gift.
Elise Crawford is the widow of the heroic Seattle Metro Transit driver tragically shot and killed in the line of duty on the Aurora Bridge the day after Thanksgiving, 1998. A native of Washington, she currently resides in Lynnwood, Washington. A Promise Kept © is her first book. Spiritual Intervention was her first short story prior to the writing of the book.
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