"We'll do a little funeral," my wife, Anne announced, once her tears had dried.
"Oh, please," I said. "Maybe we should ask the neighbours if Snowball and Prince Diesel can serve as pall bearers. He was a cat, for God's sake."
"My, aren't we aggressive when we grieve," Anne shot back. "I just meant a modest ceremony, so we can wish him a good voyage, wherever it is that cats go. It would be good for the girls."
A stray who became part of the family
It was good for the girls. And for me, too. Soccer was the family cat. But I was the one who brought him in as a stray 12 years earlier. I cleaned his bowl, called him in at night and pulled him off squirrels. And I was the last thing Soccer saw on this earth with his big, sad, sick eyes as a thick anesthetic fog rolled through his veins until his heart surrendered its last beat.
He was hard to look at then. His eyes were still open, but unmoving, like marbles or taxidermy glass, so I lightly pressed the lids down over them, just as they do in the movies.
Making it special
The day after Soccer died, our daughters started their preparations. Ruby and Lucy, who were six and three at the time, loved Anne's idea of a funeral. They got out their paints and made little pictures in memory of their beloved pet. They wrote an epitaph. They worked all morning. We looked through our photo albums at pictures of Soccer. Then I took the garden spade, and we marched up the hill into the woods across the street from our house. There, over the hole I dug, we each said our words of memory, of love, for Soccer.
"I remember when you bit me, Soccer, but no hard feelings," said Ruby. Anne recalled his faithful companionship on our walks. I just said, "Goodbye, old friend." And Lucy added, "I'll always be your mom." Then Anne read Cynthia Rylant's book Cat Heaven, and we all cried when she came to the part about the cats looking down from the sky on the people who loved them going about their lives.
So today, about 20 yards up the escarpment in Hamilton in among the brush and trees that fringe the Bruce trail, there's a football-size stone in the ground with a flat face, from which the dirt has been swept back so the epitaph can be read. It says, simply, "Our cat Soccer. We love you, puss."
A hand-painted cross
Buried under the stone are strands of Soccer's fur. We culled them from the cushion of the couch where he slept. There was a cross just beyond the stone, fashioned crudely out of two splintery planks nailed together. Soccer's moms painted hearts and flowers on it.
We still visit the site. The cross is now gone, but the stone remains, though the epitaph, painted on in acrylic, is fading. The epitaph is not the only thing that will fade with time. But still, Soccer's moms include him in the family roster. When Lucy rhymes off the names she does so thus: "There's mom and dad, Ruby and Lucy, and Eddie (our other cat), oh, and Soccer -- he's dead."