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A 'Little' Death

By John Mallon
©2005 By John Mallon
Catholic Online

"A man's suffering is similar to the behavior of gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the 'size' of human suffering is absolutely relative." (Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning, page 64)

I hate death.

I hate everything about it.

I hate grief.

I am convinced that depression and grief are not mere moods but altered states. With depression you can at least hope and pray to get back to normal. With grief normal is shattered and there won't be a new normal until you go through the grieving process. You are, until then, stuck in no man's land.

What got me on this topic?

Well, I recently fell in love. I didn't expect to. In early October my neighbor found a tiny infant kitten on her back patio, barely two weeks old. Her mother had apparently abandoned her. I took in this little baby and began to care for her. I fed her with a bottle and taught her to go to the bathroom by rubbing her butt with a paper towel or kleenex. During this fussy ritual she learned to cooperate, spread her little legs and look at me with the sweetest trust. Then I would play with her. I would lay down on the bed as she crawled around on my chest. Her little determined face was both funny and adorable.

She would walk boldly right up my chest and put her paws on my chin, pull herself up and give me a kiss right on the mouth. Then she would crawl under my neck and burrow her little face down between me and the pillow and go to sleep, while I prayed the rosary. Sometimes she would crawl up and put her tiny face in my ear purring like a little motor and go to sleep.

Yes, I fell in love.

I beamed with pride like the corniest new parent as each day she learned something new, like eating solid food from a saucer (after walking through it), and when I first saw her use the little litter tray I gave her--all by herself.

This tiny helpless creature crawled under my radar and under the barbed wire that surrounds my heart and made a home there. I haven't loved anyone or anything like that in years, more than I can remember.

Then one night she didn't quite look right; she was sleeping more than usual, and I felt something was wrong. I primed her to pee and it was a deep orange, almost reddish and I thought it might be blood. I asked the vet the next day, and he didn't seem too concerned, and she ate after that. The next day, All Saints Day, she wouldn't eat so I let her sleep, and a little later I was alarmed by her appearance and rushed her to the vet.

While they worked on her she died.

When the young woman vet came out to tell me and said the words I felt like someone placed a cattle prod against my head and gave it two quick jolts. They took me back to see her. Her little pink nose was now gray. I picked her up and kissed her and told her I loved her and as the tears began, I turned and left quickly until I broke down in my car, drove home fell on my bed and sobbed. I have cried more tears for that funny little cat than I have for anything in a long time.

Sometimes the little things are the big things.

Something tiny, helpless and innocent who brought big love into my world has gone out of it. I guess if that's not tearworthy nothing is. The poignancy seems to lie in her littleness. Elijah looked for God in the earthquake, but God wasn't in the earthquake but in the still small voice.

Babies, be they human or animal, teach us about the tenderness of God, something to which we don't pay enough attention. All babies, animal or human, overwhelm us with their cuteness because they need so much love and care; they evoke it from us, draw it out of us. Our instincts to love and protect kick in.

The death of a kitten is not a tragedy, but the fact of death is. God did not make death, the Book of Wisdom tells us. He notes the fall of every sparrow, and keeps all my tears in a flask, so perhaps He wept for my little one too. There are a lot of people I want to see when I arrive in Heaven (please God), but right now I look forward being welcomed by my little friend scampering up and planting one of her furry little kisses on me before reclaiming her spot between my collar and my neck for a nap.


John Mallon is Contributing Editor of Inside the Vatican magazine. He can be reached at


John Mallon OK, US
John Mallon - Columnist, 661 869-1000



death of a pet, God, grief

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