Ralphie died last night. We knew he was going: metastatic cancer. Though, in the end, he was a skeleton dressed in skin clothes, during the day he had eaten a couple mounds of whipped cream I had sprayed from a can. I didn't realize it then, but that was to be his last meal. Now he lies buried alongside all my other feline friends: behind the house in the cat cemetery. I loved Ralphie, a shelter cat who had a penchant for wrapping his front legs around my neck in a big hug.
A few days ago he had lost his appetite for any other food, despite my offering him the most delectable treats I could find. Yesterday we discussed putting him to sleep, but when my husband, who is a veterinarian, went to do it, Ralphie purred and rubbed his head against Edgar's arm--his sign that he wanted to be with us a while longer.
Last night when I went into the garden room where Ralphie rested on a dog bed, I covered him with a blanket, tucked him in for the night, and whispered private things in his ear. His ears were cold, and one front claw was stuck in the material of the bed. I freed his paw, and he looked at me with appreciation. Then, I did something that people who know me wouldn't believe. I baptized him. I lay my hand on his head and said, as our minister told us in confirmation class many, many years ago, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." And I put the finishing touches on it with a soft, "Amen."
Doing such a thing is completely uncharacteristic of me because I'm not a religious person. I was raised Lutheran but do not practice any religion. I make no apology for that. People can fault me if they want, but I'm just not sure there's a God or Goddess out there. I'm not sure. In fact, when I look at the state of mankind and what we've made of this world, more in me tells me that the likelihood of a supreme, caring essence is highly unlikely.
Ya know how as a person grows up, certain things and messages stick with her that last throughout her lifetime. Well, when I went through confirmation class at the age of 14, the minister told us that if we were ever in the presence of someone dying, we should baptize him--just as I had Ralphie. He said we didn't need water or anything fancy. Laying one's hand atop the dying person's head was enough. And he told this class of awestricken teens that doing that would guarantee the person's place in heaven. That instruction stayed with me to this day--maybe I was struck by the fact that heaven could so easily be attained by doing a simple ritual. I don't know. But with Ralphie, a cat who never did anything bad, who was not over-bearing and generous with his bear hugs, I wasn't taking any chances. If there was a God or Goddess, then Ralphie was going to heaven, if there was such a place--provided that minister was telling us the truth, and I wouldn't suppose a minister would lie to a bunch of kids. And if my ideas that a God or Goddess maybe didn't exist were correct, well, then Ralphie and I didn't lose anything anyway. But I wasn't taking any chances with Ralphie's possible soul.
After my husband and I buried Ralphie, I came inside and sat down with my coffee, my eyes still thick with tears. How many people are crazy enough to baptize their animals? For sure, I couldn't be the only nut sending their animals to a possible heaven, but I'd bet most people didn't know or think to do it. And, to be sure, I didn't even know the Bible's position on this procedure--as far as it relates to animals. Are baptized animals afforded heaven as are people? Not being a Bible aficionado, I had no idea.
Still, I wasn't taking any chances. Ralphie was baptized--by a heathen--if he wanted it or not. I hoped Goddess wouldn't hold that against him.
Then, suddenly, I laughed out loud. I could only imagine that heaven--so overloaded with people souls. I envisioned a Goddess upon her golden throne who gazed upon all these people souls lazing back in recliners--dotted here and there amongst the clouds--and eating potato chips, ice cream, and donuts; others were playing frisbee; some were playing harps and guitars, others were smelling flowers and skipping from cloud to cloud. They were, after all, in heaven and enjoying fun things.
And, then, Goddess glanced around the crowd of human souls and cast a quizzical gaze. Something was amiss--in heaven! Suddenly other beings appeared before her. There frolicked all my pets. And elsewhere lay other animals that other earthbound nuts had baptized, too. Goddess was probably wondering who on Earth was bending the baptism rules to include animals. My Cornish cat Wendy began chewing on her sandals, and Ricky was using one leg of her throne as a scratching post. Suddenly I saw Nicky, my first horse, looking over her shoulder as my Gramma Eckensberger stood beside him brushing his mane. All my animals were there, everyone of which I had baptized right before they died. Some were chasing each other, happy expressions on their faces. The cats darted behind Goddess's throne and lapped milk from a golden dish that never emptied; the Irish Wolfhounds bounded after a couple of little kid souls. My other horses, Merry, Shadowfax, and Lillie, were grazing in a ray of sun. There were no saddles or bridles in heaven. I smiled: they were all there under the gaze of Goddess--thanks to my attentiveness during confirmation class.
Suddenly I saw Ralphie at the base of her throne. He wasn't skinny anymore, and with renewed strength he began crawling up one throne leg. Goddess held out her arms, and he climbed aboard, working his way to her shoulders. Then Ralphie tucked his head under her chin and wrapped his arms around her in his characteristic bear hug. And Goddess smiled.