Teresa Hill and her cats Inky and Khleo...
At the end of my kids’ second and fifth-grade years, we met a new family whose kids would be attending our kids’ school. The mom, Laura’s, son was a year younger than mine, her daughter a year younger than my daughter.
Over the years, the kids ended up on the same swim team, soccer team, basketball team, too. We carpooled to all and became quite close.
But within weeks of us meeting, Laura, found out the breast cancer she thought she’d defeated two years ago had returned, now in her lungs. It was bad, really bad, and her kids were still so young.
She fought bravely through tons of chemo and a lot of pain.
Three years later, school had just started again, her kids in fifth and eighth grades, and she was feeling great. Her stem cell transplant had been declared a success. Her hair was coming back in, her coloring good. She’d even regained a bit of weight.
One beautiful fall day, as I dropped the kids off after school, we found her working in her yard. She was so happy, said she’d been there all day, so pleased to have the energy for the work.
That evening, as I turned into the neighborhood to drop the girls off from soccer practice, there was an ambulance leaving, sirens screaming
When we got to their house, we found out Laura had been in that ambulance with no pulse, no respiration. She’d collapsed in the front yard. I had her daughter in my van.
It didn’t make any sense. You don’t literally drop dead from cancer. All the doctors could say was that she’d had a lot of high-dose chemo, and it could be really hard on people’s hearts.
She lingered in a coma for a few days, but never regained consciousness. There was no chance for goodbyes to anyone.
Two other things happened that week that some people might say were coincidences, but I really don’t believe in coincidences. I believe things happen for a reason. I have faith that things work out as they’re supposed to.
One, a stray cat showed up at our house, and from the look of her, we were certain she was pregnant. We had two dogs and never planned on adding cats to the mix.
But the cat was going to be a mother, and I knew two kids who were in the middle of losing their mother. Life was crazy, scary and stressful. I took the path of least resistance and fed the cat, and I know what people say happens when you fed a stray cat. It becomes yours.
The second thing was that I was finishing a book, due in eight days. And I’m not saying a deadline was important in that moment. It’s just that the book happened to be about four adult children trying to come to terms with the death of their mother from cancer. The mom dies in the first chapter.
No way I see that as a coincidence.
I remember saying, “Really, God? I’m supposed to find something to say in this book to help make sense of the loss of these kids’ mother? Because I don’t have anything to say that makes sense about this.”
There was a third thing that happened, so unexpected and so bad, that if I put it in a story, people would swear I was being melodramatic. A week or two later -- I honestly don’t remember exactly when, it was such a horrible time – a little girl, in fifth or sixth grade, on our girls’ soccer team died. A bicycle accident.
So these poor, traumatized girls who’d just watched one of their teammates lose her mother, now had to deal with one of their teammates dying, and a mother had to deal with the loss of her child.
Like I said, crazy-bad, scary times.
What do you do? You go on. There’s really no other choice.
The dad and I carpooled for years to come, until my son started driving and he took over some carpool duties.
It’s really hard to be sad all the time when you have kittens. Milano produced five in my son’s closet one day when we’d been at a basketball game.
They were adorable and so sweet, so funny, a real blessing.
We still have two of her kittens, Inky and Khleo, our Angel Cats.
The book I was writing at the time was Someone to Watch Over Me, and the message I realized it already included was to not be afraid of letting yourself love, even if you had already lost someone you loved.
There were no cats in the book, but it does feature one of our dogs.
Dogs are little angels, too, I believe.