On Tuesday, March 10th at 11:30 PM, God called my little buddy Cotton home. He was 20 years old, and graced our lives for 16 of them.
He adopted us in 1993. A beautiful pure white cat, Cotton unexpectedly walked into our hearts, forever changing our family for the better.
Unlike the other stray cats in the neighborhood, Cotton's trusting and placid personality had him laying belly-up on our deck, snuggling into our laps, and running to us from across the neighborhood when we called him. It was his ears that would bring him home, time and time again.
But his ears were sunburned, a common ailment for a white cat who loved the sunshine but had no protective pigment against it. My Aunt Tess loved him immediately when she met him, and she generously took him to the vet to have his ears cleaned. But the recurring sunburn didn't seem to stop Cotton from loving the outdoors.
We spent the latter half of the summer this way, enjoying his company and taking care of him, yet giving him true freedom to roam outside and come back to us. When we would feed him, he was so thankful for it that the combination of his ferocious eating and heavy purring would cause a delightful squeaking sound. I would treasure this sound whenever he ate for the rest of his life!
As Autumn set in and the weather grew chilly, it was time to decide if we would accept Cotton's offer to enrich our lives -- and accept him permanently into our home. The decision to keep him was obvious and easy to make, but--as we excitedly awaited his arrival that afternoon to tell him the good news--he never came home.
Nightfall came. Morning passed. So did the next nightfall. Where had our most loyal companion gone?
With the passage of time, so too came the answer. A neighbor from down the street finally admitted to us that she had thrown Cotton into a box and dumped him off in the middle of a field somewhere. She didn't want her young daughters watching him suffer through the upcoming winter, she explained. And she didn't like his ears, either. She wanted him gone.
She lightly apologized, saying she didn't realize that we wanted him. But she wouldn't disclose the location she dropped him off at, most likely because she couldn't remember. In fact, it took us two separate visits to her house to finally get a general location of the field from her.
With that, we were immediately plastering the area with "Lost Cat" signs, offering a reward if found. All the local pet shelters were notified of our desperate search, and there was even a morning where my mother let me go late into school, for we had received a phone call which we thought might be a positive lead. I will never forget that morning. We were driving through fields, forests, and towns, our eyes scanning the terrain eagerly for his little white profile, our lips calling out his name and hoping it would reach his sunburned ears.
The whole month of October passed without him. In desperation, I remember clutching my Rosary during study hall, praying decade after decade that a miracle might be granted unto us and he might come back into our lives. If Cotton was too far away to hear us with his sunburned ears, would God at least hear my prayer?
Through Mary's intercession, God most certainly heard me. We received a phone call from an animal shelter who had been notified by a family that a pure white cat with sunburned ears had wandered into their community and appeared to be lost. And so we raced to the next county over, quite certain that he fit the description, but astounded that he had traveled so far from the location our neighbor supposedly dropped him off at. When we arrived, we were amazed by how much their home looked like ours. Although he was a whole county away from us, Cotton was obviously doing his best to find us! He had found a neighborhood that looked much like ours!
And so it was that his ears that had brought him home to us yet again. In the beginning, it was his ears who would bring him to us when we called for him in the backyard, and now it was his distinctive ears again that had identified this lost cat and had brought him home to us once again.
But these special sunburned ears of Cotton's--which had, in effect, saved his life by bringing him home to us again and again--would also be the very way in which he would hear the call to home when God finally summoned him.
You see, two decades of beautiful summers spent outside in the glorious sunshine had not only given Cotton warmth and pleasure, they had given him ear cancer as well. And while one of his ears was successfully removed surgically a few years ago (causing a delightful upturn in his overall health and emotions), the second ear's removal this past Monday (which we had been avoiding but which his body was desperately crying out for) would mark the beginning of the end of his legacy.
The very ears which had saved his life before would now finally take his life from him. And it was God calling him home this time, and who were we to prevent that? And so Cotton breathed his last breath this week--not alone but in the company of my loving parents who were always, always, always there for him with whatever it was that he needed.
His soft little white body is now buried in our backyard, but the memories of him are buried deeply within our hearts. Cotton was a gift from Heaven that had been merely lent to us awhile. He lived a beautiful life, and I am so grateful to have had him in mine! We will love you always, Cotton! You are forever in our hearts!