“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”~ Kahlil Gibran
This week, my husband and I had our two 15.5-year-old kitty brothers, Bandit and Desmond, euthanized. Both boys were lively, vibrant, and were more like children to us than merely animal companions. They had both quickly and unexpectedly become incurably ill and severely limited physically, and though we weren’t ready to say goodbye, we also knew that doing what we were to keep them alive was a selfish act rather than a loving one. We had a few wonderful days giving them extra love, pets, grooming, and favorite treats including tuna, chicken liver, and ice cream. Our vet came to our home which we had decorated as a sacred space — fire burning in the fireplace, an altar table adorned with bright flowers, angel sculptures, stone hearts, wooden kitty totems, and cards for each kitty made by our four-year-old daughter. Desmond and Bandit lay on our laps as we spoke lovingly to them and gently caressed their ailing bodies. Our vet gave them each Rescue Remedy and a sedative so they were sleeping when she did the final injection to stop their hearts. We held their bodies and cried tears of deep sorrow for the physical loss of these beloved kin. The next afternoon, our friend and celebrant, Barbara, came to do a burial ceremony with us. We buried the bodies of Bandit and Desmond and then interred the ashes of our other kitty family members, Chocolate, Attabi, and Kaali who had died during the five years prior. We are still in deep grief and missing Desmond and Bandit terribly, yet we feel grateful that we were able to co-create such a loving and honoring end for these boys who had so generously gifted us throughout their entire lives.
I share this story because it reminds me of the opportunity we parents have to be stewards. Peter Block defines stewardship as “holding something in trust for another.” To me, this relates to the Gibran quote above and also my experience living with animal family members. We are guardians, care-takers, shepherds, not primarily for our own personal gain but because we have been entrusted with these lives, be they human or animal. Our place is temporary, our reach limited, our influence partial.
With our offspring, however, we often seem to take ownership, lauding our children’s achievements and lamenting their “short-comings,” seeing them as extensions of ourselves, someone to mold rather than a precious gift to hold. Gibran goes on to write that our children’s “souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,” and that we must “seek not to make them like you, for life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.” Seen from this vantage, we might view our children as belonging to the world at large, whose future they will shape. Or we could consider that our children belong to the children they might one day call their daughters and sons. For this moment, as their mom or dad, we are nurturing them and helping them grow, but we will not live to see the full unfolding of their life. Their lives intersect ours, but have their own trajectory and length.
I will likely not (and hopefully not) be able to usher my daughter’s soul back to the spirit world when she dies as I had the honor to do with Desmond and Bandit. In fact, she will likely be alive for years long after I’ve left my physical place in her life. So rather than trying to prevent her leaving by holding her tightly, I will endeavor to be a steward of her life, offering shelter and sustenance, nurturing her preciousness with as much strength and grace as possible.
“You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.”~ Kahlil Gibran