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Raven (yes, really), a pagan, homeschooling mother of two -- one teen, one tot -- shares her adventures in parenting from a pagan perspective. Watch her juggle work, education, parenting, cooking, gardening, and . . . how many balls are in the air now? Sometimes they fall, and sometimes she learns from her mistakes. You can, too.

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Lessons of Life and Death

We don't shy away from talk of death in my house.  With five cats, some of them sneaks who get out the front door before we can catch them, we see enough death on a regular basis in the form of rodent and bird carcasses laid out for us.

Some parents would tell their little ones the dead mouse is sleeping, but I believe in being honest and direct with my children.  Death is a part of life, and it happens all around us.  Living in a forest near a busy road we see the cycles of life as a tangible constant: sex, birth, growth, decline, decay, and renewal.  They're in the plants and animals who share our space as our neighbors and family.

A few weeks ago, one of our cats brought us a living field mouse and left it on the doorstep.  The two youngest kitties kept leaving and coming back to torment it without killing it outright.  I put on some gloves, picked up the tiny creature, and told my daughter to bring in the naughty "kittens" (they're three and five respectively, but far younger than the others).

After examining the mouse for obvious wounds, I took it out to our backyard, slowly stroking its head and whispering to it my intentions.

Since it was alive and apparently whole, I found a safe patch of overgrowth at the edge of our property where it might hide for a while before heading back to its home.  My hand felt warm around the little body, as its paws clung to my finger.  I tried to set it down in the pile of branches, but it held on to me.  Maybe the cats had sprayed the area and it didn't feel safe, maybe the terrain was unfamiliar, so I found a different spot.

Again, the mouse clung to my finger.  I picked it up with my other hand, and tried to set it down, but it climbed right back into my hand and wouldn't let go.

I was torn. I couldn't care for it; it was a wild thing, and prey at that.  I stood for a long time comforting it, before deciding to use it as a teachable moment.  The children put on gloves as well, and I showed my toddler how to stroke it gently with one finger.  I pointed out its anatomy, and then we said good bye and wished it well.

This time I was firm.  I wouldn't let it back in my hand.  I set it down among the periwinkle and yellow archangel I've been trying to tear out.  I told it to go home when it felt safe enough to do so, and made certain the children didn't let out the cats, whether deliberately or accidentally.

The next day, a similar, even smaller mouse was dead on the porch.  I checked to assure myself that it wasn't the same mouse, but when my son saw it, he stopped and stared both in confusion and looming horror.

I told him this one had died, and put on some gloves to remove it from the porch to beneath the holly bush.  He didn't ask questions, not yet.  He's still young, but I could see him processing everything.

Gwyn and Ari and SqueekHaving a body makes death palpable, almost understandable, but now I'm at a loss at how to explain the death of our oldest cat.  At 19 years old, Gwydion (on the left in the photo) and his sister Arianrhod (the center cat) haven't been doing well.  Gwyn was dubbed "The Noble Meatloaf" by my daughter many years ago.  He's the largest of all the cats from his line, both in bone structure and girth, but over the last year, he's lost a good deal of weight causing his marbled brown and black coat to hang on his bones.  His steps have been slow and unsure, walking stairs uncomfortable.

Over the last two weeks, he'd grown even more demanding of our attention, willing to allow my son to lay his head on him, always sleeping in whatever room we congregated.  He'd also started pottying where he ought not.  We all knew the time was nearing for him to pass the veil, but we expected to be with him when it happened.

Instead, two nights ago, he disappeared.  No one remembers letting him out.  We've checked every nook and cranny of the house, garage, and the yards of our neighbors.  It's likely he snuck out when we weren't minding the door well enough that evening, possibly just to find a more comfortable bathroom than a litter box.  But with coyotes, a bobcat mother and kit, and a host of unrestrained neighborhood dogs, going outside is always a risk for our cats. We don't let them out at night here, but he got out somehow anyway.

Though my partner, daughter, and I recognize that he's quite likely gone from this world, his absence has yet to register with my toddler, and I'm finding it more difficult to explain this death.  There isn't a body.  We didn't stroke his fur to say good bye as we did with Gwyn's mother six years ago.

My daughter says this death reminds of her the death of her grandmother. She didn't get to see her body either; we couldn't afford plane tickets for both of us, so only I went to Germany. This was her cat, and she feels numb in much the same way. It took her weeks to be able to feel anything again after her Nana's passing.  This was her cat, and I worry for both my children and how they will process this death.

As the only cat who tolerated my son's petting and hugs, it's going to be a struggle for him once he starts to miss him.  All the other cats are in mourning.  Quiet and wanting to be close to us.  Gwyn was their alpha and their glue. 

Tonight, after pumpkin soup and bread, after trick-or-treating and apple carving, we're going to light the candles and help send Gwyn on his next journey.

Death is a part of every life, but when you're little and someone you love disappears, how do you find closure?

Though I do not know how this will proceed, I go forth with soft footsteps and gentle intent.  I wish for the guidance necessary to teach this vital lesson to one so young: how to say good bye.  

Blessed Samhain. May this harvest be bountiful and it see you safely through the winter.  May the spirits be of aid and all our hearts healed.  Blessed be.

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Raven lives in a forest with her two homeschooled children, partner, and several demanding cats. She enjoys performing, cooks a mean burger, and is obsessed with farming, but has yet to adopt a goat. Her publications are listed at


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