Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Some Things Toby Has Taught Me

Some Things Toby Has Taught Me

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 26, 2013

I’ve known for about a week now that my Toby – my beloved little white cat with the amazing blue eyes – was going to die soon. As I write this, he is still here, lying on my desk next to the computer, calmly and patiently waiting. Me, I alternate between weepy, grieving wreck and all-wrung-out-of-tears grieving wreck. In some ways this is harder for me than losing my parents was.

Each night I have hoped – and lately prayed – that Toby would die during the night, with me there to stroke his shoulder and speak softly to him, calling him by all the silly and loving names I have for him, as if that might ease his passing. But he hangs on, and on, and every time through the nights when I reach to check on the rising and falling of his ever more emaciated ribs, he breathes. He does not seem to be in any pain; he stretches alongside me rather than hunching in the pose that has betrayed pain in the past, so I think he is resting easy. He purred as recently as Tuesday; when I lay my arm along his body he tucks his head into my hand in his old familiar caress. It seems that life is a hard thing to let go of.

I can’t stay home with him during the day, so each morning I hold him and say goodbye. At 5:00 when I walk from the bus stop toward my door, I don’t know whether to dread a stillness that means I’ll have to find him in whatever hiding place he chooses at the end, or to be grateful for another few hours to hold him in my arms, knowing that I face another sleepless night, and probably another goodbye in the morning.

Toby is special. I’ve had pets all my life – loved them and cared for them and lost them and mourned for them – but Toby is special. We have been together for nine years, and hours of loving time with him has been a feature of virtually every day. I work at my computer many hours every day, and for all these nine years, he has spent most of those hours with me. In the summer he lounges on the desk, usually in the space to my right kept bare for him, but sometimes in the circle made by my arms as I type. When it is cool enough – and sometimes when it is not – I have had to wear a big shirt or a sweater so that Toby could curl up inside, content to hang out in his pouch and purr next to my heart, while I went on typing endless hours. Long stretches of the past nine years have been very difficult for me, emotionally and physically, and it’s no exaggeration to give Toby the credit for pulling me through them with his constant presence and quietness and affection. I love him.

Toby has taught me things that I have been slow to learn, things that perhaps people with families learn much earlier and easier:

First, he has taught me responsibility for another life. Oh, I’ve always provided the food and other things my pets have needed for life, but Toby is different. From the time he was a tiny kitten, from his first foray away from his mother’s nest under my bed, he has wanted to be near me. He has been more dependant – in a good, affectionate way, not a clingy, needy way – than any other cat I’ve known. Because I accepted responsibility for caring for him, that has meant I’ve had to plan for him, give him the affection he craves, not to leave him alone too long. Parents learn that kind of devotion to their children, I think. And I’m not saying that a cat is the equivalent of a child in any way, only that this is the only opportunity I’ve had to develop that duty toward another being. It doesn’t come from occasional hours of babysitting someone else’s kids. It comes only with constant, ongoing responsibility for another life. If I didn’t come home at night, Toby would notice, Toby would care, Toby would go without. For someone who wonders how long she might lie dead before anyone notices that she’s isn’t around, this is a big deal. I had to become someone Toby could count on. He taught me that.

Second, Toby has given me reason to learn to be calm and still. He has always liked routines, and quietness. When I am agitated, he is, too – he tears around the apartment, and claws the furniture and knocks things off the desk. If I scold him for that, he added biting to his crimes. The only way to calm him is to calm myself, to be still, to be quiet, to speak softly, to move smoothly. Then Toby relaxes and is calm, too. I’ve lived alone all my adult life, and worked alone for much of it, so had always felt free to vent my emotions loudly and physically and privately. Toby taught me that “blowing off steam” generally doesn’t relieve the pressure but only feeds it, and that deep breaths and taking control of my voice and movements are the real keys to personal peace. “Normal” people who have families must, I think, learn that self-control from feedback of other people. Toby taught me that.

Third, Toby has taught me to be – or to try to be – more patient and tolerant with people. There are some places at home, like my bedroom dresser, that I have not let Toby make his own. Sometimes he jumps there anyway, and sometimes he looks directly at me before he jumps, defying me in a way that almost makes me wonder whether animals are capable of choosing between good and evil despite what the theologians say. If I holler at him, or swat him, or even gently lift him down, my normally sweet-tempered Toby has a fit. He hisses and swats back and wants to chew my hand. That temper tantrum can last for quite a while, or I can stop it immediately by letting him bite my hand once. That’s all it takes to restore his dignity. After I noticed that about Toby, I noticed that some people are much the same: When you check their words or behavior, they sometimes need to reassert their dignity. Overlooking that, letting Bloggernaclers make personal remarks without responding, letting them reassert themselves even in ways that are as pointless and unproductive as Toby’s bites, often helps the tempests pass. Maybe I should have realized that decades ago, but Toby taught me that.

Finally, I have to trust God more than I ever have before. While we don’t know much about the next life, we know that our sociality with other human beings goes on. I have lived too long barely a quarter-step away from the veil not to have sufficient reason to know that life goes on, that personality goes on, that those who have passed on continue to care for us, and even that those I have come to care about through historical research are friends who will greet me when it is my turn to go. I know this. I know it with my head and my heart and my experience.

But I don’t know the role of animals like my Toby. I know they have souls. I know that God created them, and that as much as I love Toby, God must love him more because he made him and sent Toby’s soul to this once strong and graceful, now wasted, mortal body. I believe that the Atonement covers animals, too – not that they need redemption from spiritual death, because they are incapable of sinning. But Toby’s death will come because all life in this fallen world is subject to physical death. The Atonement that conquers death for humanity, that will “renew” this planet itself, must also extend to all life that belongs to this world. I believe that Toby will live again just as I will. But I do not know what claim I might have to his companionship then. I resist making up folk doctrine simply because I want it so much to be true – but I’ve heard apostles say, in explaining the purpose of temples, that “heaven won’t be heaven if my wife and children are not with me there.” From my mortal perspective, I cannot imagine a heaven that would be heaven if the loving bond I have formed with Toby is not continued there. But I do not know that to be true. I have to trust God. Toby is teaching me that.

And so I care for Toby in his last hours, loving him, trying not to upset him with my tears or with panic in my voice, reminding myself with each caress that while this will soon be a memory, right now it is now. I am petting him now; he is looking at me with trust in those blue, blue eyes now. In a few minutes I will have to say goodbye again, not knowing whether it is the last time or whether we’ll go through this wrenching parting again tomorrow. I hope not. I pray that he will go very soon. But if he is here when I come home tonight, I will hold him, and speak softly to him, and treasure another few minutes of having him in my hug as well as in my heart. And I will trust that this is not really the end.


I wrote the above early on Thursday morning. It’s Friday afternoon, and Toby still can’t let go, although he is so weak and tired. A vet is coming to the house in a few minutes to help ease Toby through. It’s time.


 2:00.  It’s over. Toby is at rest.

Oh, Toby!



  1. My love and sympathy to you.

    Comment by Mina — July 26, 2013 @ 2:16 pm

  2. Beautiful post, Ardis. Please let us (your friends and readers) know how we can help.

    Comment by J Stuart — July 26, 2013 @ 2:17 pm

  3. Faithful Toby. Bless you both, Ardis.

    Comment by Alison — July 26, 2013 @ 2:19 pm

  4. I’m sorry, Ardis.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — July 26, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

  5. My deepest sympathies.

    Comment by Christina — July 26, 2013 @ 2:34 pm

  6. I am sorry Ardis, prayers and hugs are being sent your way. I have no idea what the doctrine is about pets but I hope to see my pet Black Cat again someday. Few things in life match the pure, unconditional love of a loyal pet.

    Comment by andrew h — July 26, 2013 @ 2:37 pm

  7. So sad. Blessings for you, Ardis.

    Thank you for writing such a moving, insightful reflection about this. It meant a lot to me to read about your experiences with Toby.

    Comment by john f. — July 26, 2013 @ 2:43 pm

  8. Thank you for sharing this, Ardis. It’s a beautiful eulogy.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 26, 2013 @ 3:15 pm

  9. I don’t have any words, but my thoughts are with you.

    Comment by anne (uk) — July 26, 2013 @ 3:15 pm

  10. Heartwrenching, Ardis, and a beautiful tribute. Thank you for writing it.

    Comment by Brad Kramer — July 26, 2013 @ 3:17 pm

  11. Ardis, thank you for sharing something so deeply personal and special with your Keepa readers. As I read your post, I was reminded of Elder Maxwell’s final address, “Remember How Merciful the Lord Hath Been.”

    We will all miss Toby and the experiences you shared.

    Comment by Brian D. — July 26, 2013 @ 3:19 pm

  12. What more to add? Thank you, Ardis, for a lovely, moving post that shows us just what a beautiful gift life is.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — July 26, 2013 @ 3:24 pm

  13. To paraphrase the words of a recently-visited gravestone: “Toby was a good cat.”

    Comment by Amy T — July 26, 2013 @ 3:31 pm

  14. So sorry for your loss, Ardis.

    Comment by Cynthia L. — July 26, 2013 @ 3:40 pm

  15. Beautifully expressed. Sincere condolences for your loss.

    Comment by lindberg — July 26, 2013 @ 3:57 pm

  16. Waiting today at the DMV with my daughter, it became a unexpectedly sacred place as I read your reflections on your sweet Toby. Blessings to you and thank you for sharing such tenderness.

    Comment by Dovie — July 26, 2013 @ 3:58 pm

  17. I’m so sorry, Ardis.

    But I’ll join with the others in thanking you for this lovely post.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 26, 2013 @ 4:14 pm

  18. After reading “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle”, and unexpectedly owning two stray cats, I’ve had to stop and wonder, “Are our pets more in control of us than we think; ever-present, non-judging, a constant influence not unlike ministering angels?”

    I think so.

    Comment by P J DLM — July 26, 2013 @ 4:20 pm

  19. So sorry for your loss. Thank you for this eloquent and thoughtful post…

    Comment by Robin V — July 26, 2013 @ 5:06 pm

  20. That was beautiful, Ardis. It sounds so trite, but I truly am sorry.

    Comment by John Hatch — July 26, 2013 @ 6:30 pm

  21. This is moving.

    Comment by Matt W. — July 26, 2013 @ 6:44 pm

  22. Oh, Ardis, I’m so sorry. Such a sweet bit of writing about a precious, irreplaceable love and what it has taught you, and us.

    Comment by Ellen — July 26, 2013 @ 6:45 pm

  23. Thank you for allowing us a peak into yours and Toby’s souls. Beautiful.

    Comment by EmJen — July 26, 2013 @ 7:23 pm

  24. You’ve sprung a leak in my heart. I may have to write about Gangway. Take care.

    Comment by Grant — July 26, 2013 @ 7:36 pm

  25. Ardis, I’m so sorry.

    Comment by Ann — July 26, 2013 @ 9:00 pm

  26. I am afraid I have no words of comfort to offer. Everything I can think of sounds trite and insufficient.

    But I do want to thank you for your words. Through them, Toby has touched my life as well.

    Comment by Mark Brown — July 26, 2013 @ 10:40 pm

  27. So very sorry for your loss, Ardis.

    Comment by Aaron B — July 27, 2013 @ 12:50 am

  28. I’m so sorry. I totally believe that the animals we loved in this life will again be with us in another. It doesn’t make sense any other way.

    Comment by RoeH — July 27, 2013 @ 6:14 am

  29. Cats are the best. And sometimes the worst. Which makes them the best somehow.

    Comment by Jeannine L. — July 27, 2013 @ 6:54 am

  30. I’m sure your words struck a chord with anyone who has ever had a special pet. Mine was a dog, a ridiculous, scruffy ghetto mutt from a filthy township in Africa. There’s no replacing a love like that. Best wishes to you.

    Comment by Tony Allen-Mills — July 27, 2013 @ 6:54 am

  31. Our faith and prayers are with you, Ardis. We’d like to share part of Barb’s ‘collection’ of articles relating to animals and heaven: 1. Animal or pet heaven? Des News, Nov. 27, 2010. 2. Do Animals have souls? by Michael W. Fox, M.D., McCall’s, December 1982 3. The Last Will and Testament of an Extremely Distinguished Dog by Eugene O’Neill, Tao House, December 17th, 1940 4.The Gospel and Animals by Gerald E. Jones, The Ensign, August, 1972 5. Animals and the Gospel by Gerald E. Jones and Scott S. Smith, chapter two – Brigham Young and Associates concerning Animals 6. Where do animals fit in the eternal plan of things? by Gerald E. Jones, The Ensign/March1977 7. When You Lose a Companion Animal: Getting Through the Grief by Katharine Brant, Speaking of Animals. We Love you, Ardis and your Toby too! . . . “Grieve not, nor speak of me with tears, but laugh and talk of me as if I were beside you . . . I loved you so – ’twas Heaven here with you” taken from a card with a cat picture on the front, courtesy Isla Paschal Richardson

    Comment by Barbara & Chris Christensen — July 27, 2013 @ 12:24 pm

  32. Most sincere condolences, Dear Ardis
    Barbara has a folder about animals
    and heaven she would like to share!
    Love you and Toby

    Comment by Barbara & Chris Christensen — July 27, 2013 @ 12:31 pm

  33. Have been away from screens for a couple of days, and just saw this. So sad.

    Comment by David Y. — July 27, 2013 @ 4:51 pm

  34. I’m going to have to look up every article Barbara suggests; thank you.
    And Ardis, thank you for sharing,you’ve inspired many of us to think and write down what and why special companions have taught and meant so much to us – even those of us who cannot express ourselves as eloquently.
    Do not denigrate your grief. No, Toby was not a child, but grief like happiness, can’t be measured or compared. That’s not how life works. I suppose, no, I know, grief has a purpose. I’d give back all that knowledge in a heartbeat just to have a moment holding each of the two babies I ‘lost’ to miscarriage and stillbirth or to get back all the abilities I ‘lost’ in an accident 13 years ago.
    All we learn from each grief sometimes seems hardly worth the cost. But I have faith that it will be – because knowledge is permanent, will live on with us. And so will those we love.
    Earthly grief and loss however, have a limited lifespan.
    (*Sounds like we were just careless, doesn’t it?)

    Comment by Diane Peel — July 27, 2013 @ 6:07 pm

  35. Beautifully written.

    Comment by Maurine — July 27, 2013 @ 7:21 pm

  36. May Toby await your reunion in a place where there are mice to chase, empty containers to investigate, laser dots to catch, dangling pendulums to bat, naps to take, birds to watch, catnip to enjoy, places to jump, and most of all, people to love and care for him.

    Comment by Left Field — July 28, 2013 @ 1:07 pm

  37. Love to you in your loss. A bit of Toby’s soul will live on in the hearts of each reader. Blessings on you!

    Comment by Brittany — July 28, 2013 @ 10:14 pm

  38. I Liked Toby. The few times I met him, he seemed like a great cat. Sorry to hear that he’s gone

    Comment by JPaul — July 30, 2013 @ 8:44 pm

  39. What a beautiful tribute, Ardis. I am so sorry your sweet boy has gone. I’ll be keeping you in my heart and prayers tonight.

    Comment by Jami — July 30, 2013 @ 11:45 pm

  40. Touching. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Ben S — August 15, 2013 @ 10:19 am

  41. A beautiful tribute, Ardis. Thanks for posting this.

    Comment by Ziff — August 22, 2013 @ 12:29 pm

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