When my boys were small I developed the habit of coming home, slinging the door open, and as I slammed it shut I would yell, "Who's home!" Joel started copying me, he too would come home, slam the door and yell "Who's home"!
A couple of weeks after Joel journeyed to the Spirit World (July, 1st, 2001) I was lying on the couch thinking about him when I heard the door slam shut. The day was warm so out of a habit I had since childhood growing up in a log cabin, I had left the door open. When I heard the door slam shut, I immediately hoped it was Joel so I quickly looked up and there was this, huge, huge, black cat standing on my screen door, peeking his head in where the screen was torn. As I watched him, he squeezed through the tear in the screen, jumped down, came right over to me and started purring and rubbing himself against me. I knew immediately that Joel sent him.
He stayed with us from that day on. Because he was so big, black, and scary, and I was convinced Joel sent him to keep me company, I called him my Spirit Cat. My sons named him Church, after the cat in Pet Sematary. He would take turns sleeping with the boys and me.
Marshall and his girls lived in my basement at the time. Marshall's girls were small and Church so big that they would be able lie on him, like lying on a blanket. They would tug on his ears and roughhouse him and he would just lie there. When he wanted to leave, he would walk over to the basement window, sit under it, gauge its height for a second, and jump. Amazingly, he would land on the window ledge and very quickly he would be gone.
When he first came he would calmly sit in the front yard while two or three neighborhood dogs barked and growled at him. He ignored them. He could whip any dog, actually he could whip two or three dogs at once and they knew it, so they made sure to keep their distance. Just like a dog, he would go on walks with my sons and granddaughters all the time, keeping the dogs at bay.
One fall day he left and never came back. We had heard that he was dead in the ditch alongside HW 57. The following winter went by without him returning. The next summer, on the anniversary of Joel's death, we had a memorial dinner for Joel. Friends and relatives came over to eat with us. As we were eating this really scraggly looking cat appeared, walked right by us, and went into to the house. I was sure it was my Spirit cat, but it had been almost a year since he'd left so I wasn't sure. I walked in after the cat, took a close look at him and it WAS HIM! He made himself right at home - again - picking up right where he left off when he disappeared several months earlier.
Church stayed with us well into old age until he finally lost a fight to some dogs. He made it home, but he died in the front yard, right where he ruled over the neighborhood for so many years. I was heartbroken, my sons were heartbroken, and we viewed him as the last link to Joel. I directed my sons to bury Church along the shelterbelt behind the house and to offer tobacco to help send his spirit on its journey. My sons cried all the while when digging his grave and burying him, he truly was part of our family. Shortly after my Spirit Cat left us, while lying in bed, I felt Church jump on the bed with me, but when I looked, he wasn't there. After it happened several times I finally stopped looking. I knew his Spirit was visiting me when I felt him jump on my bed.