Book of the Month
Review~by Michele Gregoire
Gray, G. R. (2015). Lessons learned from my cat Laverne. Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press.
Ordained Methodist deacon, minister of music, and certified mental health counselor Gary R. Gray has written a memorial tribute to his precious cat Laverne, a dear pet whom he and his wife had for only a short while. I was especially interested in reading this memoir because I happened to be at a continuing education event last spring and waited in line for the certificate of completion next to the author’s wife, Patty. She commented on the shirt I was wearing that had cats in the design and thus began our conversation about the cats in our lives. She told me about Laverne and how special she was, though they had her for less than two years, and that her husband had just written this book. Lymphoma took Laverne’s life in a short period of time, but this little cat was all love and grace. Everyone was drawn to her sweet outgoing nature, and she held a very special place in her owners’ hearts. To help the grieving process and to memorialize Laverne, Gary Gray wrote his tribute, and as I write this review it happens to be exactly one year after Laverne’s passing on November 29, 2014. During the writing process the author was still in the clutches of early grief and feeling very tender, missing Laverne profoundly even at the time of completing the book, which occurred only within a few short months of her passing. Those feelings are passed along to the reader, so there will be tears!
This inspirational book is a mere 47 pages long and easily readable in a short sitting of 30 to 45 minutes. It includes pictures at the beginning of each chapter along with descriptive (and lengthy) titles. Laverne’s various attributes are illustrated through remembered and shared experiences, distinctive to the chapter topics. Chapter one begins with Patty finding Laverne at the shelter and bringing her home. Laverne picked Patty and was insistent that she be adopted by her. Though she was full of energy and very kitten-like, her age was given as eight years, the veterinarian then re-aged her to be three, while yet another opinion suggested she was five. Regardless, no one knew she had lymphoma. It was only when they had her for a little over a year that her illness became evident. All of the chapters offer some element of Laverne’s life experience with the author and his wife along with a description of its importance to us and a brief scriptural passage for reflection and emphasis.
Gray describes Laverne as having love and grace and provides numerous examples of her behavior that exemplified both. Each chapter addresses a quality — love, time together, rest, and daily activities such as eating and drinking. And, a short scripture passage is shared along with the importance of the attribute discussed in the chapter. In chapter eight Laverne’s trait of curiosity and investigating everything was the topic. The author elaborated on the human perspective and provided this scripture passage that speaks to the topic. “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous and be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:13-14, NRSV. This aptly sums up the characteristic so strongly expressed by this dear little cat – love!
The end of the book brought the most profound and thoughtful act. When they buried Laverne in her favorite brown and pink blanket with the little cat paws they placed her in the box with a note that was extremely touching. I quote it here: If you are reading this then you have found the remains of our dear cat, Laverne. We have left her this way as she was very special to us. She was one who loved being around people. She loved to be held and to rest on our shoulder. She was gentle, loving, and patient. We had her only two years, the last year trying to give her the best quality of life possible as she fought lymphoma. She died November 29, 2014. Please allow her remains to continue to rest undisturbed. Gary and Patricia Gray. Having said good-bye to so many cats in my life I found this small act gave me pause and left me considering why I did not think to do this when burying all my past beloved pets. Lessons Learned from My Cat Laverne is a truly heartfelt and sweet book. And it has the added attraction of scriptural connection and support with elaboration by a minister who holds the same frame of reference regarding animals that we Catholic Stewards of Creation share. I thank Gary Gray for opening his heart to all of us who have similarly loved very special cats and I recommend this little book to anyone who has lost a dearly beloved pet.
Dr. Michele Gregoire has been Chair of the Education Department at Flagler College since 2004 and a member of the faculty since 1988. She came to Flagler College from Georgia College in Milledgeville where she had been Director of Music Therapy for four years and prior to that she spent one year in the same capacity at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. Dr. Gregoire earned her bachelor’s degree in Music Therapy at Florida State University, her master’s degree in Music at California State University at Long Beach, and her doctoral degree in Special Education at the University of Florida. She has conducted research and published articles related to music therapy and special music education, consistently maintains a strong record of professional conference presentations, and her current interests are historical research in music education, special education, and music therapy.
Dr. Gregoire has been involved in several professional organizations throughout her career, and has served in leadership capacities in most of them. She worked for ten years as a clinical music therapist and director of internship, specializing in developmental disabilities, at the beginning of her career and continues to provide consultation in both music therapy and special education to individuals and organizations.
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