Most likely, you’ve heard of Gabriel the angel. But have you ever heard of Gabriel the cat? One was a biblical messenger from heaven and the other . . . well, it’s a story that may give you pause for thought.
It was Christmastime 2010 when a roaring fireplace could barely quell the chill of an Iowa winter — or warm the emptiness in Liz Fisher’s heart.
“I was very close to my son Christopher. He died when he was 28,” the mother remembers about their tragic loss almost three years earlier.
Still fragile with grief, particularly at the holiday season, Liz, her husband Joe and daughter Catherine had flown to Virginia to see family, returning just before Christmas. It was on their way home from the airport that Liz felt drawn to stop at a small “mom and pop” pet store. Why she made the request after hours of travel remains a mystery to her, even to this day.
“I want to make it perfectly clear,” Liz had told her family as they entered the store, “we’re not getting any animals,” knowing they had an elderly cat waiting at home.
But as Liz strolled past the cages, one tiny kitten came to life, playfully engaging her with heartfelt meows.
“He started talking to me, sort of a conversation back and forth and the next thing, there I was buying a cat,” Liz recalls with a smile.
Yet, the joy over their new pet was soon eclipsed when she and her husband arrived at the house to find their beloved old kitty, Soxie, had died. Final good-byes graveside in the icy cold and fading light brought tears and rekindled grief.
It wasn’t until Liz snuggled on the couch with the crying little kitten that she felt a gentle peace begin to infuse her heart. Nestled under her chin, the grey ball of fluff quieted, purring softly, as Liz pondered a name for their newly adopted pet.
While Finding Neverland — hardly a Christmastime movie — aired on TV the little cat slept, both Liz and Joe lost in their private thoughts. But suddenly at the sound of one character’s voice, the kitten roused with a huge meow.
“Right when Gabriel spoke in the film,” Liz reminisces, “he woke up and cried loudly, like that’s my name! So right then we named him Gabriel.”
In the days that followed, there was no doubt in Liz’ mind that Gabriel—sometimes called “angel Gabriel”—had arrived when she so needed a message of comfort in the midst of great sadness. The lingering grief from losing a child, the death of her longtime pet, all weighed heavily on her spirit—until Gabriel.
“I don’t know how to say this,” Liz says with a catch in her voice, “but I feel like my son, Christopher, who passed away sent this cat to help me heal.”
Similar to the biblical angel Gabriel who brought messages from heaven, this innocent cat was a messenger of healing and happiness in the Fisher home. But this family wouldn’t be Gabriel the cat’s only mission.
Here’s the rest of the story.
Three years later, Gabriel the cat and the Fisher family are residents in West Richland, Wash., delighted to be back in the northwest. Their summer vacation plans in late June included a stay at their lake home in Florence, Oregon. Joe and Gabriel would travel there early in the week followed by Liz joining them at week’s end.
But before the week had hardly begun, news came that Gabriel had gone missing at the lake leaving Liz very distressed.
“I’ve never had a connection with a cat like I have had with Gabriel,” Liz says with emotion when she thinks back to the loss and how she felt. “He disappeared in Florence and we searched my entire vacation. I couldn’t give up hope.”
Fliers with Gabriel photos were posted of the missing grey-striped feline to alert distant neighbors, local veterinarians and the Humane Society. But eventually, even optimistic Liz had to return to her work as Human Resources director at Boise Cascade.
“My love for Gabriel was so strong,” Liz says about her precious cat, “that I couldn’t believe my little fellow would have left me. But, as weeks went by, I also realized we may never be reunited.”
No one heard from Gabriel from late June until early August. No phone calls, no sightings, no tips on where he might be. In the heavily forested area by the lake with an abundance of predators, the chances that a cat could survive—even a good hunter—were slim.
What Liz needed was a message of hope. It came six weeks after Gabriel first disappeared.
A woman who wanted to keep the stray cat, had taken the extra measure to check for a microchip in his neck. The query about the found kitty came from an Oregon veterinarian who had followed-up on the microchip information.
My husband didn’t want me to get my hopes up,” Liz reflects on the fact he’d been missing for so long, “but I was sure it was my cat.”
The fact that the vet had called her husband’s cell phone rather than the number on the fliers gave Liz hope. It was Joe’s cell listed on the outdated chip, implanted long ago in Iowa.
Midst much celebration, Gabriel returned home. And that’s when Liz learned some of the backstory about her missing kitty from the gracious woman who had found him—and loved him, too.
Janene Kibitt, who lives three miles from the Fisher’s lake home, had spotted Gabriel in her front yard on the very day she was grieving over the loss of two cats in one week—one that had died that very day.
“Silly, maybe,” Janene says in a Facebook post, “but it was helpful for me in my grief to imagine that this stray cat was possibly sent by Sally and Lucky (the cats) as an omen or simply to bring some joy during an unhappy time.”
It was another cat-delivery message of comfort at a time of great sadness.
And the name Janene had chosen for the gentle grey-striped cat during its 17-day stay? A perfect name in keeping with the reassuring message the cat had brought her?
And that “coincidence” should give us all pause for thought.