You, small lion-cat, are a hero.
You took what life had and you ran with it,
bounding across chairs, sofas, and hearts.
You simply leapt skyward this time…and kept going.
~ Debra Hoffmann-Knowles ~
By Lisa Provost
There’s an enormity that comes with grief, all encompassing, enveloping. It’s the hardest of all human emotions to deal with, stronger than hate and love combined. And no matter how many times we’ve been through it before, it’s different every time, with every loss. The minute we lose someone we love we can feel ourselves bracing for it, the train that’s about to hit us head on. The continuous up and down from second to second, the bouncing around of emotions from guilt to blame, resentment, depression, acceptance and back to guilt again. There is something so wrong about losing a pet, the one soul in this world that is so pure and in no way corrupted. They teach us the highest order of love there is, accept us completely and without reservations. There are no judgments or misgivings, no reason whatsoever to think that this precious creature has anything but adoration for you.
The ancient Egyptians believed that cats were the most psychic beings to exist in this world and that they’re able to transcend time and space even while on this earthly plane. They were held sacred to a high, honored position and were more important than any human life. Cats were demigods, so highly regarded in Egyptian society that it was considered a high crime to kill a cat, punishable by death. Families owning cats took care that they received great attention and respect. Cats guarded the royal granaries, farms and homes keeping them relatively free from vermin and disease that threatened food supplies. They resided in temples and were treated to gifts even in the afterlife. Hardly is there a creature more deserving of these accolades. It’s said that a cat can look into your eyes and see deep down into the crevasses of your soul. I personally know this to be true as Alex did that every time she gazed her gorgeous green eyes on me. She was not my cat, she was my daughter and I may as well have given birth to her. The night she died, my heart screamed in agony so loud I thought for sure I’d shattered the moon and the sun. To this day I walk around this earth incomplete, knowing that hole will never again be filled. Sometimes when I think of her I can feel the edges of that hole, searing me like it’s on fire and I think I can’t possibly stand to even remember her. But I never want to forget either, and I couldn’t even if I tried.
These creatures are here to teach us valuable lessons in life. How to live in the moment, how to forgive and let go of pain and resentment, how to fully love someone like we’ve never allowed ourselves before. Alex did that for me, she taught me to love completely and to let myself be loved. I had said so many times in my life that I wanted to experience “true, radiant” love. I just never thought it would be from a cat. But I’m glad it was, because it was unconditional and more beautiful than I ever expected it could be. I could write a whole book about the tenderness there was between us. When that was gone, I thought I would truly die with her. Years ago she sent me two cats who make me laugh constantly. The lessons from them are something I’d forgotten how to do for so long: have fun, enjoy life, relish the little things, etc. She sent them to me to tell me it’s okay to let go and open my heart. That she’s okay now and it’s time to allow myself to be happy again. So life does in fact go on, even if it’s without her.
Taking care of her with these awful diseases was so rough it wore me down long before she passed away. How to get up each day and not have the same routine with her, giving her medications, treatments, feedings, etc. Even though these things were incredibly draining on me, it was all I knew to do for her and then it was over. A relief in a way, and I felt guilty for that. But mostly I felt angry for the way she died and how she suffered, I still do. If there was ever a soul that didn’t deserve that it was her. I even had dreams that I was talking with her vet, still begging for suggestions on what we could do to help her. And in my dreams my vet would tell me to stop torturing myself, she’s gone. Grieving is the easy part. Staying in bed, staring at the ceiling, not eating or showering, just giving up. Getting on with our lives is the worst of it. The truth is we don’t mourn for them, we mourn for us. Because we know that in their infinite wisdom these creatures are experiencing the spiritual life that they have never forgotten exists. We as humans tend to forget so much about our life outside of this world and what it all entails. Because we’re made up of the five senses: smell, taste, sight, hearing and most importantly touch. It’s so hard for us to believe that someone we love is still around us if we can’t touch them. Cats already have their sixth sense skills honed and perfected, yet another lesson for us. There are no sure-fire methods of getting through grief. But there are some simple things to remember:
DON’T let others tell you to “just get over it” or it was “just a cat”. If that person doesn’t have, or has never had pets of their own then getting them to understand the magnitude of your loss is probably hopeless. They won’t understand, find someone who will.
DON’T get rid of their things like bedding, toys, brushes, etc. too quickly. Those are your memories to keep. Make a keepsake box and scrapbook with some mementos. Months from now when you’re able to look at their pictures or hold a tuft of their hair without falling to pieces, you’ll be glad you did. But if you do want to give some things away, give them to a shelter, the humane society or a rescue league. Some place or someone who has kitties that need them.
DON’T stop taking care of yourself. Your little baby wouldn’t want that for you and you’ve already been through a tremendous amount of stress while taking care of your sick kitty. Small steps if you have to, just make sure you take them.
DON’T shut yourself off to the rest of the world. There is a plethora of online support groups for people that have lost a furry family member. I actually found these groups more understanding than when I lost a “human” family member. We pet lovers are a special group of people who usually have the capacity for great understanding and empathy. Grief can separate us from others, but it can unite us as well. Connecting with people from all over the world with one common and tremendous love for their pets may turn out to be a lifesaver for you. See a counselor; they have pets too, you’ll be surprised at their reaction to your loss. They can get just as emotional about it.
DON’T try to get another pet too soon after losing one. As much love as you have to give and as much as you think you’re not trying to replace them, it usually ends up that you haven’t given yourself enough time to accept the loss. It could be a few weeks, a few months. Everyone’s amount of time is different. Just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. It’s not fair to bring another cat into your home while you have expectations that it can’t fulfill. And you may not be physically ready to care for a new little one either as they take up a lot of energy. Give yourself time to rest, your spirit needs it. But if you feel you are ready, and you feel your beloved angel is sending you a new little one to help heal the pain, go for it! Love is always an amazing doctor for a broken heart.
DO give yourself a break when it comes to the length of time it’s taking for your healing. Trying to rush through it or understand why it’s “taking so long” will only aggravate you more. Expect those feelings of anger, resentment, “why”, etc. Even expect to get angry at your kitty for leaving you. I did. I yelled at her and then cried and begged her forgiveness. It’s all to be expected, just like any other death in the family.
DO donate their leftover medications, medical supplies, food, etc. to your local shelter or rescue league. They need these things desperately and it’s a wonderful way to honor your little one. Instead of throwing it out, you’ll be helping another sick animal that needs your help.
DO make a donation to an organization, university or research facility that studies gastrointestinal diseases in cats (or any disease or condition you feel is best). There is absolutely NO government funding available to these facilities for this research so private funds and donations are the only means of working to find treatments and maybe even a possible cure someday for these horrible afflictions. My veterinary office all got together and made a donation in Alex’s name for me to Cornell University and it touched me deeply! They all knew and loved Alex very, very much and understood how devoted I was to her. By making a donation in your baby’s name, not only will it help you to heal and honor your child, but it will help fund some MUCH needed research for what seems to now be an epidemic in cats.
DO plant some flowers or a tree in honor of your baby. Something that you can nurture and will grow and flourish to remind you that this is the cycle of life. There’s beauty still here in this world and you need to remind yourself of that quite often after a loss like this. Create a place of beauty to sit and remember the good times, a memorial site.
DO leave yourself open for visits from your little one after they’re gone. Whether you’re religious, spiritual or don’t believe at all in a life after this one, it can be incredibly comforting to know there’s some part of them still around you. It could be in your dreams it could be paw prints on your bed like I had. Only you’ll know what the special messages are because of that bond you had with them. Albert Einstein once said, “Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” The truth is none of us have any idea what’s out there until we ourselves leave this world. It’s one big, giant mystery that’s not meant to be solved. So leave yourself open to any new experiences, you’ll be so glad you did.
DO write a love letter to your little one. Tell them everything you’re feeling and let them know how important they still are in your life and always will be. Tell them you hope they aren’t in pain anymore and that they’re happy and playing with other kitties somewhere beautiful, until you see each other again. Putting things down on paper is very therapeutic and helps you release your feelings, especially if you’re having trouble talking to anyone. A friend of mine who recently lost his feline son said, “He was my best friend, my boy – and I was HIS human.”
DO open your heart again. No matter how hard that may seem and how much you deny you could ever put yourself through it again, it is healing and there are so many other animals that need your selfless love and devotion. Just make sure it’s the right time for you and you’re able to physically, emotionally and mentally take that challenge on.
And DO keep a close eye on your other family pets. They grieve too and sometimes that grief can cause them to stop eating and become depressed which is life threatening. It’s difficult to imagine you’d have to deal with this when you’re grieving so much already, but they are very in tune creatures. My sister’s cat Midnight couldn’t stand her other cat Moufasa. He drove her nuts most of their lives. Immediately after he died she was relishing in the freedom she had in the house. No longer was he trying to pounce her and go after her food. But a few months later she began to realize he wasn’t coming back and that’s when she got sick. It came as a surprise to us but they were bonded, in their own way. Even the ones that sometimes act like they hate each other, really don’t. And the ones that love each other to pieces, those need to be watched very, very closely. Any signs of withdrawing from their regular routine; not eating as much, not grooming, not playing, etc. Bring them to the vet immediately! Get ahead of the situation. Also, spend extra time with them. Love on them as much as possible, it’ll help you both to heal. Try hard to get them to play, distraction is key. But don’t try and replace their buddy too soon, they might resent you for that. Cats are so much smarter than we give them credit for.
If you feel you need to talk to a professional, please seek the help of a counselor or therapist immediately. I’ve included online support communities and some research facilities if you’d like to make any donations to honor your kitty. Don’t forget to be good to yourself above all else. Your kitty saw something wonderful in you, therefore it exists!
www.critters.com – Creating memorials in loving memory of our pets.
For advice on how to care for your grieving pet