Grief is agony.
You can't get away from it. As CS Lewis said, "The pain I feel
now is the
happiness I had before.
That's the deal." And when you are in the midst of grief, you may
well feel the price is too high.
Many people find losing a cat is actually harder than losing a human loved
one. This is not as surprising as it might first appear, because we often spend far more
time with our cats than with our human relatives, and our relationships
with our cats are usually far simpler than those with humans, where there
may be a fair bit of emotional baggage. Cats, however, are always there,
never judging us, always pleased to see us. Sometimes without us even realising it, they are the centre of our home. No wonder we miss them so
when they are gone!
The Five Stages of Grief
Never forget, grief is
normal. Research indicates that there are five stages.
The five stages of grief
discusses the process in more detail. You will not necessarily
experience these all in this order, but you will find your own way to get
Notice I said
get through. Grief is not about getting over your loss. It is about
finding a way to live without the loved one's physical presence in your
I know it is
hard to believe
that you will get through it
when you are in the middle of it, but you will. There is no right or wrong
way to get through, and how long it takes is very variable. Take no notice
of insensitve people who says things like "I thought you'd be over this by
now." This is your unique experience, and you take as long as you need.
Some people need professional help, and there is no shame in that.
Here are some of the emotions and experiences which you may face during
the various stages of grief:
after a bereavement, people often feel numb, and their loss does not seem
real. This can be both comforting and alarming, because you expect to feel
something; but this reaction is normal, and it usually wears off after a
few days (at which point you will probably wish you could go back to
feeling numb again).
Difficulty Functioning Normally
Every time I
have lost a cat, I have completely lost my appetite too for the first few
days afterwards. Everything tastes like cardboard, and I have to be forced
to eat. I also feel sick, and sometimes actually am sick. Some people are
unable to sleep, but I slept a lot and I welcomed sleep, because it took
my mind off my loss. The downside was it meant that every time I woke up I
had to go through that horrible split second when I hoped it had all been
a nightmare, only to realise it was all too true.
entitled to feel as if you are wading through mud. But try to keep to some
kind of a routine if you can. You have already had a big change in your
life, so try to keep some things the same, it will help you cope and work
out a way to live without your cat's physical presence around you. Force food in, even if it tastes of
absolutely nothing. Try to get showered and dressed each day as a minimum.
If you normally watch a particular TV programme, watch it.
By all means
take a few days off work if you can (essential in my case, since I cannot
stop crying), but no more than a week. I would simply tell your employer a
close family member has died, you do not need to be more specific than
that is many cases.
If you have
lost a much loved cat, it is inevitable that you will feel a gaping void
in your life; and this feeling can be exacerbated when you lose a cat to
CKD because you were
probably spending a fair bit of time caring for your cat, and all
that time suddenly becomes available again and can lie heavy on your
hands. Your routine has disappeared.
You may need a
rest anyway, but if time is lying heavy on your hands, try to do little things each day that occupy your mind a little,
even if they are still focused on your cat - some people have found it
helpful to make a scrapbook about their cat, for example. See
below for more
tips on capturing memories. Alternatively,
do something you couldn't do while your cat was sick, such as going to the
Guilt, Regret and Bargaining
These emotions are an extremely common reaction to bereavement, and you
may well find yourself regretting something you did or did not do.
This is the
stage when you torture yourself with all the "what ifs." If only I had fed
my cat a different food. If only I'd been more diligent with the
phosphorus binders. I wonder if I acted too quickly. I wonder if I
left things too late.
If only I could have my cat back, I would never do anything bad ever
You may also
feel guilty if your cat did not manage long after diagnosis - you may feel
cheated or wonder if you made mistakes in caring for your cat. Although it
is often possible to buy quality time for a CKD cat, the disease IS
terminal, and by the law of averages some cats are not going to manage
long after diagnosis. Please do not beat yourself up if this happens to
you, but try to take comfort in the fact that you did what you could.
reason for feeling guilty, please remember that
feeling guilty is a natural, integral part of the grieving process; and whatever you
did, your cat knows you tried your best and loves you for it. You
were obviously a good guardian to your cat, or you wouldn't be torturing
yourself like this. Only responsible people do it. Try writing a letter to
your cat explaining why you did what you did and asking for forgiveness
for anything you got wrong. It might sound strange, since you can never
send the letter, but some people find it helps them a lot.
cannot undo years of loving care with one single choice. Last night Indie
frolicked unexpectedly across my path and so I trod on her paw. She yelped
and I felt awful, of course. Did this one incident ruin our relationship?
Of course it didn't. I said sorry and rubbed her little paw better and
today she's forgotten all about it. Hindsight is 20:20 but I'm sure you
did the best you could in the circumstances, and nobody can ask for more.
Beliefnet has some information on coping
Pet-loss has a helpful article on dealing with guilt
following a loss.
also feel angry, perhaps at your vet or yourself, and sometimes even at
your cat for leaving you; again, this is a natural reaction. If you feel
angry at your vet, you could call and ask for a chat: vets know clients
sometimes feel this way, and will usually be happy to provide information
to reassure you about what happened.
feel resentful if they have other healthy cats, particularly if they were
more bonded with the deceased cat. This is also normal, but try to
remember that your surviving cat has no control over the situation; it
simply wasn't his/her time. As time passes, you may in fact find that you
bond more with the surviving cat, though this is not compulsory.
subject is feeling a sense of relief after your cat has died. This is
actually normal when you have been caring for a terminally ill patient. If
you analyse your feelings, you will probably find that you are not feeling
relief that your cat has died; rather, you are feeling relief that the CKD
is gone, that you are able to climb off the emotional rollercoaster. There
is no shame in that.
If you do feel this way, try not to feel guilty:
rather, focus on all the care you gave your cat and remember that your cat
would never reproach you for carrying on with your life after he or she is
gone. You have carried the responsibility for your cat's life daily for
however long, and it is stressful. Harpsie had a lot of health issues
throughout his life, and although I gladly helped him, it wasn't until we
lost him and I no longer had to worry about his wellbeing that I realised
how stressful it had been. I certainly missed Harpsie but I didn't miss
One of the
hardest things to cope with can be a feeling of isolation: people in the
west are often very uncomfortable with the idea of death and simply do not
know what to say to the bereaved. Also, many people simply do not
understand why we grieve for cats. People make tactless comments
which can really hurt, such as "it was only a cat" or "you can always get
another one", as if cats are interchangeable.
The comment I
found most hurtful when Tanya died was "well, at least you have another
cat", as if cats are interchangeable. In the end, I used to point out that
although Harpsie certainly was an exceptional cat, he had not mastered the
art of being both himself and Tanya simultaneously. Try to remember that
these people are well-meaning, if misguided and seek support elsewhere.
Always remember that your feelings are perfectly valid and that there is
nothing wrong in feeling your grief. Feeling grief shows that you are
capable of love, hardly something to be ashamed of.
Here is one
lady's experience of grief written very shortly after her cat,
Gus, died after 15 years together. I think it is extremely moving.
have peace, but peace does not have a cold nose, a pink tongue, whiskers
or a warm purr. Peace does not use the litterbox, hurl hairballs or
wake me at two in the morning because it got lonely and wanted to crawl
under the covers. The sure knowledge that I did the best I could
does not demand fresh running water in the bathtub, lose its toys under
the living room couch or chase moths. And even that wonderful sense
of love I knew after my kitty-cat crossed, does not meow when I come home
late or interrupt me at the computer with a warm paw on my leg, asking for
a lap and a cuddle. And though a fresh new set of paws will one day
walk into my heart, the here-and-now, day-to-day presence of a creature
who knew me better than I know myself, loved me better than I love myself
(and let me know that on a regular basis, conceited little creature that
he was), is gone. Peace is a wonderful thing, but it doesn't wear
And when I miss that fur so much, when the grief swells and threatens to
consume me, the memory of my bond with my fur-person grounds me. It
tells me to look forward and celebrate the joy that bounded into my life
so many years ago; to pause and ground myself, let the love that was there
surface and know that the love is still there. It's lonelier on this
side, but if I ride out the grief I come full circle back to the peace.
It doesn't wear fur and it doesn't stop tears, but it does bring the
memory of love and changes the tears from those of desperate sorrow to
those of healing and of hope."
You may find
yourself having to support other family members in their grief, and this
can be particularly hard to do for children. Encourage them to talk and
express their fears, and let them see that you are grieving too and that
there is nothing wrong in feeling this way and talking about it.
about using the expression "put to sleep" when talking to children,
because they often do not fully understand this concept and it can make
them afraid to go to sleep in case they too never wake up.
has some information on
helping children deal with grief.
Other Feline Family Members
You may also
have to deal with other feline family members who are distressed by the
loss of their companion.
Cats certainly can grieve, Harpsie fell into a deep decline after Tanya
died. Surviving cats
may search for their companion, howl, and become
subdued or go off their food.
Talk to your surviving cat(s). I always talk to my
cats, and not in baby talk but with an adult tone - after all, they are
adults, just of a different species. Tell them what has
happened and give them lots of love and attention. It can help to comfort
all of you.
Treatments) may help here, particularly Star of Bethlehem, as may
It can be very
comforting to create some kind of memorial for your cat. I would also
write down your happy memories. When I lost Tanya, I was so upset that I
blocked things out. When I think of her, I tend to think of her in her
last few months rather than as she was in the many years before then.
Videos help with this.
I created a
memorial page for Tanya and found it did help me. There are several places
on the web where you can do this, including
Memory of Pets
which has a section specially for CKD cats.
When you are in
the midst of grief, you cannot imagine ever feeling happy again; but keep
going. Breathe in, breathe out. In my
experience (four losses) and that of others I've spoken to, the first 2-3
weeks are the most painful. After that, you don't suddenly wake up and
feel happy again, but the pain changes to a quieter, deeper kind of pain
that somehow I found easier to bear. I can't guarantee that this will
happen for you but it might.
Just as living
with CKD was a rollercoaster, so is grief. At the beginning, you will
naturally have many more bad days than good ones. Some days you will feel you are
beginning to do a little better, and then the next day you will feel
terrible again. Once again, this is normal: just take each day at a time, savour the better days and try to keep going through the bad days.
Above all, be
gentle on yourself. One
day you should realise that gradually the balance of good days to bad days
has changed. As time passes, you should also notice that your emotions have changed from
99% pain and 1% happy memories to 1% pain and 99% happy memories.
Firstly, a new cat can never "replace"
your cat, because they are all different and unique, so you do not need to
feel guilty for contemplating getting another cat. Secondly, there is no
"right time" to go and get another cat, if indeed you ever do.
Some people, often those with no other cats, cannot bear the emptiness of
their home and go and get another cat quite quickly, within a week of
losing their first cat. At the other extreme are people who never get
another cat at all because they simply cannot face the thought of having
to go through the pain of bereavement again at some point in the future.
Both approaches are equally valid, neither is right or wrong. The only
important thing is to do what feels right for you personally at a time
when it feels right.
died, I couldn't bear to add another cat to our family since it meant the pain of
loss would one day follow. However, Harpsie, a very sociable cat who had
never been an only cat, had other ideas: he became so depressed and then
physically ill after
Tanya died that we had to acquire another cat on our vet's advice a
month after we lost Tanya. It did the trick for Harpsie, Indie did indeed
cheer him up; and although it did not happen overnight, I fell in love
with her too. Some people feel that getting another cat is showing
disloyalty to their deceased cat, but although I felt this way myself to
start with, I soon realised that Indie would never take Tanya's place in
my heart (she has her own place), that helping Indie would not hurt Tanya,
and, since Indie was a rescue cat, I was confident that Tanya would in
fact be pleased that we were helping a cat in need in her memory.
you already have another cat who is older and
you decide to get another cat, I would think twice
about getting a kitten. It can be hard for elderly people to cope with
young babies and toddlers, and the same goes for cats, especially if a
young kitten keeps trying to play with the older cat. I would consider
getting a cat who is a bit older and beyond the manic youngster stage. If
you do decide to go for a kitten, get two: that way they can play
together, and the older cat can watch their antics but not be worn out by
being asked to play all the time.
If you already
have a surviving cat and you decide to get another cat, please introduce
them carefully. Imagine how your existing cat feels when suddenly faced
with a newcomer. Where is my
friend, and why is this stranger here? will no doubt be going through your
cat's mins. A careful introduction can make the entire process much easier
and less stressful for everyone.
Harpsie's site explains how to introduce
a new cat.
Perhaps. For love there is also a season; its seeds must be resown. But a
family cat is not replaceable like a worn out coat or a set of tyres. Each
new kitten becomes its own cat, and none is repeated. I am four cats old,
measuring out my life in friends that have succeeded but not replaced one
It is often thought that being able to talk to others about your
loss can help you feel better. I think that depends upon a number
of factors. When I lost Tanya and Thomas, I wanted to talk about
how I felt, but kept getting choked up, so writing was easier, and
I used boards and e-mail for a long time, which helped me a lot.
When I lost Indie though, I did not really want to talk about it
or her at all, in person or online. I've no idea why I feel this
way, her loss is still recent as I write this, so I do not have
enough distance to analyse why I feel this way. All I know is, you
must do what feels right to you.
If you want to talk, choose your audience carefully. I would not
talk to people who do not understand how much it hurts to lose a
cat. If you have friends or family who understand, that is
wonderful. Alternatively, there are some resources below,
including my online support group.
If you do not want to talk, that is fine, with one condition: if
you feel suicidal, please seek help. Please. I would hate to think
somebody reading this feels so low without any support. People do
care, so please reach out.
The Blue Cross and SCAS (the Society for
Companion Animal Studies) also offer free online support through their Pet Bereavement
Support Service. You can send an e-mail to
email@example.com, and you will receive a response within a
maximum time of 48 hours.
You can also
the Samaritans, who are available 24
hours a day, 365 days a year, by phone or e-mail. You do not have to be suicidal to
contact The Samaritans - they are always happy to talk to anybody who is
grieving or distressed. Their service is completely free and
The Blue Cross and
SCAS (the Society for Companion Animal Studies) offer a
pet bereavement support service. Just call 0800 096 6606 (free call) between 8.30
a.m. and 8.30 p.m. any day (there is an answerphone outside these hours)
and you will be given the details of your nearest telephone befriender.
This service is completely free apart from the cost of your call to your
nearest befriender (which is charged at the local rate wherever possible),
and all calls are confidential. This service is a member of the British
Association for Counselling, and is supported by the British Small Animal
The Samaritans offer telephone support in the UK and Republic of
Ireland every minute of the day. You don't have to be suicidal to call
University College of Veterinary Medicine offers a offers a
support hotline, provided by veterinary students trained by professional
grief counsellors, which is available between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Eastern Standard
Time on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The phone number is (607) 253