One year ago today, my cat passed away.
She was sitting on our front porch and a dog came onto our property. My cat ran, but the dog (as dogs do) chased after her and got ahold of her. She survived the attack, but ultimately died as a result of her injuries despite multiple vets’ efforts to save her.
I have had cats for basically my entire life. I am no stranger to cats passing away, getting lost, or being put down due to illness.
But this type of grief was different than anything I had ever experienced before.
Merida was my baby. I adopted her when she was about three months old, and she was so small that she could fit behind a DVD rack. She followed me around, would (for the most part) come to me when I called for her, and had strangely cute habits like playing fetch and eating starchy foods.
She and I had a strong bond, too. She hated being picked up and held, but she tolerated it for a few minutes if I did it. She would usually greet me with happy meows whenever I got home or woke up. If I went out of town for a few days, she would be exceptionally clingy when I got back. I had never had that strong of a bond with a pet before. She would even come for me when I called her name.
If you are grieving a pet, especially one you had a strong bond with, you might experience a few things you aren’t expecting. I definitely did not expect to feel so many of these feelings when I was trying to cope with her loss.
What No One Tells You About Grieving a Pet
#1. The grief can be long-lasting.
One year later and I am still grieving her. It isn’t as bad as it was when she first passed away, but I am not over her death by any means. There isn’t a time limit on healing. You might grieve for six months, you might grieve for six years. You may never fully get over your pet… and that’s okay.
Merida was young when she was attacked– she was only about four years old. It was unfortunate that she didn’t get to live a longer life, and I am deeply sad about that, but it will likely take much longer to heal if you are grieving a pet who had been around for a decade or two, especially if you have a strong bond with that animal.
#2. You may (or may not) have visitation dreams.
I wanted her to visit me in my dreams so, so badly after she passed. It didn’t happen right away and I felt like a bad cat mom (even though I don’t remember dreaming about anything the first few nights after her death).
But after about a week, I started having visitation dreams. They were hard at first because I would wake up and think they were real and that she was still here.
Not everyone has these types of dreams, though, and I realize now that it’s okay. If I never had a visitation dream, it didn’t mean that she didn’t love me and that I didn’t love her.
#3. You might blame yourself.
I blamed myself even though I was at work when it happened. There was literally nothing I could have done, save for not letting her go outside… but our neighborhood is (usually) safe and we’ve never lost a cat to an attack before, and neither have any of our neighbors. People don’t drive fast enough on our streets to hit a cat with a car. No one in our household thought twice about letting any cats outside.
Merida in particular never went far from the house. She didn’t even go to the edge of the yard.
It’s important that you remember that you did the best you could to take care of your pet and protect him or her from harm. If you’re here right now, reading this and hoping it will help you cope with the loss of your pet, it is obvious that you cared very deeply for your pet when he or she was on this plane of existence. You did the best you could, provided the circumstances.
#4. Not everyone will understand.
Some people won’t understand. My cat passed away on a Wednesday morning, and I didn’t go to work. There was just… no way. There was no point in my being there. Most people were understanding, but there were a couple of people who thought it was weird that I just skipped out of work on a seemingly random Wednesday. One of my supervisors made a snide remark about it the next month after we were going over attendance. (She was a terrible supervisor, but still!)
I had to go back to work the next day. For my coworkers, it was just another day, but I was struggling to keep it together. I was still a new employee at that point and I didn’t know who I could trust, so I only told maybe two people who weren’t my supervisors. I had no idea who would react well or who would think I was being ridiculous, so I opted to keep it in.
#5. You will need a strong support system.
I didn’t get much support from work, and my family tends to not discuss emotional matters. My boyfriend and a couple of my close friends were the only ones I could turn to, but I couldn’t expect them to just drop everything to take care of my emotions. Especially since at the time, everyone in my social circle was dealing with their own personal life situations.
So, I joined Facebook groups for pet loss and posted on Reddit about her, and received mostly overwhelming comments of love, sympathy, and understanding. Those interactions online definitely helped me through the first few months.
#6. It’s okay to cry.
It isn’t “just a pet.”
When Merida first passed away, I cried daily. Multiple times a day, in fact.
Part of my coping mechanism was “talking” to her as if she were still alive. I would talk to her in the car on the way to work, after I got off work, and I would say goodnight to her before I went to bed. It made me cry to “talk” to her but it was better than keeping those emotions in.
#7. Be wary about getting another pet.
After Merida passed away, I did not want to get another cat despite people telling me that it might be a good idea. And it truly might be a good idea for some people. If you are still grieving a pet, and you’re considering getting another pet soon, take some time to think about it. Getting another pet will not replace the one you lost. Please make sure that if you do get another pet, you will be capable of giving it all the love and attention it deserves.
Sometimes, however, life has a weird way of pushing you into a specific direction. It is not uncommon for people who are grieving a pet to experience encounters with new animals that they aren’t expecting. About two months or so after Merida died, a cat started showing up at our house. He is close to Merida’s age, and shares a lot of her mannerisms.
As the one year anniversary of Merida’s death approached, another stray kitty showed up to our house, and I’m the only one who is allowed to pet her so far. She is skittish, but loves it when I pet her and she even exposed her stomach to me, which is a sign of trust in cat language.
I don’t think either of those cats showing up when and how they did are coincidental. I have heard several similar stories from others who were grieving a pet, so you may want keep your mind open to the idea that other animals may snuggle their way into your heart.
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