i’ve recently lost my pet cat and it’s causing me a great deal of sadness. … I’m not asking for help with my feelings, but I was just wondering whether it is normal to feel so attached to my cat that feelings like this are acceptable. … Also, do you think getting another cat would help me feel better?!
Yes. This is totally normal.
It’s prejudice that says we can only love in certain ways and with certain beings. Loving another living, thinking, feeling creature who loves us back is going to work the way all love works. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
This last fall it has been two years since I lost my big cat guy, James Bond.
But it’s okay if I miss him. That’s a way of keeping him with me, if only in my heart. I remember all the good times. In that way, he’s still taking care of me, which was his greatest joy.
I completely understand the pain and the loss. Cats are so easy to love, so understanding of our own feelings, and so much a part of our lives. This means losing them is truly terrible, and truly wrenching.
In addition, Pet Grief has special qualities our society is only beginning to acknowledge.
Cats are very important to us emotionally, but not functionally.
Cats do not serve any external, practical, functions. They can’t give us a ride when our car is in the shop, or lend us money, or advise us about what to major in at college, or dance at our wedding. In some ways, they fill the category of one of our children, but without the important responsibilities we give children, like carrying on a family legacy or making an independent life.
It is an example of loving someone purely for themselves.
Because cats are highly attached and yet are not of service in any other way, there’s a distinctly disruptive feeling when our cat is no longer there. Because the rest of our life goes on without a change.
This seems to isolate our grief because there aren’t any other adjustments to distract us. If we have other cats, we don’t even stop buying food or cleaning litter.
It creates a kind of “grief vacuum.”
absence of ritual
Sociologists have discovered that the rituals of grief create a path to follow for the grieving person. There are times and places for everything, from feeling the impact of the loss to getting support from others. There are also built-in breaks from grief in circumstances where we need to function more normally. This helps us feel we are doing something about eventually getting past our sorrow.
None of that happens with pet loss.
If, as often happens, we are the cat’s only friend, we are the only one who feels the loss. Vet staff can be understanding and supportive, but only during the span of a very upsetting appointment. Afterwards, it can be difficult to find another to share our grief with, which is an important step in dealing with the tumultuous emotions involved.
Recognizing these challenges are important, because it is the only way we can find our way out of this crushing situation.
Some people find burying the pet, and saying a few words, helps them feel more like they are grieving. However, there are many circumstances where mimicking human structures are not possible. We might have financial constraints which compel us to opt for something much simpler and cheaper. We might lack easy access to such options, even if it is only a piece of ground to use. Even the weather can be against us, as our area might be difficult to dig in, or even impossible, as in the depths of winter.
All of these challenges can make us feel disconnected from our grief. Without outlets, our bad feelings can loom over us, like a giant mountain which blots out the sun.
dismissal and misunderstandings
This makes it all the more difficult to deal with the “it’s only a cat” syndrome that we might encounter from other people. They just don’t understand.
Yes, we are right and they are wrong. But there is no point in arguing with them… or taking them seriously. Often, people who disparage our grief are the kinds of people who have very narrow definitions of “person” and “loved one” and “human.” Their loss.
We often keep our grief to ourselves because it is so overwhelming to have our feelings denigrated or made light of. But we should not let anyone make us feel isolated because of this. We can find someone to share this with, someone who understands. We should make it our responsibility to do so, as this is an important part of the grieving process.
Likewise, we should remember that grief is something we are supposed to get over. Don’t let misplaced guilt keep us from life.
Yes, I do think people should get another cat. In fact, if they are now catless, they should get two cats.
We should not feel guilty, either. Our gone cat will always have their own room in our heart. We have as many rooms as we have cats. This is how our heart grows bigger.
One of the great things about Cat Civilization is how it provides a supporting framework for us to deal with the loss of a cat. We all mourn. We all find the strength to move forward. We are not the only ones who remember our gone cat, either. We all keep this cat in our hearts.
Having a Cat Civilization can smooth our way to loving a new cat, too. Does the new cat remind us of the previous one? That’s fine and good. We can share memories with other humans and our other cats, and keep them alive in our hearts.
Of course we have lost a special cat. But that doesn’t mean we cannot find another special cat. As I said to this person, in closing:
The sun can rise again, and you can feel better. And it’s fine to do so! We must make new friends, because our old ones don’t want us to be unhappy because of them.
This is the cycle of Life. We need it… or there would never be new kittens born. And that would be, also, terrible.
As long as the joy outweighs the sadness, (and it does, it does!) I will keep loving cats.
The toughest part of having a cat is saying goodbye. Find help in my posts on coping with end of life issues.
Got here from a Link or Search?
There’s more ways to get our cat to be affectionate in The Way of Cats than the article you are reading now. See all of my CAT AFFECTION posts.