Losing your cat is heart-breaking and mourning a cat is nothing to be ashamed of. Many, however, are blindsided by just how deeply their grief runs. When we lose a cat, we are not just losing a pet, but the special, unique relationship that we shared. In addition to this, a cat is often with us for a significant period, often what feels like a whole chapter of our lives, and so it can seem like the end of an era when they pass away.
Grief is also a very unique experience, as no two people grieve in the same way, just as no two pet-owner relationships are the same. So, when it comes to grieving the loss of a cat, just as with any grief, there is no such thing as ‘normal’.
So, what can you expect? Whilst it varies from person to person, we hope that this guide will help you to navigate this difficult time and to feel somewhat comforted along the way.
Not everyone will understand mourning a cat
Unfortunately, compassion and non-judgment aren’t always so common and you may find that some people find it hard to understand what you are experiencing. Whilst it is helpful to have well-meaning people in your life who want to make sure that you are taking care to maintain perspective, anyone who belittles your experience of grief is of no help to you. You have a right to feel how you are feeling and to have those feelings respected.
Adjusting to a new routine
It can take time to adjust to a new routine without your cat, especially if your cat was sick for a long time. When they pass suddenly, the shock can be hard to adjust to – when there’s suddenly no cat (or one less cat) to feed, it can feel overwhelmingly sad. A surprising trigger of grief is silence, echoing the absence of your beloved pet. This will become easier in time, but in the early days, it is best not to sit with it for too long, allow grief to pass through you and then return to occupying your mind with an activity or some music or other entertainment.
Collecting their ashes
Picking up a cat’s ashes can be a significant grief trigger, symbolizing the eternal absence of their physical form, and holding their ashes can feel devastatingly sad. For some, however, whilst it is sad, there is a sense of comfort in taking them back ‘home’ again. Ideally, take someone with you for support when collecting the ashes, and decide upon keeping or scattering them based entirely on what you feel you need.
This aspect of grief can be a source of either comfort or pain depending upon the individual. You may hear your cat’s paws in the house or see a glimpse of them in the corner of your eye. Many people report having these visions and experiences after losing a cat, and it’s up to the individual to interpret their meaning. Some people consider them to be comforting ‘visits’ while for others they are painful grief triggers. Either way, over time they should subside as you adjust.
Feelings of guilt
Feeling guilty is a common aspect of grieving a cat, as their passing is often upon our reluctant decision to euthanise. If we have had to make the tremendously difficult decision to put our cat to sleep, we have to focus steadfastly on the compassion, wisdom, and mercy with which we made the decision. Out of love, we chose to prevent or end their suffering.
We can also experience feelings of guilt simply because we felt responsible for our pet’s wellbeing, but the truth is that life is full of uncertainty and no one can guarantee to avoid every possible negative eventuality. Focus on all of the love and care you gave your cat, instead of the moment that they left you – their life shouldn’t be defined by that one moment.
Waves of grief
Anyone who has experienced loss understands that grief comes and goes in waves that typically are frequent and intense, to begin with, and then soften and become less often as we begin to heal. Once we start to adjust to a new normal and find that we can move forwards with daily life, these waves may still come suddenly and feel overwhelming, but in time they will lessen. Eventually, we can begin to smile at memories more often than we cry.
When to seek help
It is always appropriate to seek help and support in times of grief, however, there are some circumstances in which it becomes essential to seek professional help.
When a person experiences two or more losses either at once or in quick succession, it can lead to ‘bereavement overload’ – a state which can make it much harder to process any of the losses. If you have experienced multiple losses (be it through death, relationship breakdown, etc) it’s important to seek professional help to work through your grief. You don’t have to suffer alone.
When grief doesn’t lift
For most people, the intensity of the grief they experience lessens over time. They may continue to have bouts of sadness, but typically the good days begin to outnumber the bad.
For some though, the intensity of their initial grief continues for many months or even years, with little-to-no respite in between the waves. When grief becomes enduring in this way, it is called ‘complex/complicated grief’ and it is very important to seek professional support to care for your mental and emotional wellbeing.
Grief is personal and is not about ‘getting over’ the loss – it’s about coming to terms with it and being able to move forward with our lives. The question asked “am I crazy for mourning a cat?” has an answer – you would be crazy not to mourn a cat. Take great care of yourself, respect your feelings and seek help and support if coping with pet loss on your own is too difficult – you deserve it.