When you adopt a cat or kitten, there’s a lot they don’t tell you. Sure, everyone has an opinion on what kind of food to get, what kind of litter to use, whether to declaw or not, indoor only or outdoor adventure time.
But they don’t tell you what REALLY matters. They don’t tell you what will happen when you lose your cat. Because losing a pet is unspeakably hard.
No one wants to think about it, no one wants to talk about it. They can’t imagine life without Mr. Whiskers and why should they? He’s just fine thank you very much. But someone oughta tell the truth about what happens to you when your cat dies. So today, I’m gonna be that person.
I write this post through stinging, blinding tears. The wounds in my heart are still raw and oozing. The grief is palpable.
We lost our beloved Loki only three days ago. It feels like an eternity has passed without him, yet it feels like he should still be here.
I adopted him when he was just 8 weeks old, and he spent 13 not-long-enough years being my closest companion. I’m simultaneously a rookie and an expert on grief.
I choke back sobs as I look for photos of him to use in this post. I pull the first few I can find, because I can’t bear to look for better ones.
Here’s what they don’t tell you about coping with pet loss and the guilt that comes with it:
They don’t tell you that after losing a pet, you’ll cry. All the time. A lot. You’ll be wracked with sobs then wracked with guilt.
Guilt for “letting” your pet die, guilt for putting him down, guilt for every time you left him at home when you went to work, guilt for shooing him off the bed the night before he left you forever…then guilt for feeling like your world is torn apart over a cat.
Then you’ll cry more. You’ll remember bringing him home for the first time, when he climbed up onto your shoulder and wailed for his mommy. Then you became his mommy. And now you’re the one wailing.
They don’t tell you that even though you hated cats, that somehow this little bugger will weasel his way into your very soul with his big eyes.
They don’t tell you that even if you think cats are assholes (and let’s not canonize the dead…Loki could be a grade-A jerkface at times) one day you will miss the creature that shredded all your important papers.
The one who tracked cat litter onto your desk.
The one who sat on your keyboard while you were working. The one who bit your toes and pawed your face at 3am because he wanted to play.
You’ll miss all the douchey things. Every single one of them.
They don’t tell you that one day your cat will die, and you will go to throw away his litter box and somehow that poop receptacle will make you break down into uncontrollable sobs, to the point where your neighbors might actually call the cops for fear that you are being stabbed. But the only thing that’s stabbing you is heartache.
Then you realize that you’re crying over a shit box. You cry harder.
They don’t tell you that after losing a pet that there won’t be words for your anguish, that you’ll feel powerless to explain how you really feel, and likely a swath of guilt. So instead of trying to articulate the knot in your stomach, you tell everyone you’re “fine”.
They don’t tell you that after losing a pet, even when you *know* you made the right decision whether to put him down or not, you’ll question everything. You’ll agonize over every decision you’ve made in his life. Did you take him off the kitten chow formula too soon? Was he maybe allergic to that cat litter?
Did he feel the same soul-crushing love for you as you did for him? Did he know that you had soul-crushing love for him? What if you didn’t show him how much you loved him?
They don’t tell you that after losing a pet, you’ll wish you spent more time with him. Maybe you wish you could have taken a leave of absence from work to soak up all the love you could before it was all ripped away from you. Maybe you know that’s crazy, but right now you don’t care.
They don’t tell you that after losing a pet his memory will haunt you. You’ll think you see and hear him. You’ll panic for a moment you forgot to feed him. Or wonder where he is. You will remember he’s gone and then you’ll die a little inside all over again.
They don’t tell you that after losing a cat, your dog will look at you like you’re out of your mind every time you start to sob for no reason. He knows something is up, but mostly he’s excited that he gets all the attention. They don’t tell you that secretly, you’ll resent him and his blissful ignorance because secretly the cat was your favorite as he was your first pet.
Then you’ll feel guilty about that too.
What they DO tell you about losing a pet is that in time, the wounds heal and life goes on. And they are right about that.
In time, we will heal. The wounds will scab over, and the pain will subside. Eventually scars will form, never fully returning to “normal” but to a new normal. But every day, I’ll miss that little rascal who earned the name Loki with his mischievous antics. And I will never forget the 13 years of love and shredded paper he gave us.
There is no wrong way to grieve, so long as the grief is a flowing river, not a stagnant pond. Don’t unpack and live in your grief. Let it flow at whatever speed you choose, but don’t let it get the best of you. <3
If you’ve recently lost a pet, I’m holding space for you in my heart, and sending all my love and condolences and I hope this post helps you heal in whatever way possible.