Six Ways to Care for Yourself When You’re Grieving the Loss of a Cat

grieving-cat

Guest post by Sarah Chauncey

As painful as it is, grief is a universal human experience. There isn’t a person on the planet who has not, or will not, experience the loss of a beloved family member. Our culture ranks humans above animals, and therefore, grieving the loss of an animal friend is often not recognized for the painful experience it is. This disenfranchisement can leave people feeling isolated and misunderstood—which compounds the grief.

In interacting with thousands of people who are grieving the loss of their cat, I often say, “Be gentle with yourself.” This is a shorthand for allowing the experience you’re having and being kind to yourself.

Below are five examples of what “being gentle” can look like.

Show Yourself Compassion

Your grief is valid, whatever form it takes, and regardless of whether other people recognize it or not. Self-compassion means treating yourself as gently and kindly as you would a close friend. We’re often so much harder on ourselves than we are anyone else, and we berate ourselves (especially if we feel guilt over the cat’s death).

If you don’t know where to start, try this: Picture your grief as a baby (or kitten) wrapped in a blanket. Feel the feelings of tenderness that arise. Or do an exercise recommended by Kristin Neff, Ph.D. Write yourself a letter from a place of compassion and kindness. Write the words you need to hear. Self-compassion helps to create an essential space around grief. Grief has its own timetable. It can’t be rushed, and it won’t be pushed away.

Allow Whatever You’re Feeling

Grief is the natural response to loss. It’s the heart’s way of acknowledging the love we feel (as a popular meme says: “Grief is love with no place to go.”) Yet often we try to avoid what we’re feeling, because it’s uncomfortable. The mind jumps in and starts distracting us with thoughts of how things should have been—this is the mind’s way of trying to protect the heart.

Grief wants to be felt. The more we try to avoid feeling grief, the more entrenched it will become. Allow yourself to feel sadness or anger or whatever comes up. You might cry all the time or not at all. You might feel rage. Or something else entirely. When we can feel emotions directly, they move through our body so much more quickly. And if you can’t stop the thoughts, allow those, too.

Grief wants to be felt. The more we try to avoid feeling grief, the more entrenched it will become.

Spend Time in Nature

There are endless benefits to spending time in nature. Especially in untouched nature (like a forest), its beauty can inspire awe. This is particularly helpful if you can’t stop thinking about the loss: Awe has a magical power to cut through rumination. Forests are sensory havens, too—take time to smell the air, touch the trees and feel the earth beneath your feet. It’s not that nature will take away your sadness, but it can give you a respite.

Walk

If you can walk in nature, all the better. The point is to get your body moving, gently. In grief, it’s natural to want to stay home, or even in bed, and not move. In addition to its general health benefits, walking helps emotions move through the body. I find it a great equalizer: If I’m feeling angry or distressed, walking calms me down. If I’m feeling lethargic, it brings my energy level back up. One thing I do find regularly, though: I have to walk for at least 30 minutes before I feel the benefit. Walking can be done in conjunction with…

Take in the Good

This is a phrase from Buddhist psychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D. It means: In the midst of all the painful manifestations of grief—guilt, sadness, anger, despair—also look for what’s good. This isn’t about pushing away any of the uncomfortable feelings. Just open yourself to notice a budding flower, or a painted mural, someone being kind to another person—whatever “the good” means to you. Being human means experiencing pain, joy and the full range of emotions. When we’re feeling a lot of pain, it’s hard to remember that we also have the capacity to feel joy. “Taking in the good” may not make you feel joyful—that’s not its purpose—but it’s a reminder that there is good in the world.

Grieving is painful and difficult, and it often lasts much, much longer than we expect.

Volunteer with a Rescue

Like all the items on this list, volunteering has a whole host of benefits for everyone. When you’re grieving, though, it’s so easy to isolate—and often it’s hard to find people who understand the depth of your grief. Volunteering with an animal rescue not only gives you much-needed contact with animals, but also contact with people who understand what it means to grieve a companion animal. And, of course, it benefits the animals. Whatever your skill set—from marketing to fostering to event planning to knitting blankets—rescues can use your time, talent and heart.

Grieving is painful and difficult, and it often lasts much, much longer than we expect. Most of us are more comfortable when our lives are comfortable and predictable, and grief disrupts all that. But the more we can allow ourselves the space to grieve, to feel the feelings fully, the more we’ll be able to process grief in a healthy way. It still takes time. It still might reshape your life entirely. It still hurts. But the acute phase of grief usually doesn’t last forever.

If you’ve experienced the loss of a cat, what self-care techniques helped you through it? Please share your experience in the comments.

Sarah Chauncey is the author of P.S. I Love You More Than Tuna, an upcoming gift book for adults grieving their cat. She runs @morethantuna on Instagram and Facebook, “a celebration of nine lives,” and she started #tunatributes, a support community for people grieving their cat. She lives on Vancouver Island.

28 Comments on Six Ways to Care for Yourself When You’re Grieving the Loss of a Cat

  1. Yasmine
    June 6, 2019 at 10:38 am (2 months ago)

    I lost my soul cat Persephone very suddenly 5 days before her 5th birthday (9 days before my 20th birthday) in 2015. I still miss her and cry sometimes. I was blessed enough to adopt a beautiful black kitten in 2017 and I love him with all my heart, but he’s my baby and incredibly dependent on me, whereas Persephone was my best friend and my rock.
    I have never grieved for anyone the way I grieved for her. I stopped eating almost entirely for over a month, stayed in bed, listened to emotional music on repeat and cried all day every day. What helped lift me out of my darkness was painting. Pouring my feelings out on paper was incredibly therapeutic and I recommend anyone to try the same. Thank you for writing this article, I hope it helps someone in need!

    Reply
    • Sarah Chauncey
      June 8, 2019 at 4:02 pm (1 month ago)

      I’m so sorry, Yasmine. I know what you mean about “baby” vs. “rock.” It’s so painful. I’m glad writing our your feelings helped you (I’m a big fan of that).

      Reply
  2. Cecilia Stremmel
    March 25, 2019 at 1:11 pm (4 months ago)

    Oh my….. I also feel lost. I lost my girl Smokie this past Friday afternoon. She is one of three cats all from the same litter but each so very different. She had been having bathroom problems and after some bloodwork the vet decided to change her diet to help her digest it better. She arched her back in such a way they also felt arthritis was a factor. She lasted about two months with only a couple of episodes. Friday morning was the last episode. No crying, just walking around with back arched trying to go. She settled down so I left for groceries,only to come home to puke everywhere. It’s was all foam in most of the spots. We took her to the vet, but this time coming home without her. I can hardly stand it and the two still here don’t like each other. Mostly a jealousy factor. The silence is horrible as Smokie was deaf and compensated with her voice almost always. The other kitties stay away from each other as much as possible. The tiger kitty Muffy seems to be looking for her as she wanders around the house meowing. Both seem to be very out of sorts, it’s heartbreaking for me to be grieving and seem them like this also. I miss everything she did and cannot cope with the loss. She was the girl who initiated when treats were to be given, she bellowed so loud the other two to come running. I don’t know what the future brings as one of the other kitties has issues and is on medication. My heart is so overwhelmed I feel lost.
    So if anyone ever says it’s just a cat, they are wrong. She was family and the entire family is now lost! Thank you for giving me the chance to ramble on. I needed that.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      March 25, 2019 at 3:30 pm (4 months ago)

      I’m so sorry for your loss, Cecilia. My heart goes out to you and your family.

      Reply
    • Sarah Chauncey
      June 8, 2019 at 4:04 pm (1 month ago)

      Cecelia, I’m so sorry for your loss (and that I didn’t see this earlier). It’s so painful to see other cats grieving and not be able to explain what happened (though I sense they know). As with humans, grief is a natural response to loss of any kind. Be gentle with yourself and love on your other two.

      Reply
    • Virginia Shrader
      June 22, 2019 at 9:32 pm (1 month ago)

      Cecilia, watch Jackson Gallaxy’s My Cat From Hell. Great ways to bond the other two. I have also been on the
      feline nutrition site for ideas about digestive problems. Hugs
      Virginia

      Reply
  3. Cassie
    March 22, 2019 at 3:25 am (4 months ago)

    Thank you for this. I just lost my third cat in a little over a year. Sarah who I had since I was 8 and she lived to a ripe old age of 18, she died Nov. 2017. Then my grandfather’s cat George who my mother and I had been taking care of since his death in May 2017. George died from a stroke in January 2018. Now my grandfather’s last cat Pinkie. I have been ignoring my feelings and not wanting to tell anything and it keeps bubbling up and exploding. It’s a lot of death and I just want them back. I plan to go volunteer for the rescue in my town but I am so sad. I’m embarrassed of all my crying but I know I’m deep in my grief.

    I need to feel and not suppress those pesky feelings.

    So thank you so much.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      March 22, 2019 at 4:54 am (4 months ago)

      I’m so sorry, Cassie. That’s an awful lot of loss in a short time. I’m glad this article was helpful to you.

      Reply
    • Sarah Chauncey
      June 8, 2019 at 4:12 pm (1 month ago)

      I’m sorry for your multiple losses, Cassie. Remember that grief is a totally normal reaction to loss of any kind. It’s our culture that creates the idea that it’s “embarrassing,” but crying can be healthy. Be good to yourself.

      Reply
  4. Susan McMahon
    January 3, 2019 at 2:00 pm (7 months ago)

    I lost my beautiful Nala 3 yrs ago. She was not the first beloved cat I have lost and still grieve all my babies. Nala was a beautiful Siamese left roaming the streets, I rescued her and had a wonderful year with her. She had a sudden heart attack and we had to put her down. I still cry like a baby thinking of her and what a loving wonderful cat she was. My friends said not to feel bad because I gave her the best last year of her life. My vet said she was probably dumped due to health issues that someone did not want to deal with.
    Two weeks after she passed, my son walked in from our garage with a tabby kitten and said “look who just jumped into my arms Mom!” So since that time we have had “Porsche” who is polar opposite of Nala, quite independent and feisty. But I love her too and she has helped heal my broken heart. My vet said it was a sign from Nala that I should rescue this kitten and give her a good life too.

    Reply
    • Sarah Chauncey
      June 8, 2019 at 4:13 pm (1 month ago)

      I’m so sorry for your loss of Nala, Susan. (And I’m sorry I didn’t see your comment until now.) I’m glad Porche found you.

      Reply
  5. Sue Brandes
    December 13, 2018 at 8:33 am (7 months ago)

    Thank you for this post.

    Reply
  6. Ida
    December 13, 2018 at 2:46 am (7 months ago)

    My heart goes out to everyone who’s lost a soul kitty. I lost my sweet Gabrielle on 3/22/16, and I *still* cry over her. Even though a delightful new girl, Aryana, has adopted me and I adore her, she will never take the place of “Miss G.” (Nor would I want her to… she deserves to be loved in her own right, and I would feel dreadfully disloyal to Miss G’s memory.) I love Ary, but Miss G and I were so bonded… I often worry that I’m not learning to “read” Ary because I’m still grieving her predecessor. Even reading this post tonight made me cry… as much as I don’t want anyone else to be hurting, I’m glad to know I’m not the only one out there.

    Reply
    • Robyn
      January 19, 2019 at 2:06 am (6 months ago)

      I just lost my soul kitty on Jan 14/19 as I had to put her down. She got hereditary kidney disease just before she turn 7 and even had to be hospitalized. She lasted 3 years and 5 months more. When we went to the vet on Dec 27/18, I found out she has ear infections, her matted fur need to be all shaved as she isn’t ckeaning herself and all her teeth needed to be removed. Then I found out more that her kidney disease has got worse. She was now 2 to 3 out of 4 and she had diluted pee, which means her kidneys were not functioning well and she was eating less. She went diwn fast in the last few months. I now understood where her playmate was abandoning her (kitten I got for her when she was a year and 9 months old). She also started having accidents 2 weeks later and vomited with eating it. The poor girl was suffering. It was so hard to let go. Washing her ears and giving her ear drops made her scared of me. It was sad. Her other sister (stray my ex-boyfriend brought to me) also needs dental work. Anyhow, her I bonded for the year and half when it was just her and I. I took her to see her brother abd go outside. I took her to an ex’s acreage so she could run around outside. I took her to a pond by my old condo. I even taught her to fetch when she was kitten before she got fixed abd one time after that. I have videos of both to always remember that she did that. She also helped me when my heart got broken. I found her under the covers laying across my chest one morning because my chest was hurting from crying so much. The greatest bond and she is my soul kitty. I have never lived another thing the same as I loved her. I got her as I never planned on have children. My boyfriend and I had a miscarriage over a year and haven’t got pregnant since. Jewels was there for me then as well. She knew when I was in pain. We were there for each other. I will always love her and no cat can replace her. I have been spending time with my other 2 girls, but it is never going to be the same as the Triple J cats are not all physically present, but are all here spiritually.

      Reply
      • Sarah Chauncey
        June 8, 2019 at 4:15 pm (1 month ago)

        I’m so sorry for your losses, Ida and Robin. Ida, yes no two are alike (as I’m discovering first-hand). I’m glad Aryana found you. Robin, I agree they’re still here in spirit. I can often feel Hedda’s energy in my heart.

        Reply
  7. Cat Clothes
    December 12, 2018 at 1:26 pm (7 months ago)

    I think that Ignoring your pain can actually make grief harder. In order to actually heal from the loss of your cat, you will need to actively face your pain and deal with it. If you feel sad and want to cry, then you should cry. Bottling up your emotions will likely extend the grieving process

    Reply
    • Sarah Chauncey
      June 8, 2019 at 4:15 pm (1 month ago)

      I agree. It’s hard, though, when our culture pressures people to bottle up their feelings. It’s an active (and not always pleasant) process of learning to feel them fully.

      Reply
  8. Janine
    December 12, 2018 at 8:36 am (7 months ago)

    After I lost Nani, I started volunteering with a rescue. It really helped take my mind off my loss and I was able to give love to a lot of cats and kittens. I really enjoyed it and made a lot of cat loving friends who understood my love for cats and how I was feeling after losing my soul mate cat.

    Reply
    • Sarah
      December 12, 2018 at 2:21 pm (7 months ago)

      That’s how I began volunteering, too (and I then learned that nearly every volunteer in our rescue began after losing a soul cat). I’m sorry for your loss of Nani.

      Reply
  9. Jane Todaro
    December 12, 2018 at 5:22 am (7 months ago)

    Joyce,

    I’m very, very sorry for your loss. I send you my love and deepest sympathy.

    Often, our relationships with our furbabies are much closer and more comforting than our relationships with most of the people in our lives.

    Take care of yourself, Joyce, and take comfort in knowing that you gave Casey Jones a great life, and that you’ve known that deep, wonderful love.

    Jane

    Reply
    • Joyce
      December 12, 2018 at 12:54 pm (7 months ago)

      That’s very kind of you. I appreciate you saying so, Jane.
      I’m struggling with my emotions and trying to hide them so I’m grateful to have somewhere I don’t feel judged.
      Thank you. Thank you.

      Reply
  10. Joyce
    December 12, 2018 at 3:54 am (7 months ago)

    My tears just keep falling, Ingrid. I fall into a sobbing heap of nothing so many times a day. I wake up at night thinking I hear his loud call … he lost his hearing a little over a year ago and would just call out this mournful tone from another room. And the same way I did when my son was just an infant, I’d go to Casey, too, wherever he was and carry him to lay next to me. Usually he’d purr loudly and fall asleep. … Now I wake at night crying because I feel emptiness beside me where he’d lay. I find myself wishing we had a do-over in this life. I hear myself call his name and follow it with “Come back. Just come back Casey, please.” I feel like I’m losing my mind. And yes, I feel ashamed that I can’t handle this grief better, or in the way I know people think I should.

    Tonight I’m laying in bed, and my little Maggie, Casey’s “sister” is again as she has for the last 21 days decided that the nightstand where I placed Casey’s ashes for now, is where she chooses to sleep. She’s never perched there before. Nor had Casey. But for some reason, she rests her head on that little box. I don’t have the heart to move it and honestly I don’t want to.

    I picked up my phone to check the time, and got a notice that conciouscat sent mail….

    Right on time, coincidence or not, your post on grieving… Thank you.

    So for tonight I will cry as long as I cry. My chest will feel that heavy but empty feeling and I’ll imagine his paws against my cheeks as he always did when I held him. And I’ll do it because that’s just what happens so often these days and nights. His loss is nearly unbearable for me. I ache.

    But I thank you all for being on the other end of the posts and for understanding this grief is real and painful and deep. I’ll try not to be ashamed of how I feel but I do feel everyday almost that I can’t wait to shut my doors at the end of the day so I don’t have to put on that face everyone else thinks I should have by now because after all “it’s just a cat”.

    The cruelty of that statement angers me.
    Casey Jones holds more of my heart than any human ever had or ever could.
    Instead of feeling ashamed, I’ll try to feel sympathy for those who will never know that love.

    Forgive any typos, please, the tears just flow and I can barely see this tiny screen.

    Thank you again, Ingrid and consciouscat friends…. For listening and for your kindness.

    I love you, Casey. Always my Angel. Good night my beautiful, little boy….

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 12, 2018 at 6:24 am (7 months ago)

      Oh Joyce, I’m so sorry. My heart hurts for you. There is no shame in grieving deeply. I’m glad that the support of this community is helping at least a little. I, too, feel sorry for those who have never experienced just how deep the love between a cat and a human can be, and as much as it hurts to loose a beloved cat, especially a soul cat like your Casey, I can’t imagine a life without that kind of love in it, even if it’s for way too short a time.

      Reply
      • Joyce
        December 12, 2018 at 12:59 pm (7 months ago)

        Thank you for saying that. Sometimes I think I’ve got the dealing down and most times the dealing’s got me.
        I don’t feel like I can manage volunteering right now. One, because Maggie has been developing the same symptoms as Casey started with and I’m at the vet and the24hr ER 3 or more times a week … In fact we had a couple of group visits when Casey was ill. So I need to keep my focus on her and that’s hard enough.
        But as much as I love and adore my Maggie, I do that read her like I did Casey. I would just look at him, the way he lay or those eyes, or a voluntary sound … and I knew what he wanted or needed or what he was going to do next.
        It’s just not the same with Maggie. She hides most things well.
        She does (and always would) jumped to any level closest to me & reach out just to get me to go close to her and she’d just kiss kiss kiss, nuzzle and bump heads. She’s way lovable that way. But I’m scared I can’t read her right and that I’ll miss something.
        Anyway. Thank you for being there and understanding. It truly makes a difference.

        Reply
    • Marc
      December 12, 2018 at 11:08 am (7 months ago)

      You are not alone, I lost my beloved Squeaky on the 13th of November, and the sobbing, and loneliness has been unbearable. I also tell myself that this is in honour of her life, my grief, my intense grief honours her life and her soul intertwined with mine. I give you my condolences and share in your tremendous grief and love you gave and received from your Casey.

      Reply
      • JASpan718
        December 12, 2018 at 1:16 pm (7 months ago)

        Oh wow. I’m so sorry. So sorry. Your pain is so raw yet you’re reaching out to me. I can’t even bring myself to send notes to the doctors and tech and the mortuary folks who did everything they could in the kindest ways possible, without breaking down.
        Maybe hearing & talking about other people’s loss like losing your baby squeaky (that’s adorable) is a way we can help each other when we need that lift.
        I’m so sorry you lost your baby. I can’t believe I feel like this but I truly wish there was a way to get them back.. I would go anywhere and bring him back. And I’d load up my truck for anyone who wanted a do over too. But we can’t…
        Like Ingrid says be gentle with yourself. I’m trying just not managing it well. But know that your words and everyones words do help. Little by little I can feel something lift. I hope it’s that way for you.

        This forum has always been important for me but never like now.

        Reply
      • Sarah
        December 12, 2018 at 2:19 pm (7 months ago)

        I’m sorry for your loss, Marc–a month somehow feels like forever and just yesterday at the same time. I love what you wrote here, that your grief honours her life–that’s a beautiful way of phrasing it.

        Reply
    • Sarah
      December 12, 2018 at 2:17 pm (7 months ago)

      Joyce, I am so sorry for your loss, and so sorry for your pain. It sounds like Casey was a very special cat, and your bond with each other was profound. Grief *can* make you feel like you’re losing your mind, yet this depth of sadness isn’t unusual–especially because people who have not been through it don’t get it. As Ingrid said, there is no shame in grieving deeply–it means that you love deeply (you have loved, and you still love).

      Reply

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