Guest post by Sarah Chauncey
This is the third post in a three-part series. I’ve previously written about how veterinarians are handling euthanasia during COVID-19 and ways you can take care of yourself during this time. In this post, I’ll look at some options for reaching out for support during a time when nearly all of us are keeping physical distance.
Online support options
First and always: If you have any thoughts of hurting yourself, please call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. There is no shame in reaching out for help. All of us are experiencing increased stress these days, with very little certainty or familiarity to hold onto. Grieving a pet in the midst of all this uncertainty can feel like the final straw.
Even if you’re physically isolated, you don’t have to go through this alone.
Veterinary schools are closed for now, which means their pet-loss support hotlines are, too. The only active hotline I’ve been able to confirm (during the pandemic) is run by Lap of Love, a nationwide mobile euthanasia service. Because their veterinarians focus exclusively on end-of-feline-life issues, they have substantial experience in talking to humans who are anticipating or grieving a loss.
In-person pet loss support groups have paused their meetings during the pandemic. A handful have moved online, and many therapists and counselors are now offering video sessions. Because every state, province, and sometimes every county, is handling re-opening differently, it’s impossible to generalize about what types of support might be available. I recommend searching your town or county and “pet loss support” to see whether you might be able to join an online group facilitated by a therapist or licensed clinical social worker.
Connect with friends virtually
We’ve all experienced the deafening silence after a cat’s death. This is especially true if you live alone and only had one cat. Our minds go to the negative space, to what’s not there. I would like to tell you to lean into it, to allow whatever you’re feeling to arise and work its way out. For some people, though, this may be too traumatic or painful right now. Don’t push yourself, especially if you have a history of trauma. Listen to your instincts.
When we’re left alone with our thoughts after a loss, our mind can become a minefield of self-attacking thoughts and doubts: I should have… I shouldn’t have… Why didn’t I… This shouldn’t be… The loss of a companion animal is a significant one. Talking to a person who understands can both help us feel seen—important for processing grief—and interrupt the pattern of rumination.
In a simpler time, it was possible to go see friends, receive hugs and consolation, or distract ourselves with work. Today, when most of us are keeping physical distance and working from home, videoconferencing is the only way to safely connect with people outside your “household bubble.” Whether those people are half a block away or 4000 miles away, they still love you and want to support you. Try setting up virtual coffee dates or check-ins at a frequency that feels right to you. A friend can remind you to come back to the present moment or how much your cat loved you.
Find community on Instagram
After Hedda’s death, I learned that watching videos and livestreams of foster kittens on Instagram is a common way to cope. However, if your grief is too raw, and it hurts too much to watch, then take care of yourself in a different way. Don’t push yourself to do anything that makes you feel worse.
Instagram has a large animal rescue community, and both fosters and their followers understand the pain of loss all too well. Before I discovered the huge cat community on Instagram, I found it helpful to go through the #petloss and #rainbowbridge hashtags and notice all the people who were grieving at the same time as I was. That made me feel less isolated, and I found it helpful to imagine us all connected by this thread of loss and grief.
Instagram communities congregate around specific accounts, rather than “groups.” I started @morethantuna in early 2017 to provide a community for those grieving the loss of a cat. If you’re looking for support, I invite you to share photos and stories of your cat using the hashtag #tunatributes. Because so much about our current situation is grief-related and can trigger other losses, I also recommend @modernloss and @refugeingrief, two accounts that focus on grief and loss of all kinds.
Join groups on Facebook
On Facebook, The Ralph Site Pet Loss Support Group is a UK-based pet loss support group run by a veterinary Emergency and Critical Care specialist. I’m not a member of the group, so I can’t speak to its tone, but it seems to be highly respected and it’s evident that many people have found it helpful.
Tuna Tributes is the Facebook group I started for people to share photos of and tributes to their cats. The Tributes community is made up of 1700 people who understand the pain of losing a beloved companion. It warms my heart to see how much support members give each other—it’s far beyond what I dreamed of three years ago. Please note that in order to join Tuna Tributes, you’ll need to agree to adhere to the guidelines (remember to hit the “submit request” button after you’ve typed your answer).
Seek out nature on YouTube
I’ve previously written about the benefits of spending time in nature and seeking out experiences of awe. Both of these can stop the mind from ruminating. If you are able to get outside for a walk in nature, I highly recommend doing that. Connecting with nature reminds us that we and our cats are part of a mysterious and awe-inspiring interconnected living system.
If your area is too densely populated to allow for outdoors walks, seek out one of the thousands of nature videos on YouTube. While nature videos aren’t the same as being in a forest, watching them does have benefits. Scientists believe that experiences of awe can stop the mind from ruminating (for example, on a loss) and bring us deeply into the moment.
Whenever I look at photos or videos of nature, it reminds me of how much of this life is a mystery, and how much we don’t know. We and our cats, past and present, are part of this universe of mystery.
It’s hard to not be able to be able to turn to our friends in “real life” when we mourn a loss. Online support isn’t the same as being hugged by a friend, but right now, it’s the best option, along with using technology to connect with loved ones who understand.
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.