I am writing this post from the depths of the rawness of recent grief. My beloved Jasmine followed her brother Tucker across the Rainbow Bridge three days ago. Tucker and Jasmine were in my life for 17 years but no matter how many years we have with them, we still want more.
As I suffered through the loss of Tucker in February someone asked me how old he was. When I said 17 the person said, “Well, at 17 he had a good run.” I don’t believe this comment was made to hurt me but it did. This is not the first time someone has dismissed or belittled the grief I’ve suffered at the loss of a fur kid.
It was Tucker’s loss that prompted me to enroll in a certificate course for pet bereavement counseling. I had no idea I would be grieving his sister only four months later and that I would become my own bereavement counselor.
I am learning that each loss is unique and grief takes many forms. The circumstances of the loss of our cats vary, sometimes we have to make the decision to help them over the Rainbow Bridge, and other times that decision is taken out of our hands when our felines pass away suddenly or, we may never have closure as they just disappear.
Grief isn’t logical
Loss is always traumatic but when the loss is sudden or unexpected it can affect us very deeply and for an extended period of time.
This was the case with my beloved coal black, green-eyed mellow tempered and loving Buster. Buster never insisted on anything. He always expressed pleasure at every petting he received, every treat he was offered and every stroll around the back yard. We shared twelve wonderful years together until the evening we were sitting together in the downstairs TV room. He woke from his nap with a scream, had a seizure and died. It was 11:00pm and there was nothing I could do until the next morning. I wrapped him lovingly in a blanket, placed him in a carrier and put him in my car in the garage. My logical mind said, “He’s gone.” My heart and emotions said, “What if you’re wrong?” I worried that it had all been a horrible mistake and that he’d be sitting up in the box wondering why he was in the car. I went out to the garage several times during the night to check on him.
Buster’s ashes were spread in the beautiful memorial rose garden behind my veterinary clinic. I couldn’t bring myself to visit that garden. I moved along in life, shedding tears when I found a favorite toy of his, looked at photographs and when the tape of the moment of his death ran in my head. I believed that time would heal my broken heart and I soldiered on.
It was about a year later I decided I wanted to bring a kitten into the family. I was excited (who doesn’t love a kitten?) and entered the kitten room at the shelter with anticipation. The room was full of sweet little guys – and all of them were black. I felt my chest constrict and my eyes filled with tears. I ran out of the room and the shelter. There was no adoption that day and not for many months later.
My logical mind couldn’t understand my reaction and it was only when I was working through my bereavement counseling course that I began to understand the particular grief I suffered at Buster’s death.
I watched Buster suffer at the end. I never had a chance to say good-bye. I couldn’t stroke him and tell him how much I loved him in his last moments of life. His sudden and traumatic death left me with many unresolved feelings.
According to the Ralph Site, a pet loss support group, “Sudden and unexpected pet loss can cause pet parents to exhibit physical and emotional symptoms of shock. If your bereavement has just happened – or you’re reading this on behalf of someone it’s just happened to – you may find yourself shaking, experiencing palpitations, headaches, stomach aches, sleeplessness and more. Some people even show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is defined as ‘recurring memories and a heightened state of arousal that lingers for more than a month after a traumatic event’. You don’t even have to have witnessed your pet’s passing to feel traumatized. Sometimes not having been there can be just as painful.”
I realized that the loss of Buster had traumatized me in a way that my other losses had not. Please make no mistake, every loss is traumatic but my reaction to this death was unhealthy and extended. My mind constantly cycled through the same questions, “Did I do something wrong? Why didn’t I see this coming? Did I take care of him the best I could? Did he know how much I loved him?” The tape of his passing played repetitively in my head. I felt tormented.
Healing and moving forward
There is no timeline on grief, every situation is different, every person is different and therefore there is no one size fits all formula to recover from the grief you feel. In sharing my journey to healing my hope is that there will be something in these five points that those of you who are suffering from loss can take and use to find your own healing. They are helping me deal with the loss of Jasmine.
1-Feel Your Pain: No one likes to hurt but not allowing the grief to work itself through is unhealthy, physically and mentally. As awful as it is, there is healing in feeling the pain.
2-Accept solace from those who understand: Find the people who will cry with you, comfort you and who understand the grief you are feeling. Stay away from those whose attitude is, “It was only a cat.”
3-Stop the Distressing Tape in Your Head: This is not an easy thing to do. I am a person of faith and when that tape starts running I stop it with prayer. If prayer isn’t part of your lifestyle acknowledge what is happening and refuse to let the tape play. Replace those images with thoughts of happy days, remember the joy and love you shared with your cat. Refuse to allow the tape to play and every time it starts, fix your mind on something else.
4-Dump the Guilt: Refuse to play the “what if” game. Remind yourself of the care and love you lavished on your cat, focus on the wonderful times you had together, not the last moments of your cat’s life. The fact that you are grieving so much is a testimonial to the love you had for your fur kid.
5-Don’t dwell on the death, honor the life: Honoring your cat’s life needs to be done in the way that is best for you. Some people write a letter, some set up a memorial, some talk to others about their cat; some have a memorial service or another memorial type of activity.
My closure and healing will come soon not just for Buster but for my recently deceased and beloved Tucker and Jasmine. I will go, for the first time, to the rose garden where their ashes have been spread and I will remember them with some friends who also have recently lost their beloved fur kids. I will celebrate their lives and the love they brought into my life.
The answer is……..there is no answer
We all grieve differently and we move through our grief differently. The key is moving through it so that it isn’t detrimental to our physical and emotional health. This is why it’s so important to say goodbye, in whatever way is best for us as it will help navigate this rocky path of grief. When we say a proper goodbye to our beloved felines we find that in time (and that time is different for everyone) we focus on our cat’s life and how much we loved them, and not the loss. Our memories of them will be full of the happy days, the joy and the love.
Wherever you are on your journey of grief, I hope that you will find some help from my story. If you do not have supportive, understanding people around you, I highly recommend The Ralph Site Facebook page and group to share your story. You are always welcome to have a discussion in this blog in the comments or contact me directly. Don’t suffer alone, there are many of us who understand what you are going through.