On March 16, I said goodbye to Sophie, the cross-eyed, snaggletoothed orange cat who’d been my near-constant companion for 13 years.
It’d been a long goodbye. In her 16 years, Sophie suffered various maladies, including but not limited to an autoimmune disorder, kidney failure, seizures and arrhythmia—the latter earned her a baby-sized pacemaker in 2007.
Always, though, she fought through and rebounded.
This time was different; not only was there no cure but frustratingly there was also no diagnosis. In the last month, Sophie’s quality of life took a marked turn for the worse. When she woke me up at 4 a.m. on her last day, clearly in pain and barely able to crawl from one spot to another, we rushed her to the emergency vet where the doctors, theorizing about possibilities, ran tests but came up with nothing conclusive.
This much we knew: Sophie was dying by the second.
Making the choice about her life was excruciating but, as it turns out, that was the easiest part. As my husband and I held her at the end, giving her one last kitty kiss, one last comforting pet, it was time to let Sophie finally be at peace.
Now is the hardest part.
In the days since, I’ve felt an all-consuming sorrow. I took a day off from work and cried for hours. I could have taken a month off, however, and still not exhausted my sadness.
Grief, of course, is normal, expected and healthy. Still, as difficult as it is for the world to face the intimacies of someone else’s heartache following the death of a friend, family member or significant other, the culture of grief surrounding the loss of a pet is even more complicated and loaded with uncertainties.
How do you offer condolences? What’s the right (or the wrong thing) to say? Why is this person so damn sad?
A friend sent me a link to the Petloss.com support page, and it helped me make sense of my own thoughts and feelings:
“You may run into people who don’t understand your grief and who may tell you that it is ‘silly’ or ‘inappropriate’ to grieve over the loss of an animal. … It’s a good idea to keep in mind that many people have simply never had a close relationship with an animal of any kind … different people live different lives.”
I’m lucky to be surrounded by family and friends who understand, who don’t see my grief as self-indulgent. They call or text me regularly to check in, they send cards, they understand when I start crying mid-conversation.
There’s no need to explain to them why I am bereft over the loss of the cat we called “the Boss” for the way she strutted around the house. I don’t need to justify the emptiness I feel upon realizing she’ll never crawl into bed with me on a cold morning to warm her icy little feet in the crook of my arm. I don’t need to explain why I’ll even miss the way she woke me up every day at 5 a.m., demanding food.
They don’t laugh when I tell them I’ve put Sophie’s favorite stuffed toys in her old corner of the couch; they let me recount stories about her quirky habits and adventures—like how she loved broccoli or the way she once tried to beat up a Furby doll.
They listen and better yet, they share their own stories of love and loss.
They allow me to grieve over Sophie and, as such, they help me feel better.