Monday, December 3, 2018

Pet Loss: Coping with The Trauma of An Unexpected Death

Source: Wikipedia
There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.
~ Albert Schweitzer

A reader writes: Three weeks ago I found my beloved 18-month-old Ragdoll  kitten Shalimar lying dead on the floor when I got home from work. Even though I have another Ragdoll (Josie, a 3 year old boy), Shalimar was my shadow. She was always at the door when she heard the key in the door and she would follow me from room to room and sit by me purring loudly. We had a routine every day from the time I got up to get ready to go to work with her bringing me her ball to throw for her to playing chase around the apartment before I left. She would come and sit by me and beg for Cracker Jacks in the evening. As soon as I walked into the apartment, she would greet me and lead me into the apartment, checking over her shoulder, to make sure I was still following her. Her purring would just echo off the walls. She was always so happy.

Through the apartment management's carelessness, when Josie was 9 months old he got chemically poisoned through an unscheduled carpet cleaning. I almost lost him and even though he managed to pull through it, he was damaged forever health-wise and personality-wise. While before he also had been by me constantly, he now withdrew into a world of his own, sometimes coming out of his world but moreso staying in a place that I can't reach him. Since he seemed to be so lonely, I chose to get him a companion and that is how I came to have another Ragdoll, Shalimar, who was 3 months old when I brought her home.

Even though at first Josie was jealous of her, he came to like having another cat to keep him company while I was at work and as she grew bigger, they would chase each other around the apartment playing.

On the 9th, when Shali was not at the door to greet me, I at first thought she had gotten shut in my clothes closet. But she was not in there. I saw her lying under my dining room table and at first she looked like she was lying there asleep. When she did not respond to my calling her, I got down to touch her and found her in full rigor mortis. I completely went into shock, screaming "no" over and over. Ragdolls are not considered adults until they are 4 years of age and so Shali was still a kitten. I had last seen her playing when I left. There was not a mark on her, no blood, no vomit, just a dead baby.

In tears, I called my vet, and he said to bring her body over for an autopsy to find out why she had died. I could not go into work the next day, because I had been up sobbing all night. Josie was hiding under the bed.

My vet said he found that it seemed that Shalimar had died from aspiration, that she had tried to throw up and had inhaled it into her lungs. So in effect, she suffocated to death. It is so hard to know that she suffered before she died. One day I saw her get a piece of her food stuck in her throat and the panicked look on her face was horrible to watch before I could get to her and she was able to cough it out of her throat. If I had been there, could I have saved her this time when this happened? It is so hard to walk by the table and see where she died. It is like a hole in my life now where she once was.

I now live in fear that since Josie is not in the best of health because of the poisoning incident, he too is going to die suddenly, and all night long I wake up and check him to see if he is breathing. He cries for Shalimar all the time, sometimes just wailing, which also makes me want to cry more. I have this horrible fear that I am going to touch him and find him cold and hard. In fact the other night, I laid my hand on him and could not feel him breathing. I called his name and he did not respond and I turned on the light and he still did not move. I grabbed him up and he finally moved. This is a horrible way to live. Can you please help me with some advice?


My response: I am so terribly sorry to read your tragic story, and I can only imagine how horrible this has been for you. When death comes suddenly and unexpectedly like this, it can be especially difficult to deal with the shock and pain of it (not to mention the anger and guilt), and I can only imagine how devastated you must feel. You have suffered such a traumatic loss, and if I were in your shoes, I truly do believe that I would be having the very same concerns as you are having now.

Of course, there is nothing I can say to reassure you that Josie will live to a ripe old age and to promise you that what happened to Shalimar surely will never happen to Josie, too. Under the circumstances, I think it's completely understandable that, traumatized as you are from finding Shalimar the way you did and knowing that Josie's health has already been compromised, you live in such terrible fear. This is not unlike what we would expect to see in a post-traumatic stress situation. So you are not "crazy" or "over-reacting." Instead, you are reacting normally to a very abnormal and frightening set of circumstances. Everything you believed to be real and true in your world has been turned completely upside-down, and you are trying desperately to make some sense of this new and uncertain, unpredictable world you now find yourself in.

First, I'm going to assume that you're already having Josie checked thoroughly and on a regular basis by your vet, to make sure that his health issues are being monitored and addressed. I'm also going to assume that you're already caring for him and loving him as best you can, given the responsible animal lover that you are. At this point in your grief journey and given the nature of Shalimar's sudden, unexpected and accidental death, it is normal and predictable that you would be fearful of and hyper-vigilant regarding Josie's well-being, because you are terribly aware that if it could happen to Shalimar, it could happen to Josie, too. But I want to gently suggest to you that at some point you will come to recognize and accept that you're already doing the best that you can do for Josie, and you will let it be enough.

Next, I strongly suggest that you check with your veterinarian or pet grooming specialist to see what, if any, pet loss services are available in your community. I think it's essential that you do not try to manage this traumatic loss all by yourself. The guilt and anger you may be harboring about all of this can eat you alive unless you find someone to talk to about your feelings, someone who will help you look at your situation more objectively. You need someone you can talk to who understands the relationship you had with Shalimar, who understands the mourning process and will listen to you without judging you.

If you cannot find any pet loss services in your city or town, see Moira Allen's Pet Loss Support Page for a state-by-state listing of pet loss counselors and support groups. Since you have access to the Internet, consider going online to access some of the many resources that offer information, comfort and support. Start with my own site's Pet Loss Links page for suggestions. I've listed a number of telephone helplines and other resources under the HELPLINES, MESSAGE BOARDS, CHATS category.

You might also consider participating in our on-line Grief Healing Discussion Groups. Click on https://www.griefhealingdiscussiongroups.com/ and register as a new member with a user name and secret password of your choosing, then scroll down the page until you come to the Loss of a Pet forum. There you can give words to your grief by sharing your story of loss, and find emotional support and inspiration from others whose experiences may be similar to your own.

I also strongly believe that it is very helpful to do some reading about grief and pet loss. Doing so can reassure you that what you are experiencing is normal, it will help you to know what to expect in grief, and it can help you to learn how to manage your reactions, so you'll feel more aware of and in control of what is happening to you. Go to my Pet Loss Articles page to view a list of links to all the articles I've written on that topic. See especially Loss And The Burden Of Guilt . See also my Comfort for Grieving Animal Lovers page, which contains dozens of beautiful, uplifting writings by many other noted authors and poets. In your case, I'd also encourage you to do some reading about traumatic loss. See Coping with Traumatic Loss: Suggested Resources.

No one can take away the pain of this tragic, horrible and unexpected death, but you need not bear the burden of your loss all by yourself. I know it feels that way right now, but you are not alone. You reached out to me for help, and you can reach out to these other resources, too.

I sincerely hope this information proves helpful to you, my dear. Please know that I am thinking of you and holding you in my heart.

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