Monday, December 23, 2019

Pet Loss: Amazed At How We Are Grieving

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay 
There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.  ~ Albert Schweitzer

A reader writes: Just wanted you to know that your site offered a lot of insight into the grieving process when one loses a pet. My husband and I are in our 50's, with no children, but four cats and a dog. We recently lost our 10-year-old cat, very suddenly, to an unknown condition (perhaps a tumor) but somehow related to diabetes. She was in Intensive Care at a University Vet Hospital for two days but only went downhill to the point where the vets indicated that her prognosis was poor and that she would probably never recover. At this point we chose to euthanize her because she was in such pain and had labored breathing.

Our problem is that my husband and I are rather amazed at how we are grieving over this loss.

 We have cried more together this week than when we lost our parents and relatives. We feel so guilty over this. It has now been about 5 days since we lost our cat and we are still no better than on Sunday when she died. I have tried to explain to him that it may take quite a long time before we stop feeling this hurting in our heart. The problem is that we have to maintain our emotions when we are at work - but we seem to fall apart when we are together 
and in private. Every day is getting a little better – but only a little. They will be sending us an urn with her remains and her collar in about two weeks and I am so afraid that we will lose it all over again when this arrives.

My question is once the urn arrives should we wait to open it until we are ready? Can you give us any guidance on what to do with her remains once we receive them? It just seems we will be resurrecting so much pain again. Thank God we are going through this together as it would be just awful if only one were mourning her death and not the other. Any helpful insights you could give us would be appreciated. We have three cats and a dog remaining now – but our dog is 14 and in poor health and may not make it until the end of the year. We fear she will die soon and question our handling it.

My response: I'm so sorry to learn of the sudden and unexpected death of your beloved cat. I can only imagine how shocked and upset you and your husband must feel, and how empty your home must seem without her physical presence there. You say that you've cried more over this loss than you did when you lost your parents and relatives, but I can assure you that this reaction is not at all unusual. Oftentimes the attachments we have to our animal companions are even stronger than those we have with relatives, simply because our animals are with us every moment of every day, and weave themselves into every aspect of our lives. The unconditional love they offer us is pure and innocent, quite unlike the
more complicated relationships we have with human loved ones. The pain we feel at losing them is very real, deserving of our respect and our attention, and certainly worthy of our grief. (See my article, Pet Loss: A Disenfranchised Grief)

Also, because your beloved kitty was taken from you so suddenly and unexpectedly, it is quite understandable that you feel shocked and numb, and your minds may be filled with questions, medical and otherwise. (See Pet Loss: Coping with The Trauma of An Unexpected Death.)

You say that you and your husband seem to fall apart when you are together and in private. That is probably because when you are together and behind closed doors, you both feel safe in expressing what you are truly feeling, and you know instinctively that you will not be judged for it. It is reasonable to expect that we have to keep our feelings under control under certain circumstances (such as while we are at work), but it's also healthy and appropriate to give in to those feelings when we are in a safe and private place. Give yourselves permission to get such feelings out. I would be far more concerned if you were holding all those feelings in and hiding them from each other. Grief is the price we pay for loving our dear pets so much, and it is both normal and healthy to feel and express deep sorrow and pain when they die. (See Finding Crying Time in Grief.)

You’ve shared your concern that “They will be sending us an urn with her remains and her collar in about two weeks and I am afraid that we will lose it all over when this arrives.” That may very well be the case ~ but know that and prepare yourselves ahead time ~ and celebrate the fact that you two are healthy and warm-hearted enough not only to have loved this creature dearly but also fortunate enough to have each other to share in this deep sorrow as you travel this grief journey together. See if the two of you can talk about this now, before the fact, and plan and construct some sort of beautiful and memorable ritual around this event. Make the arrival of her cremains as special a time as possible ~ think of it as a memorial service for your beloved, and plan it out accordingly.

You ask if, “once the urn arrives should we wait to open it until we are ready? Can you give us any guidance on what to do with her remains once we receive them?” The advantage of having your kitty cremated is that now you have so many options. For example, you can display the urn containing your kitty's cremains in a special place of honor in your home. This does not have to be where others will see it (unless you want it to be) ~ it can be in a private place such as your master bedroom, for example, and you can place her picture there along with a flameless LED votive candle or any other objects that you choose ~ whatever you do is up to you. The point is to do what brings you comfort and whatever enables you to remember her with love. Keep it mind that death may have ended your kitty's life here on earth, but it did not end the relationship you have with her. The bond you have with this kitty remains, and her spirit will be with you just as long as you keep her memory alive in your hearts and in your minds.

If you choose to do so, you can place a portion of your kitty's cremains in a special locket or container that you can carry with you. When you open the container, however, be prepared for what you will see. Cremation is a process that returns your kitty's body to its elements through intense heat and evaporation. It results in a quantity of ash as well as tiny fragments of bone which are processed, reduced and placed in the container that is returned to you. Cremated remains are odorless and can be stored indefinitely, so you and your husband will have plenty of time to decide how and when you wish to deal with this, and you can plan accordingly.

You can pick a place in your yard or in the country that holds special memories for you and your kitty, and bury or scatter all or a portion of her cremains there, as a way of releasing her body and spirit back to the earth and sky.

You can keep her cremains in an urn that is sealed in a niche, then placed in a columbarium (an arrangement of niches, indoors or outdoors) at a pet cemetery or crematory.

Visit some of the links I've listed on the Memorializing A Pet page of my Grief Healing website, for all kinds of other suggestions and ideas. Your options are as broad as your imagination.

Finally, you say that “we have three cats and a dog remaining now, but our dog is 14 and in poor health and may not make it until the end of the year. We fear she will die soon and question our handling it.” That is precisely why I wrote my book, The Final Farewell: Preparing for and Mourning The Loss of Your Pet ~ to help others know what they can do ahead of time to prepare for the inevitable death of their cherished animal companions. I invite you to read my article, Anticipating The Death of A Cherished Pet.

I hope this information proves helpful to you, my dear. In the meantime, please know that you and your husband are in my thoughts and prayers.

Afterword: Thank you very much for responding to my message. Thank you also for your kind and helpful remarks. I will share them with my husband. Each day is getting a little better – not that we miss her less – but that we are accepting her death. We realize now that she was very ill and could have suffered very much and never recovered. That would have been even more painful. Thank you for putting out such a wonderful site and helping so many people who need to grieve in a society where very few understand.

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