When we lose a pet, the grief can be completely overwhelming. Here is how I am learning to cope with the loss of my beautiful cat, Gustavo.
On the 19th November 2018 my beautiful cat Gus passed away very suddenly. He was sadly hit by a car and died instantly. When I found out he passed away, I went straight in to shock and was completely knocked for six.
For those who do not have pets, it can be almost impossible to understand the close bond we share with them. The relationships we have with our pets are deep, complex. They can even be more precious than the ones we have with other humans. For Gus and I, we really did have the most special connection that I have never experienced with any person or pet previously. This is coming from someone who grew up with two gorgeous dogs whom I love deeply, but Gus was different.
The day I met Gus
We bought Gus a few weeks before I was due to have a major operation and I was very poorly. I was sad, scared and felt quite hopeless and confused. However, the moment Gus came in to my life I was a different person. I became optimistic, grateful and happy. They say that cats choose their owners and this is very true. When we went in to the shelter to pick a cat, Gus jumped up on my shoulders and that was that. After 20 minutes, we had signed the adoption papers and he was now the newest addition to the family.
Gus seemed to just know that I was very unwell and for the weeks leading up to my operation he was glued by my side. He would cuddle me every morning (this stopped after I had my operation strangely!) and follow me around the house like a shadow. After the operation when I was feeling well again he would run after me up the street, see me off to work in the morning and come bounding down the stairs when I got back home at the end of the day. This may be normal behaviour for some cats, but for Gus it was extra special because he wasn’t an affectionate cat. He was affectionate when he wanted to be (when it suited him) but moreover he was sassy and animated and very much a free spirit. It was like keeping a tiny pet tiger.
Pets can give us friendship and companionship when we need it most.
Gus was more than just a pet. He was truly my dearest, best friend. Some people may think this is really, really sad and I am sure there are a few people out there who have/had the same kind of connection with their pet and understand where I am coming from, but I will try and explain the best that I can for those who are rolling their eyes thinking “it’s just a cat” because believe me, I know those people exist, or think I am a total weirdo.
Pet’s can help us feel better in a way that therapy cannot.
We all have rough days and our own ways of coping. Gus became the thing that I turned to if I was feeling down and he helped me a lot. However low I was feeling, Gus would pull me through it. I was quite reliant on him to make me feel better which made the loss feel even greater. Companionship from a pet is a kind of therapy which is incomparable to a counsellor. Losing Gus was like losing my way of coping and I am learning to cope all over again.
Pets show us an unconditional amount of love. We share small, daily interactions that build up over time that intricately weave into the very fabrics of our lives. It was routine for me to come home and see Gus and wake up every day and know he was there. He would always be who I turned to if i needed company and it bought immense comfort. When he was taken from me so suddenly my entire world was turned upside down.
Feeling like you have absolutely lost the plot is normal. Denial is also normal.
About an hour after I found out Gus died I started vomiting and shaking. It got so bad I was just throwing up bile and I felt dizzy, confused and totally grief stricken. We all grieve differently, but for me the initial shock only lasted a few days. Then I went in to denial about the whole thing. I feel so embarrassed admitting this, but I kept thinking to myself that there could be a chance we buried the wrong cat. I thought Gus was going to come back and it was all just a horrible misunderstanding. Sometimes I would hear noises and think it was him. I even thought I would see a glimpse of him. Understandably I felt absolutely crazy and genuinely thought i was losing my mind.
The emotion that no one could have prepared me for was the immense loneliness I felt and I don’t think I had ever truly felt loneliness before until that moment and I have to say I have never and hope to never experience a feeling worse than loneliness again.
It is normal to feel like you have completely lost the plot and have no idea what to do with yourself. There is no right way to grieve and I have found that the emotions come in waves. Sometimes I am fine and sometimes I am a mess. Overall I am grateful to have had Gus in my life for the short time I was blessed with.
It is important to highlight that as there is no right way to grieve, there is also no “right” way to feel. You are entitled to feel however you like and nobody can judge you or tell you any different. If you need to be alone and cry that is okay. It is also okay to feel like you just need to get on with life as normal. Though I will mention that if at any point you feel suicidal or unable to cope, then you absolutely must not stay silent and it is really important to tell someone. I will leave some links and telephone numbers below to various charities and helplines that you can call/email if needed.
Some of the things that are helping me to cope
One of the biggest things that has helped me to cope was rescuing another cat. In fact, the void my little Gus left was so big that we actually adopted two cats. This is definitely not a good option for everyone, but for us it has helped us to heal massively. There is no right or wrong answer or a set date as to when you should get another pet. You are the only person who will know when the time is right. Hopefully I will soon find time to introduce you all to our two new cats via blog post like I did with Gus (click here to read about the day we bought Gus home!)
We were never trying to replace Gus, but our new cats helped to fill the huge void he left behind. Something really challenging was waking up in the morning and not knowing what to do because Gus wasn’t there. All of his toys, food bowls and water fountains were still there but he wasn’t and it was really difficult to face. I stayed at home for a few days when Gus passed away and it just didn’t feel right without a cat.
When is it right to get another pet?
It is dangerous territory to say you will never get another pet again. We feel very loyal to our pets. Grief is also powerful enough for us to stick to never getting a pet again. However, it is equally important to understand that, especially with cats, there are potential emotional pitfalls. For example, cats are highly individual animals and their personalities are very different to one another. There is a 99% chance that your new pet will be nothing like your old pet. Its a whole new relationship and certainly a learning curve and you must only do it when you feel ready.
Make a scrapbook/album/journal of your pet
I find writing therapeutic, hence I have a blog. It can be a struggle to verbalise how I am feeling and grief made me lost for words. I also strongly feel it is important to not ignore our emotions. So, I ordered over 100 of my favourite photos of Gus and created a memorial scrapbook. It was lovely going through happy memories and to cry it all out. Also, It made me realise I take a ridiculous amount of photos.
Talk about it and seek help if necessary
This brings me to what I feel is likely the most important point. It is detrimental to your emotional and physical health to not talk about how you feel. Talking about Gus helped me to acknowledge how I was feeling which has helped so much. Below are a few links to helplines and websites to guide you through grieving the loss of a pet:
- Blue Cross for Pets- A bereavement support line and website
- Animal Samaritans
- Living with pet bereavement
- The Ralph Site
How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.Winnie the Pooh.
Winnie the Pooh hit the nail on the head with that one. I miss you so much Gus. I am so beyond grateful to have known you and I will never forget you.
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