Surviving Pet Loss
Recently, I have received several questions from people grieving from pet loss. They ask me how to cope with the loss of a cat and when their pain will end. Being that I have personally experienced the heartbreaking, unbearable, and in many ways unspeakable agony that the death of your beloved cat can cause, I felt that it was time to write about it.
I entitled this posting “Surviving Pet Loss” because that is was it always felt like to me, surviving. Many professionals speak of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. That may be what it was like for some people, but not for me. I am a single person, never married and my cats have always been like my children, my best friends, and my life. When my last cat passed it was a horrific pain that no one could understand.
It is my hope that in sharing my story here that it gives comforts to someone. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Surviving pet loss is possible in time.
In 2008 I relocated from my home state in Michigan to Houston Texas due to the recession. I was 1357 miles from home in a city of 2.7 million strangers. With me, I had my constant companion and best friend, my 12-year-old cat Sapphire. I adopted her when she was four years old. Her story was that she was born in a Taco Bell dumpster, adopted, beaten, abandoned, then rescued again, and then somehow through Petfinder.com she found her way to me. Sapphire was so afraid of life that it took her over a year to be in the same room at the same time I was.
She never would sit in my lap, but over the years we were together she would sit, sleep and be next to me. In a city full strange people, she was my one true friend. It was my first cat that really needed me. She loved to be covered all the time. Often hiding under blankets. Her history of abuse prevented her from ever jumping on anything or ever getting into anything as cats often do. Sapphire was a precious delicate angel.
In November of 2011 Sapphire’s health began to decline. She had a thyroid issue of which she went through a difficult radiation treatment to cure. Her kidneys began to fail and then on the morning of December 28th, 2011 I awoke to her struggling to breathe. After I felt I had done everything medically possible to keep her alive without compromising her integrity of life, the examination found a large mass had formed in her heart. That morning, I accepted that it was time to allow her to cross the rainbow bridge. Lovingly, on December 28th, 2011, I held her in my arms as she took her last breath.
It was the holidays in Houston and I was alone. Beyond despair, in gut-wrenching grief, I went home and sobbed for three days. It hurt to breathe, and I felt like I was dying inside. I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t sleep. The physical and mental pain was horrific. It was as if I couldn’t bear to be in my own skin.
On New Year’s Eve, I picked up Sapphire’s ashes. Returning home, I packed up her litter box, toys, scratching post, etc. and took it to a pet store that was having an animal charity event for rescue pets. As I waited for my donations to be unloaded from my car, there was Kali-Ma and her precious face pressed up against the glass cage.
Needless to say, Kali-Ma and the donations came back home with me, but it wasn’t easy. Kali-Ma was the complete and utter opposite of Sapphire. When I opened the door to my apartment, she FLEW across the room and landed on top of the bookcase right next to Sapphire’s ashes. I screamed, “you get down from there!” At the time I didn’t know what shocked me more, her being on top of a bookcase or next to the sacred ashes.
Sapphire never got on top of anything and Kali-Ma got into, on top of, and inside of everything! She was at my heels, in my lap, and in my face every minute. If I cried, she licked the tear. If I closed the door, she would come running at and push it open. She demanded I play with her. Kali-Ma was exhausting and for the first time in days, I started sleeping.
I returned to work and I would cry there sometimes at my desk when I would think of Sapphire. People at work couldn’t understand. They all had children, husbands, wives, and lives. No one knew what it was like to be a single woman who lost her beloved best friend. The woman sitting next to me turned and said one day “You have GOT to GET OVER this! It was a cat!”. I remember that day clearly because I wanted to slap her face.
On that day I went home and told Kali-Ma about what she said to me. I could talk to Kali-Ma and tell her what I was feeling. I told her how much I hurt and how I missed Sapphire. I told her things I never told another living soul. She became my confidant and we started to bond. Little by little, day by day I began to cry less and things began to change.
It was clear that Kali-Ma was very active and social, so I took her with me to the pet store. She would not abide being covered or going in a cat carrier. As soon as we got to the store I placed her in the shopping cart there and she stood tall and proud. She looked like she would drive it if she could! The customer service staff helped me fit her for a harness and a leash. We started walking together and going places. Rides in the car and getting my nails done every other week. I shared her with the elderly ladies that met on Sundays in the apartment complex clubhouse. Everyone that met her told me how special she was. And, within a couple of years, we managed to move back home to Michigan.
Tails of Kali-Ma
Now, 7 years later we are a Registered Therapy Animal Team. We volunteer on weekends at a local nursing home. She shares her love with the patients there and I just sit back and watch her do what she does best, heal people. You can read more about our Cat Therapy work here Rewards of Cat Therapy I often think back to that New Year’s Eve so long ago. I am so blessed that we found each other.
More than that, I realize that Sapphire gave us a gift when she passed. There was no way for me to see it then. Even now I tear up as I write this just remembering her precious blue eyes and the time we spent together. As time passed between Kali-Ma and me in the beginning, I would often tell Kali-Ma “Sapphire would have wanted this. She would have wanted me to give a kitty a home that needed it”. I believe Sapphire may have even had a paw in us finding each other.
Grief is a difficult, horrible, painful experience that no one can understand. I know of no human that can understand the loss of a pet unless they share your circumstances, and maybe not even then. I do know that it was a tremendous comfort to come home those days back then and talk to Kali-Ma. It felt then as it does today, like she understands me. There is something in that pure unconditional love from your pet that no one else can give you. It took TIME, a lot of TIME, but day by day, Kali-Ma healed me.
My way is not the way for everyone. I understand that. Everyone grieves differently. People each have their own lives and their own path. My only hope is that if you are reading this and your pet has passed on, that you find some peace, hope, or comfort from me sharing my story. If you need a friend, please write to Kali-Ma and me or leave us a comment. All communications are answered.
Happy Tails To You Until Next Time……
Hi Gloria, I appreciated your story of “Sapphire” & the joy she brought to you. I understand the overwhelming despair of losing her. It’s been almost 2 weeks of losing my beloved “Buster” he was 18 yrs old. I adopted him at 3 mo old. I felt a gut wrenching pain cried for many days. I still feel devastated, but each day becomes just a wee bit easier to bear. 😏 I’m glad your rescue “Kali — ma” is now recusing lonely nursing home residents. What a treasure she is! Your blog gives me hope that I too will move ahead & adopt another cat one day. I’ve lost several cats before but this is the 1st time I haven’t had a cat to comfort me when one has passed away. So that’s made it a little harder. Thank you again. God bless you & your fur baby “Kali-ma” in the work you both do. 💖🐈💖
Hello Jan and thank you for sharing your grief with me. How fortunate you were such a loving relationship with “Buster”. He sounds like he was a true blessing in your life. I completely understand your heartbreak. Perhaps in time, you will be able to open your heart to another kitty. So many need homes. Each is so unique and different that one could never take the place of another, but in their one way, they do heal us. Cats are special that way. I pray for your peace and serenity Jan. Blessings to you on your journey. Thank you again for taking time to share something so personal.
Thank you for sharing…I work part-time at a veterinary office and have to deal with folks putting their beloved pets to sleep. I do not partake in the actual procedure (thank goodness…I just couldn’t) But I do escort the people and their pet to the room where it is done, if the owner does choose to be present. Most do stay, but some do not. I try not to judge, as I know there is no “right” way, but I always think that the animal should be with their loved ones when they pass, but I do understand it is just too much for alot of folks, Seeing many people during this, everyone’s grief is different. Most of the time I cry after they leave, that is just me. It is never “Just a cat” or “just a dog” to any of these people, and to say that is just heartless. You will never forget or stop loving sweet Sapphire, but so glad Kali-Ma helped to heal you and bring happiness into your life again, that is priceless!
Sheryl, I am so touched that there are people like you working in veterinary offices. It takes a very special person to do the work that you do. I feel comforted knowing that the dogs and cats coming through your clinic are in your care. I have had two cats pass over the rainbow and I chose to hold them both to their last breath. It is NOT easy, however, they gave so much to me in their lives I felt they deserved it. Now, I look at Kali-Ma and see the meaning in some of that pain. She provides so much love and comfort to so many.
Thank you so much for taking time to comment. Kali-Ma and I really appreciate you! 🙂
Thank you for this. Sometimes being around people who say terrible things like “it was just an animal” can seem unbearable after a loss. I am always happy to find someone who cherishes their animals as much as I do. As you know, nothing will EVER replace Sapphire, but I’m so happy that Kali-Ma is keeping you busy and loved!
I am so touched Marie that my blog had meaning for you. I appreciate you taking the time to make a comment. Yes, Kali-Ma keeps me busy and I had no idea the journey she would take me on when we found each other. Sapphire was a precious part of my life, but her passing made the way for Kali-Ma to heal so many with her Cat Therapy. I cannot imagine life without Kali-Ma now. She is a part of me. Thank you again for visiting our site and writing. Happy Tails to you!