It hurts. You feel real physical pain-- a black hole in the center of you that once was filled with love and laughter and joy. Now it is a void, only filled with emptiness. You sob for days, and just when you think you've shed your last tear, you chance upon a memento: a worn-out sock in the corner of the room, a dish you had customized with your beloved's name, and the tears flood again. Finally, one day, you accept your emptiness and your eyes become as dry and barren as your heart.
"I'll never, NEVER replace him (her)", you state vehemently, when friends timidly approach the subject.
Frequent visitors to this site will know immediately that I am not talking about the loss of a spouse, or even a child, although the emotions are just as real. I'm talking about the loss of your cat, who perhaps was the only creature on Earth who loved you unconditionally. "What's the big deal? It was only a cat. Get over it." Most friends will not be crass enough to voice this opinion, but you can still sometimes sense the unspoken words.
Here are some Dos and Don'ts for helping to ease the pain of the loss of a cat:
- Do: Pay a visit to any of the inspirational free Rainbow Bridge pages for immediate comfort. You will notice the notation "Author Unknown." at the bottom. Actually, there are three known persons who claim to have written Rainbow Bridge poems, as I concluded in my article, The Quest For The Rainbow Bridge.
- Do: Allow yourself to cry. Holding back the tears will only stuff all that emotion inside, where it will fester until it surfaces again at unforeseen times.
- Don't: Try to tough it out alone. If you have children, don't feel that you have to be "strong" for them. Remember, they will be grieving too. Sit with your child and say, "I'm sad because Tuffy died, aren't you?" and let the conversation go where it will. You'll not only help yourself, but also you will help your child develop coping skills.
- Don't forget that your pets grieve too. I make it a practice to hold a surviving cat on my lap, pet him, and talk about the one who is missing. If one cat, in particular, was close to the departed, put one of his buddy's favorite toy in his bed for comfort.
- Do: If you are of a creative bent, create a memorial album for your departed cat, or make a 3-dimensional shadow box with memorabilia of your cat.
- Do: Talk to an empathetic friend, preferably one who loves cats as much as you. If you don't have any close friends or family members that you feel would understand, visit the a cat forum online for a supportive community.
- Don't: Write off the thought of ever sharing your life with another cat. We'll talk more about that on the next page.
- Do: Focus on things that make you happy. Sometimes we forget to fully appreciate the beauty around us until we are forced to think about what we've lost.
Take time to share an intimate minute with someone you love. If you have other cats or dogs, spend additional time with them.
They may be suffering the same kind of lost feelings you have, and will appreciate knowing that you are not also going to leave.
Take the time to smell the flowers, glory at a magnificent sunset, listen to some good music, or pick up a book of poetry. Have lunch with a good friend; see a "feel-good" movie, or rent a video or DVD and enjoy a classic film at home. As much as you may hate to face it, life does have a way of going on, and time really does heal these wounds.
Finally, you'll be able to talk about the happier times you shared with your lost one, and you'll find yourself in the unusual situation of being able to laugh through your tears, just when you thought you'd never laugh again. By then you may be willing to think about adopting a new cat, to live those happy times again. I firmly believe the cat you are mourning wants it that way.
I'm not suggesting that you drive directly from the veterinary clinic to your local shelter to pick up a new cat. You need and deserve some time for grief. Crying helps. When I lost my beloved Shannon in July of 2001, I cried for days, often at little things, like seeing his familiar face on my computer desktop, where it still resides, years later. But think about using the tools I've given you on page one of this article, and when you find yourself smiling more and crying less,you'll know when it's time to move on.
I've made the "never replace him" statement many times. But, over the years I've come to learn that although it is true that you can never replace a cat you've loved and lost, you can fill that empty void in your home and your heart. In my opinion, adopting another kitty from a shelter or an animal rescue group is the finest memorial you can possibly make to the one you've lost. Many of our forum members (myself included) are convinced that a departed cat often plays a large role in sending a new kitty around as an "adoption volunteer." Sometimes when we've least expected it, a stray cat shows up on our doorstep, or we find our car traveling as if on autopilot in the direction of the local shelter or adoption day event in a pet store. In the case of Shannon, I knew that I couldn't survive without another Golden Boy in my life. It took eight months, but I found my Jaspurr and Joey, and I swear Shannon led me to them.
I look at it this way: If I had preceded my husband to The Rainbow Bridge, I'd sure want him to marry again. Naturally, I'd hope he'd miss me for awhile, but if he chose to never re-marry, I'd take it as an insult to the memory of our marriage. I mean, I'd hope he had such a good time with our connection that he'd want to repeat the experience with someone else, and preferably sooner, rather than later. Of course, he couldn't replace me, but he could replace the relationship with a new and different one with someone else.
I've come to feel the same way about replacing a cat; it is a way of keeping his or her memory alive every day, in the form of a new furry being to enrich my home and fill the void that needs filling. What better way to honor him than to save the life of another cat? I've had Jaspurr and Joey for over twelve years now, and not a day goes by that I don't look at them and thank my Shannon for sending them to me.
Think about it.