It has been a number of months since I last posted a blog and this blog will provide some explanation for what has been going on and why I have been “absent”. It is also my hope that this blog will provide some information and solace to those who may be on a similar path or experiencing some of the same feelings.
Today is the 3-month anniversary of the day that I had to say goodbye to my beloved pet of 18 years. My cat and I found each other 18 years ago when she was the only kitten in a litter. She was skittish and shy, and I felt a connection right away. From then on, she became an integral part of my daily life. Over time, her personality became more and more apparent. The expression is “Dogs have owners and cats have staff” and I became a devoted staff member. She was not particularly outgoing or friendly to other humans, but that caution is what I appreciated about her. She also let it be known that the apartment, building and neighborhood were her domain and she was ready to defend it. She did not tolerate other animals encroaching on her territory and would only let others approach her after considerable time and familiarity.
This past year she really began to “show her age” and her kidney disease (very common in older cats) began to take its toll in a variety of ways. Ultimately, there was a cascade of circumstances that drastically decreased her quality of life and led to the decision to let her go. She was my beloved companion and I was with her to the very end despite my overwhelming grief. It was an extremely difficult but necessary decision.
This leads me to the grief process. At some point in all our lives, we will have to go through this process. We lose friends and loved ones. And pets. For those who have never had a pet, it may be difficult to understand that the loss of a pet can be just as difficult as the loss of a human – for a variety of reasons. That said, the grief process is similar in every case and we all navigate our way through in unique ways.
As a counsellor who helps others sort through their grief process, I have the luxury of knowing many ways that we can support ourselves during this time, so I am able to “walk the talk”. Does this make it any easier? Yes and no. The various strategies are ingrained but it has still been a struggle to follow through.
First of all, I had to give myself permission to feel the grief and express it as it flowed through me. I certainly contributed to the profits for tissue manufacturers! For the first few weeks, I would shed tears every day. Gradually the tears would be less, but the grief has always been bubbling just below the surface, ready to come up into the open at a memory, a friend’s well-meaning inquiry or even anniversary dates like today.
I used social media to express my grief and was supported by friends and family who have gone through the process or are going through the process (there were a couple of other people who lost their pets around the same time.)
I set up a little bit of a memorial for my cat. I had a picture that I blew up and framed and I burn a tea light as part of this process of commemoration. This is my grief ritual. Rituals can be extremely helpful in these times of transition and loss.
Even in the very early days, I chose to go for a nice long walk with a good friend. There was no pressure to talk about my feelings, but we were able to share some memories and some laughs while allowing the grief to move through my body. As a therapist, I am aware that trauma of all sorts can “get stuck” in the body – which can complicate the grieving process. Movement of the body in some way ensures that this is minimized. The walk was exhausting because grief takes up a lot of energy. I continue to engage in physical activity – which has gotten much easier as time moves on.
I also meditated about my grief and allowed the tears to flow uninterrupted.
Since I live alone, I make sure that I stay connected to friends and get out of my home to participate in activities that I enjoy. While the instinct to isolate ourselves is understandable, the connection to others will keep us emotionally and mentally able to move forward. The risk of falling into depression is real. Seek professional support if you need to.
This is not to say that I haven’t felt like I am in some kind of “holding pattern” – which is one of the reasons for not being able to get interested in writing a blog. On some days, it was all the energy I could muster to go to work and be present with my clients who are dealing with their own concerns.
Everyone’s process is unique to them and some will be able to move on sooner than others. I’m not there yet. A friend who lost his cat a few years ago is not there yet. I will likely get another pet, but the timeline is fluid. Right now, a neighbor’s cat has filled a bit of a gap and I am getting some surrogate kitty love.
It is my desire that letting you know about my own grief process will help others move through theirs. I repeatedly remind clients that there is no “getting over” a loss but “getting through” is the way forward. We must allow ourselves the time to feel our feelings and honor the loss. The world around us continues to move forward and so must we – in the healthiest way we can.