Today is 31st January 2015. It is one whole, long, month since my beautiful, sweet cat Miss P died on New Year’s Eve. I had to let the vet put her to sleep. It was, and still is, absolutely heartbreaking.
I still can’t believe she is gone, and the grief is heavy. Together, with her brother, we have been a team for almost 14 years – through relationships, moving homes, countries and illness. They were never apart and his grief is palpable, he is missing a part of himself. She had the sweetest nature and life feels wrong without her. We both miss her terribly.
Losing my darling Miss P has hit very hard. She was a beloved family member, with a distinctive character and role. My memories of the past month are just of numbness, restlessness and endless tears, hoping that the next day won’t feel so desperately awful. Miraculously, in the past two days, something has started to shift and a blanket of acceptance is starting to settle alongside the pain. I am reminded that grief and the mourning process are not static, slowly you begin to move through the stages. It has a purpose.
In struggling with my own grief, my antennae are alert for how others navigate or respond to grief in general and this has led to one recurring observation:
People know what to do with the grief stricken when a person dies. There are formalities, cultural or religious rites, and generally there’s etiquette. (Even then, many people still don’t know what to say or how to act with those left behind).
However, people don’t have the same societal templates as to what to do with the grief stricken when a beloved pet dies.
Perhaps because of this the ‘get over it, get another one, chin up’ school of response looms large. It hovers and buzzes around the ether, silencing you. The subtext being you must face this grief alone. Society has no time for this, grief for pets, as if there is something weak and shameful in grieving openly for a close bond with any being but human.
Speak to others and do a simple search online and you quickly realise you are not alone. Millions feel deep grief when animal companions die. I’d venture to say, a majority. Mourning for the connection, love and life lost is a natural response. We often have closer, more constant, and certainly more uncomplicated relationships with our pets than with most humans so it makes sense that their loss is devastating to us. Therefore, it seems sad to me that a minority shaming view holds sway in public.
I am not prepared to diminish or allow other’s to diminish my grief, my feelings, my love for Miss P, simply because she was a different kind of being, a cat rather than human. My heart aches. I don’t believe that by allowing my grief I am denigrating others grief for the loss of those close to them, human or animal.
Interestingly, some of the greatest compassion and understanding I’ve encountered has been from those who have experienced terrible and unjust loss. As one of these friends put it ‘loss is loss and pain is pain, nothing is less or more’.
People experience a huge variety of traumatic events and clearly some appear to be more traumatic than others. But, I really believe there is no set-in-stone scale which allows any of us to dictate to anyone else that one pain has precedence over another. So this is where I struggle with the less than empathetic ‘get over it’ school of response – for anything actually.
It is sad and painful to witness someone grieving, often hard to be around. Grief makes many people uncomfortable. I get that. But I know for sure that trying to diminish another’s grief for anything – human, animal, relationship etc – does not help.
None of us have the exact same life pattern so we can’t expect to know completely why other’s feel as they do. Nor can we impose how we, or society, think others should or should not feel in any given situation, especially with loss – but what we can do is listen, try to understand and let our empathetic nature lead our response. Wouldn’t that be more compassionate, more helpful?