There’s a joke about the difference between cats and dogs I always appreciated.
Dogs think: “My owners feed me, provide for me, give me shelter, and love me. They must be God!”
Cats think: “My owners feed me, provide for me, give me shelter, and love me. I must be God!”
Yep… that was my cat. She turned sixteen in January. I’d say “sweet sixteen” but she was just as sassy as she was sweet. She was certainly the boss in our house, and her two younger canine brothers knew better than to mess with their older sister. She was God and Queen and certainly thought we were sent to serve her. My appreciation for this joke certainly grew out of my experience with our cat, Cutter.
I first met Cutter at Scrapbooks, Etc where I worked in high school. She was the store cat, and she would run to greet the customers as they came in each day. She survived Hurricane Katrina in that store. She survived a lot – including being smuggled into a college dorm – and two moves across the country from Louisiana to Massachusetts to North Carolina! She was feisty and strong. She was a fighter. She always let you know what she thought and how she was feeling. She wasn’t one to hold back. I admired that about her.
Every pet is unique and each relationship between an owner and their pet is unique, however, I do think there are a few universal truths. The first is that – despite the joke – you are your pet’s whole world. They are completely and totally dependent on you. And because of that tremendous responsibility and gift, I truly believe that our pets love us unconditionally.
Our pets comfort us. They never judge. Ok – if you have a cat, maybe they judge a little. But they would never betray you! Because our pets keep our secrets. They are our confidants and companions. And for the lucky among us, our pets are our family.
When a family member dies, we have rituals to honor them. We take time off of work. People show up with casseroles.
What about when one of our pets die?
Where’s the casserole? Where’s the excused absence from work and school? We are so quick to dismiss these significant and long relationships with our pets. The expectation is to just move on. Why? Our pets – our beloved family members – deserve to be properly grieved and mourned.
Disenfranchised Grief arises in any circumstance in which society denies our “need, right, role, or capacity to grieve” (Doka, 1989).
Society says the relationship isn’t important, so grief is not acknowledged.
This often happens when your relationship to the deceased is one that society interprets as more distant and not worthy of grief. Societal rules often dictate that we grieve “blood” relatives and as we get beyond that circle we find lesser acknowledgement of the impact of a death. This commonly happens with pets. And it’s both harmful and problematic. When we’re not allowed to grieve for these significant relationships, our pain can potentially become complicated grief.
So what can you do?
- Allow yourself time and space to grieve! Acknowledge your love for your pet was true and significant and your loss is no less valid. Love is love. Loss is loss. Your love was real and valid; your grief is real and valid. As painful and difficult as it is, allow yourself to grieve.
- Remember that you are not alone. It is easy to fall in to isolation when you are finding no acknowledgement or support of your grief. Connecting with your support system and communicating how you feel and what you need during this time is vital.
- Create your own ritual. There are many times that, due to the nature of these losses, you are not able to take part in a funeral or closure ritual in the way you would have wanted. Consider if this is important to you and what may be appropriate. This doesn’t have to be elaborate; it could be as simple as planting a tree, making a special piece of art, or visiting a meaningful place.
- Find personal ways to express your emotions & process grief. Consider counseling, yoga, music, journaling, art, photography, and other personal expression. Though you may not have the external support you want, you can still find ways to explore your emotions and process your grief on your own.
Cutter 💔 January 2003 – March 7, 2019