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  • kat17021

When your heart breaks

I really wasn’t sure whether to write this post or not. As a therapist I am very aware of boundaries and not disclosing or oversharing personal things. But this feels different because I talk a lot about pet bereavement to raise awareness and to bring it out into the open. Pet loss and bereavement is still a hidden, secret grief and carries with it feelings of shame.

Trigger Warning - I am sharing my experience of losing my cat Charlie and the other decisions you might have to think about when you are losing your pet.

So, at the risk of oversharing but wanting to break the silence in the hope that it might help others, I’m going to tell you about my cat Charlie.

Charlie was a dream come true for me. She was a rescue cat and she was lovely (I know I’m biased but trust me, she really was). Charlie was a very vocal cat and she liked spending time with me, often curling up on my reading chair when I was working and watching TV with us at night. She loved the sunshine and tuna and she brought so much joy and love into our lives. Charlie was really funny too and made me laugh even in the darkest of days. She brought me a lot of comfort and helped me get through some difficult times.

A week and half ago we had to make the decision no pet owner wants to make - to put her to sleep. Charlie had become unexpectedly very poorly very quickly and we did everything we could but in the end, the only thing we could do, to save her from suffering, was to say goodbye.

I am heartbroken and I miss her more than I can say. The house feels quiet and empty without her. Putting Charlie’s things together and deciding what to do with them and what to keep, feels overwhelming. Seeing the empty spaces where her bed or food bowl used to be is upsetting. The sudden change in routine is confusing. Walking past the cat food aisle in the supermarket breaks my heart.

Telling people has been difficult, perhaps because there is this fear of them not understanding. Luckily I have only come across one person so far who has been unsympathetic. The thing is though that when you are grieving, it’s difficult to deal with when other people don’t understand or say insensitive things.

Our pets give us so much joy and the love we feel for them is boundless. When we have to say goodbye, the pain we feel is real, overwhelming, upsetting - it’s grief and it’s valid.

As pet owners we know that we are most likely going to outlive our furry friends but that doesn’t make it any easier when the time comes. I wanted to share some thoughts on the things that I have recently experienced and I hope that others experiencing pet loss and bereavement or having to face this most difficult decision soon, might find the following helpful.

When your pet dies, there are a lot of decisions that you might have to make. It might be worth deciding some things in advance to save you from the distress of having to make these decisions ad hoc and in the moment. For example:

Do you want your pet to die at home or at the vet’s? This might depend on your vet and the illness or condition your pet has.

Do you want your pet to be cremated or buried? If you decide to have your pet buried, where would you like them to be buried? For example you might like to bury them in your garden and plant a memorial tree or flowers.

If you decide to have your pet cremated, you might need to decide whether you would like them to be individually cremated (which carries an extra cost) or communally. You might also need to decide whether you would like their ashes back and if so, you might wish to choose a casket, depending on what you would like to do with their ashes. A lot of people choose a casket and have their pet’s ashes in their home or garden but everyone is different and the decision is entirely yours.

Do you want to take your pet to the crematorium yourself or are you okay for your vet to make the arrangements? Some pet crematoriums offer memorial chapels where you can spend some time with your pet and say your final goodbyes. Again, the choice is yours and you need to do what feels right for you.

Would you like to have a keepsake of your pet? Some vets and most pet crematoriums offer to take clippings of fur or paw prints which some people find comforting to have. If you do decide to ask for those, be aware that this might cost extra.

Having a memorial of your pet - you might wish to think about having a place in your home or garden for a memorial for your pet, for example having a framed picture of them or planting a tree or flowers. This can be comforting because the bond you have with your pet is timeless.

I have a framed picture of Charlie in my living room and I find it comforting to look at.

However, everyone is different and you might find it too upsetting and that is okay too.

There is no right or wrong way.

You might also wish to make a memory box where you can keep items of your pet that you might like to hold on to.

Give yourself time - in the early days after losing your pet, you might come up against a lot of triggers that will feel upsetting and overwhelming. For example the empty spaces in your home, dealing with pet insurance (if you have it) and vet bills, the pet food aisle in the supermarket, the changes in your routine, the places you associate with your pet.

It is normal and okay to grieve, to feel upset or even angry. Give yourself time and try to be compassionate with yourself.

Be aware that others might not understand the pain you feel - if you find that you are surrounded by people who don’t understand what you are going through, you might like to think about pet bereavement therapy or joining a pet bereavement group. There are groups on Facebook and there are also helplines which are staffed by trained volunteers who are willing to listen and offer support (I have included them at the end of this post.)

It can be comforting to talk to people, who understand and are supportive, about your pet. My partner and I often remind each other of the funny things Charlie did which is a comfort to us both.

Be aware that everyone grieves differently and if you have other pets, they might grieve too.

There is no time limit on grief so please don’t put pressure on yourself and think that you must be done with grieving your pet after a certain amount of time has passed.

Perhaps most importantly do what feels right for you and go at your own pace. What you’re experiencing and the pain you feel is real and valid - you are not alone!

rainbow in blue sky, clouds, hills


Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Helpline- 0800 096 6606 – open from 8.30am-8.30pm

Paws to Listen by Cats Protection- 0800 024 9494 – open from 9.00am-17.00pm

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