And now your song is on repeat
And I’m dancin’ on to your heartbeat
And when you’re gone, I feel incomplete
Symphony – Clean Bandit
Two years ago today, I lost a best-friend when my four-year-old, Maine Coon cat; Dolly, was put to sleep. Today, I’ll be marking her two year anniversary (you can read the one year mark here) with a letter to her and some advice on how to cope with the loss of a pet.
I’m honoured to say that this post will be in collaboration with Cats Protection – it’s kind of a light to all the difficult moments in this post…
knew how much I enjoyed writing, but this letter is one of the hardest things
I’ve ever wrote. However, I think that in the long run, it’ll be helpful to me
and my mental health because it’s a bit of a relief to feel that I’m getting
out everything I want to tell you and what I want you to know.
Did you know that the pink and white spotted collar that was around your neck for a long part of your life, was actually hanging from a photo frame in my hospital room for months before I got you?! My Mum had the idea that maybe buying the collar and having it to look at, would keep me motivated in working hard at my mental health recovery because having my own home, and having you; would be my prize at the end. Being in that hospital over 100 miles away from everyone I loved, having that collar was also comforting because it prompted me to consider all my loved ones if I was struggling or about to self-harm. And it reminded me that doing something like that, would make having you even further and further away, out of my reach. And I couldn’t stand that.
I spent ages looking for cats online and sent numerous photos to my mum asking her opinion. Then I found your picture and I can’t explain it; I just knew you were the one. I just had this gut feeling that I needed you in my life and that you were part of my family.
I bought you from a private seller (who I’m still friends with and who also misses you!) and although many people will advocate the ‘Adopt Don’t Shop’ ethos, I also knew that every animal deserves the perfect home, no matter where they are bought or adopted from.
(Cats Protection provide support for cat owners about feline behaviour, health and more, regardless of whether your cat is a pedigree, moggy, bought online or adopted from a rescue centre and they also have some really useful advice if you are thinking about buying a cat or kitten online.)
I was lucky when buying you, because not everyone selling animals online is as wonderful!
I remember when I first got my home and we were decorating and putting all the furniture together and the finishing touches came in the form of a little cat bed with a blanket (although you never used it!) next to my own new, double bed. And when you weren’t ready to leave your Mum until a week after I had moved in, I felt so alone and it was as though it was just a house because it didn’t feel complete or whole.
Probably, my highlight of our life together, was when we added the little, Lionhead, lop-eared bunny, Pixie, to the family. I was told by someone that I would never be able to introduce you to one another and another person told me to do the introduction really gradually by giving you something of Pixie’s to get you used to her scent… but in the end, I kind of threw you both together and watched and waited to see each of your responses. I was so very happy and content to see you both get along and even though you were only together a year, Pixie was absolutely distraught and heartbroken when you were admitted to the Vets and then especially when you passed away…
You know that thing people say about how making the decision to put their pet to sleep was the hardest decision they’ve ever had to make? Initially, I told people that was the same for me but the more I thought about it, the more I realised that actually, it’d been an incredibly easy decision – it’s just that it was the worst one I’ve ever had to make. I say ‘easy’ because I knew it was the right thing to do. When the Vet said that it was a choice between attempting one more treatment that might not work and might cause you stress and upset, or ending your pain right away; I knew what the right call was.
I hope that having my Mum and I there while you passed was comforting and reassuring. I hope it meant that you didn’t feel alone or scared. I hope that the Vet was right, and you weren’t in pain in your final moments. I hope that you didn't know or sense the pain I felt when you closed your eyes for the final time. I hope that I’d given you a good home for the four years you’d been a part of my family, and that you enjoyed the year you spent with Pixie.
Coming back from the Vets to a home which was very obviously (both in the practical that there were cat things everywhere, and in the spiritual/psychological sense) missing a presence, was hard. But, being the ‘every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining’ type of person, I was desperate to find some sort of positive to come from losing you and so I was very relieved to still have Pixie. I mean, I’ve said a few times to people that if I hadn’t had her in the home I would’ve been out the day after losing you and buying a hamster or something because I was so desperate for company and to fill my home – and my life – with furry little lives!
In the days after your passing, Pixie followed me absolutely everywhere and was forever wanting to snuggle in when I was on the settee or in bed. It was lovely, but also very sad to think that she’d also lost a best friend. But, again, looking for a silver lining, only having each other in the home brought us so much closer together and I feel we are bonded for life. When people ask why Pixie is so special, I always say that we’re so close because we’ve been through something very upsetting together.
Pixie’s upset at your death, was one of the biggest motivators in my decision to adopt a little calico kitten, Emmy, from a rescue centre. Another motivator was my intense and overwhelming conviction that our family was now incomplete without a third member. I hope that you don’t feel as though I was trying to replace you – that was something I was very concerned that others were thinking in my decision to adopt Emmy so soon after your death. So many people thought I was moving too fast and that I hadn’t had the chance to properly grieve and ‘process’ the loss. I was determined though! And hearing Emmy’s rescue story really encouraged me to add her to the family just a week after your death. I hope that the decision can bring you some sort of comfort to think that losing you helped save a kitten and provide her with a new, loving, kind, and generous home.
I’m sorry that even though I attempted to fill the gaping hole in our family with Emmy, it wasn’t always enough to motivate me to stay alive. There were so many times that I thought I wanted to join you, and so many times – especially when the pharmacy mistakenly stopped issuing one of my psychiatric medications – that I acted on that belief… Of course, now that my medication is back in my system and I’m safe and happy again, I can see how wrong I was. I mean, I’m pretty damn sure that you would hate the thought of me using you as a reason to self-harm or attempt suicide. And that you would rather I stay alive without you, than only be able to see me if I kill myself. Also, being happy and healthy now; I like the thought of making you proud by achieving and succeeding at things in my life. And having your ashes in the cupboard you used to sleep in, really comforts me in feeling as though you’re still at home, with me.
Finally, I hope that you know how missed and loved you are, but that knowing that doesn’t make you sad, because you should be proud to have made such a mark on my life – and on the lives of everyone who knew you.
Forever my love,
TIPS ON COPING WITH THE LOSS OF A PET
Write them a letter
Writing that letter to Dolly, whilst I did shed a few tears, was so therapeutic and cathartic that I really want to promote you try it if you’re struggling with the loss of a pet.
It’s actually something I’ve been recommended to do by Psychologists, but in writing a letter to the person who abused me. I think that the thought process behind doing it, is that it might bring some sort of closure in allowing you the opportunity to say everything you want that person – or animal – to know, but for whatever reason, you can’t say it to them. I did actually do the letter for my abuser and because I found it so helpful, I thought that it could be a good idea for coping with Dolly’s anniversary.
Think of the good, happy memories
When your pet has been very poorly in the run-up to their death, it can sadly be incredibly ‘easy’ or automatic, to be overwhelmed by the upsetting memories of that time. Which is why it’s so important that you try to focus and concentrate on more positive, happy times with your pet.
Unfortunately, Dolly was very poorly for about a week before she was put to sleep. She was in and out of the Veterinary hospital until the 15th when the Vet finally said that they didn’t think there was any more they could do and that they wanted to send her home. I remember saying ‘are you sending her home to die here?!’ and he said that they just thought it would be good for her to spend her final days in the best, least stressful environment. He said ‘days’ but within twenty-four hours, I had to take her back to the Hospital and the Vet said there was one more treatment option but that there was no guarantee it would work and it could upset her even more. So, I agreed to end her pain. Having that horrible week though, meant that I really had to fight against those memories so that I could remember the happy and peaceful times with her. I found looking at old photos and videos really helpful for this.
Talk to someone
When I applied for a voluntary job with St Oswald’s Hospice, one of the questions on the application form was whether I’d had a bereavement recently. I wrote that I assumed they were probably referring to a human, but that I was really passionate about raising awareness of the really debilitating impact losing a pet can have on a person’s life. And I’m not saying the death of a pet is any worse to losing a human, just that I believe they should both be regarded as important. I like to think that if more people understood this then maybe some people would be less reluctant to reach out for help and support if they’re struggling with the death of a pet. Without this understanding, I think that some people are really embarrassed to voice their difficulties because they sometimes feel that a pet’s death is insignificant and that there’s shame in it having such a massive impact on you.
I think that the way Dolly came into my life in being my goal for my mental health recovery, and how cherished she was, really helped me in talking about how the loss affected me because I felt kind of validated. I was fairly confident that on hearing her importance to my mental health, people might empathise a bit more…
Cats Protection offer a free and confidential grief support service called Paws to Listen and their trained volunteers are there to listen and provide support surrounding the loss of a much-loved cat and friend. They know the impact losing a pet can have on your life and are available to talk on the phone (0800 024 94 94 Mon-Fri 9am-5pm), via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or on their website (www.cats.org.uk/what-we-do/grief).