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7 Things That Help Me Cope with Grief After Losing a Cat

It's never easy letting go. These are things I've learned by paying attention to the grief process.

Catherine Holm  |  Apr 9th 2013

Grieving the loss of a cat is excruciating. In fact, I’m going through it as I write this. I think the grief process is one of the hardest, most intense experiences we have to get through.

It’s not easy to prepare for grief, as each end-of-life journey is different. That being said, I’ve been through this a few times and have discovered that I do certain things to help me cope. Hopefully, some of these suggestions can help you navigate the grief process.

1. I celebrate the cat’s (whole) life

At the end of life, whether it’s prolonged or sudden, it’s easy to get caught up in the sadness and intensity of that current moment. Sometimes, when I’ve found myself in this place, I realize I’m not honoring the rest of the cat’s life. What about the amazing years or months I had with the cat? What about the funny things my cat did? Or the loving bond we had? What about the wonderful memories and stories of the cat? I try to focus on the life I’ve shared with the cat, even though it’s very easy to want to focus totally on the end of life.

2. I find people who understand

Whether your cat has passed on or is likely to pass on soon, obviously you’ll want to be around people who understand. Now is not the time to take comments like “it’s only a cat” to heart. If you do run across someone who says something like this, try to breathe and let it go. You need your energy to get through grieving, not to get mad about ill-placed comments.

Instead, find people who understand and are respectful of your grief process, whether they love cats or not. A compassionate person and friend will give you the space and respect your need to grieve.

3. I take time to be alone, if I need it

Some of us like to share; others are intensely vulnerable when going through grief. I’m a little of both. Know yourself. If you need to be alone, honor that. It’s OK.

4. I understand that grief is a powerful process

Sometimes, grief reminds me of the waves of an ocean. You’re feeling fine and then WHAM, some piece of grief hits you and you’re down, or crying, or both. I’m not sure why it is, but just knowing that this happens has made me prepared for when it happens again. I try to flow with it. Everyone grieves differently. We all grieve in our own time, and in our own way. Let it happen the way it needs to happen for you.

5. I breathe (deeply)

This is a yoga tool, but it’s also a relaxation technique, which anyone can do. When you’re exhausted from stress or grieving, breathing deeply through your nose can really help relax you and restore your mind and body to a state of calmness. Even a minute or two of this has great benefits. I do this all the time during periods of stress, or if I’m grieiving the loss of a pet. From a physiological standpoint, this activates your parasympathetic nervous system (which induces relaxation) rather than your sympathetic nervous system (which is all about fight or flight). Try breathing deeply in any stressful situation or any time you find yourself holding your breath.

6. I’m good to myself and my body

I’m no good to my cats if I’m a mess. So even though it’s hard (grief is exhausting), I try to remember to be good to my body. I try to remember to eat good stuff (not junk), get outside, exercise, breathe — all good things for me. Find the good things for you and remember to do them.

7. I honor the immensity of grief

It’s a big deal, and we all get to go through it. The sadness in grief is huge, but strangely, so is the joy. Celebrate these wonderful creatures we love, whether we’re going through life with them or whether we’re letting them go.

During our lifetime, we can experience many losses. Some losses are separations, like death, serious illnesses or divorce, wherein we lose a special or primary relationship. It is a critical time when a parent, husband or wife, child, or sibling passes. It is even equally sorrowful, if it is a divorce and there is loss of not only the person, but a way of life and perhaps the division of a family. It is sorrowful when we lose a lover, mate, good friend or any friend ~or a beloved pet ~ who is now no longer with us. Another big loss is a miscarriage. We are numb, shell-shocked, heavy-hearted and grief-stricken. Clear thinking and decision-making becomes blurred; we are clearly not ourselves

Similar feelings can be felt albeit, at a lesser degree, at the loss of a business, a job, a home lost in foreclosure or fire, or even relocating and losing the old neighborhood.  Loss of personal attributes, such as your yourth, good health, loss of hair or good looks, surgeries, cars totaled in accidents, academic standing, integrity or even your good name or reputation all take their toll. They are all losses.

We all experience loss and we all express it differently. Some of us keep a ’stiff upper lip’ and others become withdrawn or they could become weepy and forlorn. There are no set rules for us to follow when we have loss issues. But there are some things that can help us heal.

Whether you have parted with a loved one or a pet or a way of life, you  MUST  take time to grieve. Your sadness does not go away magically when you return to work after a few days. People, in their concern for you, may tell you to ’snap out of it’ or ‘get over it’, but the truth is that it will simply take as long as it takes. It will be different for everyone. There is no ‘expiration date’ here.

As painful as it is, the grief must go somewhere, and the best place for it to go is ‘out‘. Keeping a stiff upper lift may backfire on you, leaving you crippled from the burden of unreleased grief inside you. It’s better to cry --- yes, cry --- one of the best gifts we’ve been given.  Even Jesus cried.  Tears are healing. You can cry alone or with good friends, but absolutely, do cry. You’re entitled; you’re allowed; you’re human. Tears release grief and sadness. If you can’t cry, you may want to talk to a trusted friend or spiritual person or counselor to release that grief that is pent up and not released.

As an example, a lovely neighbor of mine died unexpectedly while I was away on a trip. I did love this woman; she was elderly, kind and caring; a sort of mother to me. It occurred at a really busy time for me and I was called and told about her while I was away. I felt the first stab of shock and sadness, but quickly extinguished it (or so I thought) and carried out my professional seminar and other things to be done at hand. When I arrived at home several days later, it was the night of my neighbor’s viewing, and I hurriedly dressed to go, still not having fully absorbed the reality of her death.   I have attended many wakes, funerals and viewings, and I felt no feelings of forbearance as I walked in the door. Her grown grandchildren were standing around her casket and I hugged them all and gave condolences, but when I walked over to the casket and viewed her for the first time, reality struck, grief surged and I totally dissolved in sobbing tears. Her grandkids encircled to console me. I had pent up the grief and it had to come out; I wish I had done so in private so that I didn’t cause that concern from them when they were grieving themselves. Grief has to be given expression.

In your grief, be careful with your nutrition; you need your strength. You may lose sleep, be uptight a lot or even be mad at God. He understands. It’s important to eat well & drink fluids which will help your muscles become more flexible during tension. Exercise. It’s hard to even think about exercising while your heart is so heavy, but it is important. Even walking around the block helps. When my parents died 6 months apart, my doctor told me to continue aerobic exercises every day during their illnesses. Blood pressure rises from stress and lack of sleep. I never felt like doing it, but forced myself and even took yoga exercises which relieves tension in your body. I t helped tremendously; and will help you sleep. Force yourself.

Lean on your spirituality and faith. God walked me through my rough times, helped me work out my aerobic exercises and was there to hug me in my tears. Let go and let God. He loves you and will help you if you only ask. He is our Refuge and our Strength. He is the Great Physician and Counselor and will never let you down. He did not cause your grief; life events happen to all of us.

If your loss feels like it is overcoming you and/or debilitates you and you can’t function, you need to see your doctor, counselor or spiritual advisor.  It will help you. After my parents died, especially my father, I found myself going the ‘weepy and forlorn’ route. After much praying, I felt directed (God nudges me) to the employee program at work that assists in employees’ problems. I didn’t really want to do that because I did not want to take my personal life to a work program, but it was affecting my performance and God was telling me  that if I didn’t go, I might be told to go. And so I went.

It was just what I needed (Thank You, Lord.) The clinical psychologist there actually sat through 3 lunchtime sessions with me where all I did was cry. And he let me. A half hour of crying for 3 days. Finally, he gently guided me to find out why I was so upset. We did this in 3 more sessions. What it came down to was this; and this is a good thing to keep in mind if you find yourself perplexed over unexplained depression.  In my case, I was simply overcome with grief.

He went over other loss issues in my life; for example, my mother had Alzheimer’s, so I had lost her before I really ‘lost’ her. We went over the personal losses in my life besides other than people losses. He uncovered losses I had never grieved for and losses that I did grieve over. I was surprised at how they overlapped and the intensity of them. And what he told me is this - and this explanation has carried over into unexplained feelings of loss in my life when there really weren’t concrete reasons.

"When you have loss issues, your body remembers how it felt when you lost them. When you have additional loss issues, although you think you recovered from the previous ones, your body and mind may remember them and ‘mingle them with the loss you currently have’. If you have had deaths, divorce, illnesses, etc., in the past, a significant "loss remembrance" may bring these previous losses back to the surface, and you will feel all of them and wonder why you are feeling so grieved."

I believe that is what happened when my father died. I had an overwhelming feeling of loss. But there were other life losses involved. The counselor showed me how to separate my loss issues individually and give each one its own expression of grief; and then put it away. And I did. Once I did that, and understood why, I was readily able to function without that overwhelming feeling of loss.

Marie Coppola © 2009