real life

Dealing with the death of a pet...

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I’ve got those dreadful puffy eyes from crying too much. I’m wearing my sunglasses out in public way more than normal and have avoided seeing or speaking to anyone the past couple of days in case they talk to me and I start crying again. I can’t think straight, I’m demotivated and sad and I’m eating way more chocolate than normal.

Have I just experienced a break-up? No. A death in the family? Actually, yes. Our cat died on Mothers Day and I’m devastated.

I have very vivid memories of losing pets as a child and in particular one occasion when I discovered our cat lying dead on the road. I remember crying for what seemed like an eternity and wanting her back so badly – I was so shocked and so very sad. She was older than me so I had never known life without her. My mother told me it was an important lesson to learn and that I needed to be brave.

Going into adulthood I took those experiences with me, smugly thinking they would help me to cope with, heaven forbid, the death of a person or perhaps another pet. How wrong I was.

It was seventeen years ago when I rescued Kimba from some delinquent boys in a shopping mall when she was just a few weeks old. They were mistreating her and using her as their entertainment – I needed to get her out of the situation, so boldly stormed up to them, gave them a lecture and then confiscated the wee kitten by offering to pay them $5 which they gladly accepted before running off. Initially I thought I would just arrange for her to be adopted by some nice family but once I took her home my then boyfriend (now husband) and I decided to keep her.

I keep reminding myself now that I’m SO glad that we did.

Kimba seemed to appreciate so much that we’d given her a better life. She always stayed close to us and I remember when I was very sick she snuggled up right next to me the whole time. She’s moved to numerous houses with us and we’ve even taken her with us on holidays to stay with family. She was our first baby and the centre of our world.

When we had our first human child, Kimba definitely had a change in lifestyle but curiously tolerated the arrival of our firstborn. We used to joke when we brought each subsequent baby home from hospital that she had a look about her that said “oh no… not another one!” but really, she loved our girls – especially when they became old enough to spoil her with pats and treats. Our girls loved her back too of course, and as was the case with me as a child, none of them had known life without her.

The few days before Mothers Day, Kimba had been looking thin and frail. It seemed to happen quite quickly – one minute she was a contented and healthy cat that didn’t look anywhere near her 17 years, the next she was very sick. I knew about kidney failure in old cats as it had been the fate of one of our cats when I was a kid. I knew the symptoms and I knew that it was incurable. I also had hope that when she went to the vet that somehow the vet could make her better or at least prolong her life. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be.

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Jane's cat Kimba

The reality of what was happening to Kimba hit hard on Mothers Day morning when she so obviously needed to see a vet urgently. We had to explain to the girls what might happen and with broken hearts told them to say goodbye to her just in case. Our two eldest daughters wailed and cried and were inconsolable, the youngest just stood there confused. When my husband returned a complete mess, with our lifeless pet our world just seemed to fall apart.

We held Kimba and talked to her and and cried with her. We were in shock and didn’t want to let her go. We placed her in a beautiful box made of woven flax with flowers, messages from the girls and a photo of our family. She was curled up peacefully and we buried her that evening at sunset.

Now what do I do? My girls are still grief stricken and so am I. I was surprised my husband was able to go to work, he was such a mess. My six year old in particular was very distressed – she needed a day off school and as I dropped her off the next day she was crying as she walked through the gate. I’ve written notes to their teachers so they know to look out for them but it feels strange saying ‘the cat died’ because it feels like others may not understand how much of a big deal this really is for us.

Now I know when people lose a pet and say that it’s like losing a child that they really mean it. Of course I also know that losing a child would really be a thousand times worse but it is a level of grief that I certainly wasn’t expecting. I thought my grief as a kid was because I was young and it was the first time I’d experienced death. It turns out it didn’t really prepare me emotionally or make this any easier, but it did arm me with me with the knowledge of how my girls must be feeling.

I keep telling myself to snap out of it and be strong for the children but I really don’t think I can and that it will just take time for all of us. The worse thing about grief is there is nothing you can do to change what’s already happened and you really just need to give yourself time to heal.

“Grief is the price we pay for love” and the more we love something the more we grieve whether it be a person or a pet.

Rest peacefully Kimba, thank you for being such a great friend to us, we will love you forever.

Jane calls Sydney’s Northern Beaches home where she loves life with her husband and three young daughters. She has had a long career in advertising but is currently enjoying some time at home with her girls while ‘in-between jobs’.

How do you deal with the loss of a family pet?

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