Grief Lesson For Petless People

If you think people say the dumbest things to you when you are grieving for family or friends, just wait until your beloved pet dies. Or if you are the one saying such things to pet owners, you won’t ever again be so insensitive after you read the guest post below by Dr. Dolores Spivack. A tear might just creep out of your eye.

I Miss My Cat    

When your pet dog or cat or bird dies, nobody sends you flowers or donates money in its name to a favorite charity, not even the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. If you get any condolences at all, your friends will say at best “Sorry and did you see the game last night?” Some people have even said to me “Your cat died, so now you don’t have a cat.” I miss my cat.

My cat, Mel, died two months ago after living all of her eighteen years with me. She was born right into my hands after her mother’s difficult labor. No bigger than a small potato, I massaged her chest with my pinky finger and Mel took her first breath in the palm of my hand. I then helped her mother clean her and nurse her.

At the end of her life, Mel only had one tooth and was almost totally blind. Because she shook her head so much after her second stroke, her ear shriveled leaving her only one ear. She was equal to about one hundred in human years. But, she could still navigate the house, find her litter box, and jump on the table. If, and when I reach one hundred years old, I want to be able to jump onto a table just like her.

I miss Mel. I miss her faithfully waiting for me to come home, even if all she wanted was her can of food. I miss her underfoot, even though I often stepped on her tail. I miss her scattering of toy mice I would give her as holiday presents. She couldn’t catch the real mice, only the toy mice. That made me laugh so much. The toy mice only collect dust now.

I knew she was important to me while she lived. I did not know how cherished and how vital she was to me now that she is gone. I find it difficult to explain to my family and friends how much I miss her. Often, when I wake up in the morning, I think I feel her cuddled next to me. Then I remember she died. I miss Mel.

My grief for Mel is as deep and sad as any I have ever felt for any human, friend or family. Why is that not acknowledged? For almost two decades, Mel made her presence known in my house; she ate her canned food with me while I ate my meals. While I slept, she cat-napped but for many hours more than me. She greeted me and all visitors with curiosity and a welcome. She was as much a part of my life as my family and she witnessed more of my life than anyone else. Why would it seem strange to mourn her loss so profoundly? All I ask of my loved ones is empathy at best or solemn silence at least.

When Mel died, I waited until I was alone to bury her. I knew I would cry long and hard. I wanted the privacy to cry how I wished. I felt no need to be strong. I placed her in the earth with the same hands that welcomed her when she was born. I sprinkled dirt over her shrouded body and tamped it firmly down while my tears made puddles of mud on her grave. I miss Mel so much.

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Dr. Dolores Spivack started a writing group to motivate her to finish her dissertation about New York City building codes. After successfully completing her PhD in Architecture, she has gone on to write creative nonfiction pieces like the one here. The survivors include a greyhound and Dolores’s husband. They both attend a yearly greyhound convention in Gettysburg. And yes, the owners’ dogs attend too.

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2 thoughts on “Grief Lesson For Petless People

  1. Consuelo Beck-Sague says:

    So…. I totally understand that as a species, we have perfected other “scripts” but scripts for death in general, and some categories of death in particular, need most urgently to be drafted to be ready for next time. Just when I think I’ve heard it ALL (stillbirth, miscarriage, failed IVF, death of a very premature or a very ill newborn, beloved dog, cat, father, mother, brother, friend, mentor) it’s incredible how normally sensitive people can become so STUPID. Until all the scripts are tweaked, can we just agree on “I’m so sorry for your loss. Let me know if there is anything we can do. We can talk about (whatever… the grant, the elections, anything) at another time. I’m thinking about you”. NOT the time to ask if the mother smoked, if your relationship with the deceased wasn’t sort of on the rocks, whether your pet had lost her dignity and was better off dead, or if you had the pet euthanized. Seriously. Dr. Spivack, I am so sorry for your loss. Losing a friend like that is horrible. Everyone who has loved a cat knows there are no words. I am so sorry.

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  2. sanderamage says:

    Absolutely. Pets are one of the major relationships in people’s lives, sometimes the closest living being, and I teach healthcare staff the same thing. We are becoming more encouraging about animals visiting hospital. I get a rush when I see one of them coming to visit their human. Some of the best medicine around.

    And interestingly, end of life rituals are becoming more common and yes, sending flowers to the human when one of the beloved pack dies is a thing!

    I only really know thee things because my dogs have always been the closest relationship I’ve had. In some ways they represent my soul in the same way as the creatures in The Golden Compass were human’s daemons. Check out the vid. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5alYLJS4OrE

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