One year ago today I had to euthanize my geriatric cat that I had for almost 20 years. A cat I had acquired when he was 8 weeks old and who I loved like a son. This year of grief has been much harder than I ever imagined.
I’ve lost a lot of people and pets in my life. I’ve grieved and mourned each and every one of them, but this year of grieving has been without a doubt the hardest. And I’m not sure I understand why that is.
One year later, I have two new kittens. I love them, they comfort me, and I feel blessed to have them, but they are not Bigfoot. One of the kittens has a lot of Bigfoot’s same mannerisms. This makes me smile, but it also sometimes brings tears and makes me long for the cat who’s no longer here.
I’m a big reader of grief books. I’ve read a lot of books written by Elisabeth Kubler- Ross and I love Alan Wolfelt’s books on grieving (he has a whole series and even one on pet loss grief that is excellent). I also have a book I try to read daily called Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief.
I found myself dreading this one year anniversary of Bigfoot’s death. I fully expected to be sad, and I have been. What I wasn’t expecting, was to wake up angry today. I won’t pretend I haven’t felt anger at his death during this past year. I have. Bigfoot’s death aroused an anger in me that hasn’t always been easy to vent. Losing him made me feel angry and today that anger resurfaced. If I’ve learned anything from grief books, I’ve learned that there is no order to grief. I’ve learned grief can’t be forced into a desired time frame. It just doesn’t work that way. I’ve learned that grief comes in waves. Some of those waves are little and others feel like tsunamis. I’ve learned that there are “griefbursts.” I’ve had plenty of these griefbursts over the past year. Alan Wolfelt, PH.D., in his book Healing Your Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas, has this to say about griefbursts:
- Sometimes heightened periods of sadness overwhelm us when we’re in grief.
- These times can seem to come out of nowhere and can be frightening and painful.
- Even long after the death, something as simple as a sound, a smell or a phrase can bring on a “grief burst.”
- Allow yourself to experience griefbursts without shame or self-judgment, no matter where and when they occur.
I’ve cried a lot over Bigfoot’s death. And here one year later, I’m still crying. I think crying is important and helps one in the healing process. It’s cleansing and therapeutic. But recently, when I realized that the one year anniversary of Bigfoot’s death was coming up, and I was still crying almost every single day, I decided I needed help through this grieving process. I thought maybe talking about my feelings with a trained professional who can listen and offer support might help. I’ve only had two appointments with this counselor, so I’m not very far into the therapy process yet, but I think it may be helpful. The counselor seems very nice, professional, and compassionate.
There can be so many emotions one goes through after losing something or someone they love. Of course there’s sadness. But there is also guilt (which is quite common when someone has to make the difficult decision to euthanize a beloved pet), anger, numbness, fear, and confusion. I’ve felt them all. It is both normal and healthy to have these feelings. I remember in the days right after my mother died, if you were to ask me to describe how I felt in one word, that word would have been “lost.” My mother died of cancer and for 2 years there were so many doctor visits, hospital visits, chemo treatments, CT scans, and specialists to see. In the last few months of her life, she was in a hospital hospice setting for 3 weeks, a nursing home for a week, and then a hospice residence for 2 months. When she died, all those visits came to an abrupt halt and I didn’t know what to do with myself. It was a strange feeling. I felt like I needed to be somewhere but there was nowhere to go. There were no more tests, no more chemo treatments, no specialists to see, no hospice to visit. I at times just felt like I was wandering aimlessly through a thick fog in slow motion.
When you lose someone you love, whether it be a human or an animal, sometimes you get hurtful advice from others. Over this past year, I’ve received all kinds of advice from people. I’ve been told that I needed to “Get on with my life.” I’ve been told “I lost my cat because God needed an angel in heaven.” I’ve been told to “get another cat, that it would help me get over Bigfoot.” I know these people meant well but sometimes their words stung a bit.
I have learned I still have grieving to do but I know I will get through it. I know I am blessed with others who love me. I know I will eventually learn to love these kittens just as I loved Bigfoot. I know I have much to be thankful for in this life. I also know that some days will be easier than others. On the harder days I just need to remember to breathe in and breathe out. I realize I won’t “be cured” from my grief but that I will learn to live with it and become reconciled to it. I truly believe that some good will come out of this experience and I will grow from it. It will take more time.