Humans typically live several times the life expectancy of a cat. It tears us apart the day our fur friends leave us, often without warning or time to prepare. Here's how to help cope with the loss of your pet.
Consider the following
The life expectancy of our pets has progressed considerably, enabling cats to share our lives for a good fifteen years or so. Some cats even live past 20 years.
The development of a chronic disease - chronic renal failure, hyperthyroidism, hypertension, osteoarthritis - often prepares us to consider the end. But taking care of them, administering their medications, and helping them daily, leads us to love them even more. To plan for a future without them is a psychological exercise. And not a nice one!
It is, however, the only way to prepare for the inevitable, even if the term itself seems absurd.
A marker of time elapsed
When a pet dies, beyond their daily presence and affection, it is the one, five, 10, 15 or 20 years of life they brought to us that make us miss them and feel so sad.
Childhood pets that leave us during our teenage or young adult years can also be a painful reminder of our ending childhood days. Or that your own child is also growing up. The end of an era.
When our pets go, we experience the same stages of grief as with a human, simply because like them, they are best friends, they are family and they were present through it all.
Sadly, mourning the death of a cat (or a mouse or a bird) doesn't typically generate the same level of empathy as the loss of a dog. And yet it is just as painful for many pet parents.
Dare to ask questions
One of the most terrifying thoughts as a pet parent is the unknown - what happens if they get ill? How can I best manage it? What happens if they die? If your pet is suffering from a chronic illness, you should pluck up the courage to ask your vet all the questions that might stress you so you can give your pet the best possible treatment - until death do you part. For example, how do I recognise and assess the level of pain my fur friend is experiencing? Advances in veterinary medicine now allow palliative care at home for some animals.
Ask questions that help prepare you as well - how their death is likely to occur, the signs to look out for, emergency services, formalities, the options for the body, and so on. Your vet will be very well versed at dealing with these sorts of questions and also experienced in ensuring your animal's final moments are spent in the most peaceful way possible.
Talking with children
Children of all ages should be taught the concept of death in all living creatures. This can be done using simple words to help them understand, but even then, different ages will view death differently.
Until about seven years old, children typically believe that death is a reversible condition. As their minds begin to process various elements of rationalisation, so too will they begin to understand death. It's best to avoid saying that your pet has gone to sleep as your child may begin associating death with sleep and have trouble of their own at night.
Find the right words, and offer soothing rituals in preparation such as burying a familiar object, a drawing, flora, etc. Be aware that just like you, long after their pet's death, your child may burst into tears. This is absolutely normal and should be taught as a possible (and healthy) outcome of the loss. When dealing with a loss around children, remember to share wonderful memories of your pet to encourage them to talk about both the joy they brought and the sadness at missing their presence.
Our pets remain forever in our hearts, so remind yourself of the beauty in both the joy and pain they bring to your life, and you will learn to cherish the memories and be comfortable to sit with the pain as time goes on.
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