Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
My cat died a few days ago but I feel incredibly guilty. He was a family cat and we had him for 17 -1/2 years, but I was mostly the one who took care of him.
I left the family home a year ago. I couldn’t take my cat with me because I house share and they didn’t allow pets. I did go back home occasionally to see him. I knew he wasn’t the same and one morning my mum told me that he just didn’t look himself. She thought that he wasn’t going to make it so she started to dig a hole in the garden and she said that he sat in the hole. She then got a blanket and he lay there whilst she stroked him and then she went to work.
He died later that evening. If only I was there, I still think he would’ve been alive.
I’m so upset but feel stupid as well because he was only a cat, but I think that what killed him was that I went away and left him.
Siouxsie: First of all, it’s totally normal to feel upset and to grieve the loss of a beloved cat. Seventeen and a half years is a very long relationship — longer than a lot of marriages, in fact — and there’s no way you can lose a companion you’ve known and loved for that long and not grieve. Your pain is very real, and you don’t need to be ashamed of it.
Thomas: Guilt is also a very normal part of the grieving process. Every human who loses an animal friend asks themselves what they should have done differently, if they really did everything they could to save their cat’s life or keep her safe, and if they failed to notice signs of sickness.
Dahlia: The guilt is often the hardest to deal with. Not only do people feel guilty about the things Thomas mentioned, often they feel guilty for being so grief-stricken over “just a cat.”
Siouxsie: But Trickster, please rest assured that you did nothing wrong. When you couldn’t take him with you, you made sure your cat had the best home you could give him: a familiar place with familiar and beloved people.
Thomas: From what you said, your cat was at least 17-1/2 years old. You didn’t mention how old he was when you adopted him, so he could be a good deal older than that. At 17-1/2, your cat was at least 86 years old in human years. That’s a long and wonderful life.
Dahlia: In fact, a cat’s average lifespan is 12 to 15 years, so your cat outlived the average by quite a bit.
Siouxsie: Trickster, we’re almost certain that your cat died from natural causes. Eventually the body just stops working. Even if you had been there, you wouldn’t have been able to stop him from dying because it was time for him to go.
Thomas: Your cat knew he was dying, too. That’s why he sat in the hole your mother dug for him. It was wonderful that your mom could be there with him and give him some love and petting before she went to work. It certainly doesn’t sound like was suffering before he died; he was just “winding down,” so to speak.
Dahlia: Cats don’t view death the same way humans do. It’s not something to fear, it’s just something that happens. We grieve when we lose friends — whether those friends are animals or people — but we don’t fear death or ponder the nature of the afterlife, and we don’t live in denial of the inevitability of death. All that really matters to us is the here and now, and as long as we’re safe and comfortable and loved, that’s all we need.
Siouxsie: Please try not to feel too guilty, Trickster. Your cat knew you loved (and still love) him, and if he looks back from the Mouse-Filled Catnip Fields on the other side of the bridge, he regards you with gratitude and kindness for the years you shared with him.
Thomas: It’s going to take a while for your heart to heal and for you to be able to think of your cat friend without being flooded with that grief. But eventually the ache will subside to a twinge, and even though you’ll never forget him, the pain will be less immediate.
Dahlia: Mama still gets misty-eyed sometimes when she thinks of Siouxsie’s sister Sinéad, who died three and a half years ago.
Siouxsie: There are online support groups such as the Animal Love and Loss Network and Petloss.com (there are a lot of MIDI files on both of these sites, so you may wish to turn down your speakers before visiting), where you can find support from other people who understand your grief.
Thomas: Other cat-related websites like Catster have groups dedicated to helping cat caretakers through the loss of a beloved cat. Many veterinary schools offer grief support hotlines, too, although you will need to pay for this service.
Dahlia: And of course, if you feel like your grief is moving into a dangerous place — for example, if you start wishing to die or harm yourself — please seek professional help. No competent counselor is going to discount your grief because it’s for an animal rather than a person. If you’re hurting, you’re hurting, and counselors are there to help hurting people heal.
Siouxsie: In the meantime, please accept our purrs of condolences and sympathy, and please know that nothing you did or didn’t do caused your cat to die. He had simply lived out the lifespan he was assigned, and he was one of the lucky cats who left this life knowing love, kindness, and caring.