Losing a pet is hard. The pain and grief can be as strong as the loss of a relative. The sudden death of my beloved cat at the age of 17 triggered an episode of depression.
For me, my cat was symbolic of the love and validation which I sought from a human being. Milly provided me with the unwavering love and attention that I never felt worthy of receiving. My childhood years were riddled with feelings of low self-worth and difficult relationships. Life events presented a path of uncertainty and challenges that I felt unable to handle. My story is one of family dysfunction, but in the less conventional sense. I didn’t have anyone to whom I could relate, or could relate to my situation. In a time of pre-internet forums and social media, I felt completely isolated and alone. I was trapped in my mind and lost in my thoughts. The weight of the world felt too heavy to bear.
My cat was one of the few certainties in my life. I could rely on her to sit with me when I was sad. She would never judge or love me any less. I knew she wouldn’t let me down.
To lose that one certainty in your life comes as a complete shock. There is great danger in relying on one person, or one thing, too much. Department from one’s attachment is a step towards fear of abandonment and an inability to tolerate being alone.
Almost 10 years later, I once again experienced the grief accompanied with losing a beloved pet. She also got me through some very difficult times when I struggled with my health – mental and physical – and other difficult relationships in my life. Coming from a small family and during periods of isolation through depression, I once again found comfort in the unwavering love from my cat Miffy. However, the loss of Miffy was different to the loss of Milly. This time, it happened during a more stable part of my life. I am surrounded by some wonderful, caring people and feel strong connections of love, compassion and trust. The connection I had with my cat is still like none other but I can look back fondly at how she helped me during those difficult times. She served a great purpose in my life, one which couldn’t be filled by medication or talking therapy alone.
Living in rental accommodation I can no longer own any animals, but I know they are great sources of therapy when times are tough. In protecting and supporting us, we ascribe to them a role that few others can match. It is for this reason that we must also be cautious of becoming so attached that their inevitable death will cause us such relentless sorrow.
I will never be dissuaded from owning a pet; after all, it is better to have lost than never to have loved at all. But we must all remember that upon their departure from this world, it is OK to feel sadness. It is OK to grieve. We are shaken from normal routine and there is a gap in our world. I just hope that we can fill the void with our own self-love and self-worth. Only then can we grieve in a healthy way, alongside people who care for us in a way we should care for ourselves.