Though it’s common to hear about the sense of loss people feel when their dog passes away, cat owners can sometimes find themselves alone in dealing with the grief of losing their cat. Fortunately, however, there are plenty of ways to help cope with your loss and celebrate the life of your cat.
“The first time someone loses a cat, they may not be prepared for how difficult it is; I think it's important to understand that it’s as painful as losing a human family member. The problem is that society isn’t really always so understanding of the strength of the bond between humans and animals, so it can often be dismissed as ‘just a cat,’” says Ingrid King, founder and publisher of The Conscious Cat and author of five cat books, including Purrs of Wisdom: Enlightenment, Feline Style and Tortitude: The BIG Book of Cats with a BIG Attitude.
Here are some ideas to help deal with the loss of your cat, as well as to keep his or her memory alive.
Create a Ritual
Whether you decide to host a funeral or memorial or find a special place in your home to display your cat’s ashes, King says that performing some sort of ritual to say good-bye to your pet can be an important first step in the grieving process. “Many people find it helpful to hold a gathering with friends and family members where they can share stories or favorite memories of their cat,” she adds.
Connect with Others Who Have Lost a Cat
During the grieving process, it can be very important to surround yourself with other cat lovers who can relate to your pain and understand that you’ve lost a member of your family. If your friends and family aren’t able to relate, there are numerous Facebook groups and other social media outlets that are dedicated to helping people mourn the loss of their pet.
But if leaning on friends and family or engaging in social media isn’t enough to work through your grief, don’t be afraid to seek additional help. “There are many forms of grief that are completely normal in the wake of the loss of a beloved pet. Friends and family can help form a support network, but if severe symptoms of grief persist, it’s best to consult with your doctor about your feelings and ways to cope with this loss,” says a spokesperson from the ASPCA.
Plant a Tree
Sometimes breathing new life into your home can help with the loss of a beloved pet. King suggest planting a tree, flower, rosebush, or anything else that would be meaningful to you and that would help you remember your cat. “You can also incorporate some of your cat’s ashes into the ground where you’re planting; some companies even make memory trees when you send in some of your cat’s ashes and they create a tree for you,” she adds.
Volunteer Your Time
According to Shannon Kirkman, director of marketing for Animal Haven in New York, it’s common for volunteers to join local animal shelters immediately following the loss of their dog or cat as a way to help them through the grieving process. “Many people find that volunteering their time at an animal shelter is a wonderful way to honor their pet's life,” she explains.
If you're not yet able to volunteer in person, many animal organizations also have memorial funds set up to invite people to donate money or supplies to the organization in their lost pet’s name. Animal Haven maintains a wall within the shelter where people can order a commemorative tile wall with their pet's name and a personalized message. “Supporting other animals in need can be a really special ways to pay it forward and honor your lost pet,” she adds.
Treat Yourself to a Piece of Jewelry
There are an increasing number of companies that can incorporate your cat’s ashes into a pendant or other piece of jewelry. Some artists can even incorporate your cat’s whiskers into works of you can wear. “Jewelry is always a nice idea because then you can always have your cat close to your heart,” King says.
Commission a Work of Art
Another way to keep your cat’s memory alive in your home is to have a painting done of your pet after they’ve passed away. Erica Eriksdotter is a fine artist in the Washington, D.C. area that creates pet portraits by having conversations with their owners, analyzing dozens of photos, and reading letters about what the pets meant to their families. “In the end, the pet’s spirit shines through the canvas. Many of my clients are moved to tears when they unwrap their paintings,” Eriksdotter says. “I see people are increasingly looking for unique ways to memorialize their pets, and many of my clients commission my work for a loved one because they know personalized artwork can have so much more meaning than an urn or a stone.”
Adopt Another Cat
Though this is an incredibly personal decision, some people find that opening their home to another cat in need can help the grieving process. “We've worked with all kinds of adopters who are adding another pet to their family following the loss of their previous pet. There’s no perfect formula for how long you should wait, if you should adopt another pet who reminds you of your old pet, or welcome a totally new and different pet into your home,” Kirkman adds. “Take care of yourself, make decisions on your own time, and don't let anyone rush you.”