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Dear EFAP: sadly mourning my cat

18/07/2019

This article is lovingly dedicated to Mickey B and to all the love that he brought to everyone around him. He was a very special cat and a truly loved best friend. Rest in peace.

​Thank you to those who have written to “Dear EFAP" for input on your dilemmas. As you are aware, we read every inquiry that comes in but we are only able to print a small selection of responses.  Our “pithy" answers are modeled after the lighter hearted Dear Abby style and are grounded in common sense.  If your issues require a more personalized level of support, please call Employee Wellness/EFAP (1-800-505-4929) and we can confidentially book you a counselling appointment with a senior level therapist.

We welcome all inquiries – please submit these to dear.​efap@efap.ca​​. All printed responses use the anonymous descriptor that you sign your inquiry with and do not reveal any identifying information.  Our goal is to support you through insight and common sense.​

Below is our response to the next selection – enjoy!  

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Dear EFAP

I just lost my cat of 13 years and I am beside myself with grief. Is this normal?  He was sick but my heart is broken that he is gone. He was my best friend and so special. How do I get through this pain? Any advice?

- Sadly Mourning my Cat

Dear Sadly Mourning my Cat

First, let me say how very, very truly sorry I am for your loss.  And yes, it is completely normal to feel as you do. Although the grief experienced over the loss of a pet may be intense and just as lengthy as when a significant person in our life dies, society's way of mourning these deaths is quite different, which can lead us to feel like we cannot always express our true sadness. But it is OK to do so, and it is healthy to do so.  Many of the social norms, rituals and community support we lean on when a person in our life dies, are not available for when a pet dies. People sometimes think that taking time to grieve a pet's death is somehow not worthy.  I actually believe it is very worthy.  

I believe, having had them myself, that a pet is truly a gift that can change your life, bring you calm, peace, love, and happiness in the most special way. Our furry friends teach us about responsibility, patience, kindness, discipline, playfulness and, most importantly, unconditional love. With humans these things are often a negotiation but with a pet true, unconditional love is given to us from the get go. Our pets accept us for who we are, without judgment and that is often very reassuring for people.  They also protect us, whether physically or emotionally, from the wrath of others – no matter what. We cannot say that about all of the humans in our lives, which is why pets are invaluable. They can also reduce our stress. So much so that VCH has now launched a program of therapy comfort dogs to support staff in our work.

 It is not uncommon to feel deep grief over the loss of, in your case, your cat. On average, these symptoms of acute grief can last from one to two months, with symptoms sometimes persisting up to a full year. The New England Journal of Medicine reported in October 2017 that after her dog died, a woman experienced “broken heart syndrome"—a condition in which the response to grief is so severe the person exhibits symptoms that mimic a heart attack, including elevated hormone levels that can be 30 times greater than normal. Grief can be that intense and so we need to acknowledge this as significant.

How do you deal with the pain you ask?  I appreciate that it is not easy. I truly do. Studies have found that social support is a crucial ingredient in recovering from grief of all kinds, so reaching out for support is key. If there is not anyone close to you that you feel you could reach out to, I might suggest you consider contacting EFAP/Employee Wellness at 1-800-505-4929. We are here to help, and you are not alone.

Your cat sounds like he was truly special indeed and I can understand how much you miss him. Recovering from pet loss, as in all forms of grief, requires us to recognize the changes that their death has brought into our lives and find ways to deal with them. You might need to reorganize some of your routines and daily activities that focussed around your cat.  For example, if you had a routine for feeding and giving him medication each day you may want to now think about how you might use that time differently. For now, it just might mean that you use the time to sit and take a moment to think happy memories you enjoyed with your cat. After some time, you may want to use this time differently and you can think about how as you move through your grief. You cannot microwave grief - it is a process. As you go through it, it will be very normal to have waves of grief come over you. Let them come through. Know what they are and that they are normal and reach out to someone who gets pets, does not judge and understands just how important your cat was to you.

I think it is time we gave grieving pet owners like yourself the recognition, support and consideration you deserve. It is a process my friend, and it will take some time. It is OK that it will take some time. All those years together meant something very special. He sounds like he was truly loved and will be truly missed. And you sound like a very caring best friend who he also was lucky to have. Take good care and deepest condolences.

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The advice offered in this column is meant to be used as general guidance based on the facts provided. The opinions or views expressed should not be relied on as treatment or counselling services. If you are a VCH staff member and find yourself in need of counselling or support, please contact Employee Wellne​ss/EFAP toll free at 1-800-505-4929 or 604-872-4929, your family doctor, or another appropriately trained and qualified specialist.​

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