Last month, my cat died.
He’d been with us for only a year so it was a surprise when he became ill this summer. Seriously ill. After several rounds of testing – being poked, xrayed and biopsied – he was diagnosed with an immune system disorder. His condition could be managed by medication but only for a while, until the medication didn’t work anymore.
He could not be cured. We did our best to care for him but the disease progressed in a matter of weeks.
It’s never easy to say goodbye to someone we love:
It’s not fair.
It’s too soon.
I don’t want this to happen.
But thinking these thoughts didn’t change that it was happening, and as much as I wanted to run away from it, I also wanted to help my sweet cat.
The best way for me to help my cat was to be there with him, and for him, from diagnosis to death.
Through this experience I learned four powerful truths about navigating through the process of saying goodbye.
1. Be present. In the now.
As my cat was getting sicker, it was so easy for my thoughts to swing to the past – to memories of the last days of previous pets – and to the future – projecting what it might be like as he gets worse. This was a recipe for stress and anxiety.
Caught up in this emotional bind, I was missing what was happening right now. By catching myself when I was spinning in this past-future anxiety, I could come back to the present moment and see what was happening now: my cat was sick, but he was still here with me.
He curled up next to me and purred and I pet him and rubbed his belly. In the present moment, it is as simple as that.
2. You’ll know when you know.
We understood his disease was progressively fatal. We tried different medications to manage it, and the veterinarian described other medical interventions that could be done.
I wondered, how would I know when enough is enough? This question was haunting me, always in the back of my mind.
The thing is, when it was time to let him go, I knew it. My husband knew too. We didn’t know before that day. But on that day, we knew. We looked at our cat and knew with certainty that no further treatment was going to help him.
3. Emotions pass in 90 seconds.
It was heartbreaking to say goodbye to my sweet cat. I cried and it felt like there was no stopping it. But, as neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor explains, if emotions are allowed to flow – not resisted – they will pass in 90 seconds.
When tears came and I thought I would disappear in a pile of snotty tissues, the wave of emotion crested and subsided. It was over. Each time I felt another sting of loss, the emotions passed like waves do, until the waves got smaller and became ripples.
4. The importance of ‘and.’
A few weeks have passed. I am reminded of my cat each day. The empty corner where his food dish was. Silence instead of his ‘welcome home’ meow or the hum of his quiet purr. My house feels emptier. At the same time, I am moving through my day doing what I do. Life keeps rolling along.
The sadness and grief are there, yet there is a deeper part of me that knows this is a storm that will pass in its own time.
I am OK.
I can feel sad and still live my life. I can feel thrown by grief. I can miss my cat. AND. I am OK.