cat loss

Pet Bereavement & What To Expect When You’re Grieving.

My Personal Story.

Our family ended up getting cats because our children really wanted pets. They would have loved a dog, but my husband & I weren’t prepared to take on the commitment of walking a dog in all weathers, not to mention the whole business of picking up mess. As we live in a town, opening the back door and letting the dog run into a field isn’t an option. One of my sons especially wanted a ginger cat and so we ended up bringing home two gorgeous kittens from a local breeder: one grey named Nelson, and one fluffy ginger, named Hamilton.

Now, my husband wouldn’t particularly describe himself as a ‘cat’ person: in fact, he would have described himself as quite indifferent when it comes to felines. However, our grey cat, Nelson, took a particular shine to my husband and would leap on to his lap whenever the opportunity arose, often jumping off my lap to do so. I would often feign mock annoyance at this, and it became a joke in our family that Nelson only had eyes for my husband. Nelson would often sit and wait by the front door anticipating my husband’s return from work, and would follow him around the house. It really gave me a lot of satisfaction to see the bond between the two, and how much pleasure my husband derived from Nelson’s company.

All that changed when Nelson was just 18 months old when we took a call from the local vets – Nelson had been killed instantly on the road outside our home one morning. It seems strange to say it now because we live in a town, but it hadn’t even crossed my mind that we would lose a cat to the road. Looking back he was an adventure cat with a big personality, whereas Hamilton our ginger tabby is much more timid and mostly stays in and around the garden and doesn’t venture far.

When I was told what happened the shock hit me with such force that even just thinking about it now is bringing tears to my eyes. “No! No! No! NOT NELSON!!” I shouted as I fell on to the sofa. My husband is not a particularly emotive person, but he too was in tears.

Over the next couple of weeks my husband would shed a few tears in private at work, thinking about how Nelson wouldn’t be there waiting by the front door for him anymore. “A few more years of that would have been nice,” he confessed, “that cat had a special place in my heart.” He truly did and can never be replaced. We were both blindsided by the depth of our grief for this little fellow who had come into our lives and had indeed left his mark.

So, this is my experience of losing a beloved pet. I found that the grief isn’t linear, it comes in waves came in waves; some thought of Nelson would trigger my sadness & all of a sudden I’d be in tears. It takes time to adjust to the new reality & the silence in your home can be deafening. 

There is no ‘normal’

Everyone is different and so is each person’s relationship with their cat – there is no “normal” when it comes to bereavement. However, here are a few pointers that will hopefully comfort anyone who is suffering from the loss of their cat.

The first thing to note is that not everyone will understand: certainly years before I remember not “getting it” when a colleague was so upset about their cat’s death. I had never lost a companion animal & only now do I understand. Seek out people who will be sympathetic online, or in person.

Well-meaning people can say things intended to help, but may make things worse such as:

  • “I know how you feel”
  • “Time is a great healer”
  • “She’s in a better place now”
  • “It was only a pet”
  • “It will get better”
  • “It was probably for the best”
  • “It was God’s will”
  • “Don’t cry”
  • “When are you going to get another one?” 

Please don’t try to take these personally; it helps in these situations to remind yourself that most people are coming from a place of good intent and genuinely want to help, but just don’t know what to say.

You may feel anger, sadness, guilt, or numb. Guilt is a very common emotion amongst those grieving the loss of their pet because we’re often the ones who choose when the cat dies or wonder if we could have done something differently. Holding on to this guilt is an extremely unhealthy thing to do, however, and we should try to let it go.

cat loss

Picking Up the Ashes

Picking up your pets ashes may trigger the grief again because it signifies that your cat is physically gone and not coming back. I’d recommend that you don’t go alone to collect your pet’s ashes, but bring a friend with you for support. Many people feel a sense of comfort in having their cat “home” gain, however.

Ultimately, grief is not about “getting over” a loss but accepting it and being able to move forward in our own lives. Any loss will always be part of your life experience, just as your feline friend will always have been significant to you.

We bought a beautiful tree from our local garden centre to commemorate our cherished cat’s memory. In the autumn it bursts into beautiful red flowers & berries; underneath I placed a plaque which reads simply, “Nelson, you left a paw print on our hearts.” It is Nelson’s tree.


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