Hello, my friends. This is a little on the heavy side, but I said that I would post it, so…
I wanted to come back from Salem’s death six months later with an update on how things have shaken out over time, for anyone who’s wondering or who might be on the same path. The update was going to look something like this: I’ve moved through the stages of grief, and now I’m on the other side. Unfortunately, that is not what this update looks like.
My cat died over six months ago, and I’m not “over it.” I shouldn’t have to feel that this is a confession, as if it’s something that demands justification, but I kind of do. In our society, there seems to be a suggested expiration date for grieving the loss of a pet.
Some remarks made to me within two weeks of Salem’s death (not that they would’ve been okay at any other time):
“She was killed by an owl? That’s just nature.” ~My former lunch-break acquaintance across the street from my workplace.
“Just, you know, get over it.” ~A dear friend I’ve had since the ’90’s.
“She was just a cat.” ~The same former lunch-break acquaintance.
Friend from the 90’s: You should just get another cat.
Me: I have Nenette, my indoor ca –
Friend (cutting me off): Well clearly that one isn’t enough for you if you’re still upset about the other one.
To be fair, both of the individuals who counseled me with these remarks are over 25 years my senior. They’re of another generation, and they both had rural upbringings. These factors do inform their thinking, I’m aware. I also know that they were well-intentioned; neither of them meant to be hurtful.
But I don’t understand them, these comments. Timing aside, they got me thinking. Here’s what I concluded:
If you wouldn’t say it to a human parent, don’t say it to a pet parent.
Can you imagine saying to a mother that her daughter’s death was “just nature” if her daughter had been fatally attacked by a bear?
If her infant daughter had been snatched and killed by the same enormous and powerfully taloned raptor that took and killed my Salem,* I wouldn’t tell the grieving mother to “just get over it” because it was “just nature.”
And I certainly wouldn’t tell her to “just have another baby” because “clearly your other daughter isn’t enough for you if you’re still upset about this one.”
By the same token, Salem was my daughter. It’s always been this way with my animal babies. My cat and my tortoise know me and love me as their mother, and I couldn’t be more their mom if they were human. Salem wasn’t “just a cat,” I can’t “just get over” her killing, and I’m not comforted when someone reassures me that her death was “just nature.” Neither would anyone else.
Keying out these well-intentioned statements, it strikes me that the word “just” is in all of them, and I realize that “just” is the four-letter word to avoid when talking to someone grieving the loss of their pet. “Just” belittles and diminishes. It implies that your loss is insignificant, and that therefore your lost loved one was insignificant.
I know that Salem is forever a part of the cosmos, a star in the constellation of Leo, and that I’m there with her. When I registered our twin stars, I hoped that knowing this would make for a quicker and easier grieving process, and it has helped. It’s just taking a while. For one thing, I have to be able to move past the fact that she’d fallen asleep out in the open because of me.
So that’s the update, friends. Grief is a personal journey, different from person to person and from case to case. I have a unique grief journey with every loss. It could be a walk down the street, or it could be a walk to the other side of the country. I’m still navigating this one. I’ll get there eventually.**
*Salem was a feral cat who took up residence in my yard and outdoor laundry room. She loved me and interacted with me and behaved as a trusting housecat, attached to her yard and to me, but she remained just feral enough that she wouldn’t allow me to touch her. That was her one remaining boundary, and because of it, I wasn’t able to bring her into the house.
**I’m not over here moping through life. I laugh and have fun and feel energized taking on challenges, and I look forward to things! I may not feel deep joy, but I do feel contentment that comes from a place of gratitude. Gratitude that accompanies heartbreak is a balm. It keeps me grounded in perspective. Poet Henry David Longfellow wrote that “it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” and I find this to be such a beautifully stated truth.
May this find you all safe and well, my friends. Until next time!