On Grief

A few of you may have heard that one of my cats died recently. Harry, so named for the lightning-strike-shaped black and white markings on his leg, was hit by a car a fortnight ago. Readers, I was devastated. Completely and utterly, hysterically and uncontrollably distraught. I had to leave work to go home and ‘be sad’, as Anna so succintly put it.

Harry’s first ever photo.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but it turns out that grieving for a pet is not dissimilar to grieving for a human. If you’ve never had a pet, or never lost your pet, believe me-I know that sounds mental. I thought that when one of our much-loved kittens died (way, way, waaayyyy in the future) that I would be quite sad and cry and miss the cat very, very much. I was not prepared for a fully-fledged demonstration of the Kübler-Ross model. When Phil phoned me at work to tell me that he’d found Harry lifeless in the garden, my first words were, ‘No, don’t be silly…’ I then cried A LOT down the phone at Phil, who in turn was clearing his throat and sniffing  LOT. When the crying was under control I was furious-who would hit a tiny cat in their car and drive off without even attempting to help? What kind of ******* ******* does that? There was much yelling in the direction of the telephone and all that Phil had to say in response, obviously, was ‘I don’t know, baby…’
Bargaining seems to me to be the cruelest of the five stages of grief. When you are grieving a death, there is no bargain you can make with any higher power that will reverse the pain you’re going through. And yet we try. I told Phil we should have raised Harry as an indoor cat (ridiculous notion-he could catch rabbits twice his size and bring down 2 pigeons with one swipe, that boy was NEVER made to live indoors), I promised God that I’d never let Lucy outside again and that I’d buy the expensive cat food if we could just have Harry back, please. Bargaining hurts.
And then came the inevitable. The crushing sadness and depression. And ohholyhell we were sad. So.much.crying. And not just from me. But mostly from me, I’ll be honest. It felt like I was the saddest girl in the world and that everything bad that could possibly happen to one person was happening to me, to us. It felt like if Harry was fine and scaling the living room curtains and licking the dining room chairs then everything else would be ok too. Which is, of course, nonsense.
Finally, acceptance. Of sorts. I am still angry that someone hit our little cat and didn’t take him to a vet. I still feel guilty that I didn’t make more of a fuss of him when I fed him his breakfast that morning. I still, though with reduced frequency every day, expect to hear him head-butting his was through the cat flap at warp speed. We’ll always miss him, but the sting of loss is gone.
The only difference I found in grieving for Harry the cat, rather than my beloved Nanny or my best friend’s father, was the length of time it took to ‘officially’ grieve. Grieving for a person takes a lot longer. The stages are more drawn out, the gaps between them more pronounced. I had to leave work the day Harry died, so extreme was my sadness. The next day I was back at work, bleary eyed but able to focus, not at all on the edge of erupting into tears. I was ‘ok’. I’d gone through all five stage of grief and come through the other side, in one day. Exhausting, yes. But quite efficient.
I learnt a lot, that horribly sad day two weeks ago. That people will come through for you, when you need them. That my friends are amazing and that my husband will do almost anything to protect me from pain. And that grief is grief. No matter who you’re grieving for.

Readers, what are your experiences of grief? Everyone is different, certainly…

Categories: Family, Friends and Relationships
15 interesting thoughts on this

15 Comments

  1. Posted November 23, 2011 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    This is a strangely timely post for me but I don't know how much I can say. Firstly, Aisling, I'm so sorry about Harry. Losing a pet is devastating, especially suddenly and shockingly like that. Sending lots of love my dear x x x x

    On Monday I was at my Grandpa's funeral. This wasn't my first funeral, not my first bereavement, but I think my first as a fully-fledged adult, as it were. I've learnt that grief is messy. For me the Kubler-Ross model doesn't apply, I'm not in denial, I'm not bargaining. I actually think it cam be dangerous to model grief, everyone reacts differently, I wonder am I an awful person not to want to bargain for my Grandpa back? But by the time he died it was a release and a relief, for him. He had been fighting for so damn long. He wasn't even himself anymore.

    What I've learnt about grief is that it is unexpected. I've cried three times on public transport. It is unpredictable. I thought I would cry when I heard but it took me 2 days to cry. It is healing. And it shows you the people in your life who matter. Finally, it is sad. Purely unutterably sad.

    Last thought, I reccomend everyone reads A Grief Observed, by CS Lewis. Amazing book on grief and loss.

    K x

  2. Posted November 23, 2011 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Oh Katie, I am so sorry about your Grandpa. I'm glad that it's come as some sort of relief, if only for him, but so sad for you.

    I think you are exactly right regarding the fact that grief doesn't follow a schedule. I was genuinely surprised to find myself following the 'five stages of grief' so exactly-I had imagined that I would grieve in my own way and my own time, thank you very much. And yet, I'm textbook apparently.

    I think the crucial thing to remember is that however we grieve is the right way for US.

    Katie, sending lots and lots of love.

    x

  3. Posted November 23, 2011 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Aisling I was so sorry to hear about your gorgeous Harry, and Katie I'm very sad to hear about your dear Grandpa. I know we're supposed to accept death as part of life, but even hearing about loss is heartbreaking, I don't expect it will get any easier the more we experience either.

    Having a treasured pet dying is so much more awful than non pet owners can imagine… Especially with cats and cars, because it just seems so unbearably tragic, especially when the shit of a driver doesn't even bother to stop. Our family lost our lovely, soppy dog nearly 14 years ago and we all still miss him enormously-my parents never got another dog.

    My thoughts are most definitely with you Xxx I'm sure wherever Harry is now there are a million exciting rabbits to chase!

    Px

  4. Posted November 23, 2011 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Aisling I'm so sorry to hear about Harry (and I love how and why you named him). Pets really are as much a part of a family as the people (sometimes more so) and I can fully understand how you're feeling, especially given the history around your kittens and how and when they were born, it must be so devastating.

    And Katielase, I hope you're OK, which I know is a stupid thing to say because I know you'll be feeling awful. I'm sure your Grandpa was very proud of you though. I lost my Grandad six years ago and I still miss him all the time.

  5. Sarah
    Posted November 23, 2011 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Oh this is so sad. Until we had our cat I wouldn't have understood in the same way, but you do feel so fiercely protective towards them and they are a huge part of the family. Glad that Phil is looking after you Aisling.

    And Katie, I'm really sorry to hear about your grandad, and I understand it's a different kind of grief when someone has been fighting for so long. x

  6. Posted November 23, 2011 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    So much to say on the topic of grief but I'll try to keep it succinct!

    Firstly, so sorry Katielease to hear about your Grandpa. I know what you mean about unexpected, unpredictable crying, like on public transport. Hope you are OK.

    I had a few years of a few people very close to me passing away, and I've come to realise that time is the only healer. Someone I worked with said to me, "try to make sure you deal with it now, so that it doesn't hit you in a big way in a few years"- because that is what had happened to her. For months I kept going around saying "How? How do I 'deal with it'?" because grief is so crazy, like a madness, and there seems to be no sense or structure in it. Years on I realise that my actually letting it all out, talking about it with friends, crying and crying was the 'dealing with it'. Then time comes along and heals.

    Aisling – I grew up with three cats and remember each of their deaths, two of them were very very old and had to be put down. I was sad, I still miss them so much cos i'd been with them for 16 and 21 years respectively, but they'd had a great innings. But when my Mum's cat Toby was run over, it was such a huge shock, I was devastated. We were furious because he was the third cat on my Mum's road to be killed in the space of about 6 weeks. It's a 30MPH zone and all the cars come racing through. We were all heartbroken. The speeding problem still happens but Mum did lots of work to highlight the attention to the police and we tried to get better signposting.

    It's just so so shitty and I do have some understanding of what you went through, poor you. Hope Lucy cat is ok without him. X

  7. Posted November 23, 2011 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    PS. when I said time heals – it obviously never makes bereavement fully go away – but it goes quite some way to helping. I never knew this at the time so thought I would never feel 'OK' again.

  8. Anonymous
    Posted November 23, 2011 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    (Katie here, working away again)

    Katielase, I'm so sorry to hear about your grandpa.

    Aisling, I'm a bad person. I don't tend to suffer much grief for animals. I live on a farm, and most of the farm animals (some that I become attached to) end up in an abbatoir. On top of that between us, my parents and inlaws (live next door to us) we have three dogs, 16 cats and 8 chickens. If you took the farm animals into account, you can add another 500 to that sum (dairy cows with followers).

    We have always had pets, and their dying, has been something I have grown up with. Our cats are mostly feral, but some of them we pick up, stroke, come into the house. I have found that the cats, we have made pets of, have died before the feral cats. I was very sad, when my favourites Willy, Fluffy, Atomic were run over, sometimes by my Dad or brother who have missed to see them on the tractor, but a day later, and I'm fine again. Does this make me a bad person? I think I have become hardened to it.

    I hate animal cruelty, but I know that all our farm animals, are to make us a livelihood, and we try to be good by making sure the cows have mattresses, clean bedding, room to loaf, good farm tracks for their feet, and a good diet. We're not bad people, but when the cows cannot get back in calf, they become barren cows, and are sent to the abbatoir. It's how it is. I will not say what happens to the bull calves.

    I have grown up surrounded by animals and pets, their dying has been a part of my life since day dot.

    Human's dying, is a different matter entirely, and my reaction is completely different, and one that I find difficult to talk about.

    xx

  9. Anonymous
    Posted November 23, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    I should add, I'm sorry to hear about Harry. The fact that I'm hardened doesn't make me unsympathetic.

    xx

    (Katie)

  10. Posted November 23, 2011 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Oh I am so sorry for both your losses. I have yet to lose anyone I have been that attached to. My auntie died the other week and though I was upset for my mum losing her sister, and the fact she had been badly treated by the hospital…I didn't cry.

    I find I am a bit odd with death, crying and most major life events. Maybe I need therapy?

    However I dread the day I lose someone very close to me, and we have a gorgeous choc lab who I adore with all my being, she is my girl. So if/when anything happens to her…I will be right there with leaving work, sobbing til I can't breath grief. I can bet on it. Just thinking about her not being here makes me fill up because she is such a huge part of our family. All my nieces, my mum and my sister treat her like a human being and will also be devasted when the time comes.

    I would truly never have a pet again, or at least until I retire. I have never had one before and I don't think I thought through the whole losing them part.

    Hope your both feeling better soon, and he looked a gorgeous fella A! xx

  11. Posted November 23, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    You're all so VERY lovely. Nearly had another case of random tears just now. Totally cool to be crying in a lab.

    Frankie, you are so right about the "how do I deal with it?" feeling. I like to 'deal' with things, and it's been driving me crazy that I don't know where to start dealing with this. But I know there's no right or wrong way to grieve, cope or deal!

    K x

  12. Marlene
    Posted November 23, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Katie, I am so sorry to hear f your loss x

    Aisling, I get you totally. My bulldog Bear got hit by a car when he was a puppy, he spent two long days at the Vet afterwards. I cried solidly for 2 days, nothing else mattered in my life but him (at that time). All I could think of was him lying on my lap, with rubbing his tummy and kissing him. (for anyone who has a pet but no children yet; your pets are your babies!)It was like no other grief I had ever experienced. Miraculously Bear survived and he's now 3 but I feel your pain and Bear and me send you lots of hugs xxx

  13. Jenny Lane
    Posted November 23, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    Aisling, I too was absolutely inconsolable when our cat Poppy was suddenly run over at 7 months. Both the boy and I sobbed together for 2 days and could not go to work. A sad time.
    My dad died in April this year and it has been a totally different experience. I haven't cried as much, but have moments at odd times of feeling crushingly sad, but I have to carry on. You are so right about grieving for people is long, drawn out and strange. When Poppy died I could get it all out in 2 days. With my dad I think it's a long road….. Also, how do you "deal with it". Katielase, you are so right, the unexpected crying is the worst, I once cried for 2 days solid about a month ago but now probably won't cry again for a while. It is a strange process.
    Hugs to all, great post.

  14. Posted November 23, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    So sorry about Harry, Aisling and everyone else on here who has experienced grief recently (or ever).

    I am lucky not to have experienced 'proper' full on grief before. But I know when it comes to losing someone important to me, I will probably be a complete mess as I have never had to deal with it before! Even our pets moved out (re-homed due to everyone bar Mum moving out/abroad for uni/work) before they died so I think of them still running around out there in their new homes (OK our dog would be um, 22 by now – impressive!)

    I was too young to understand when my granddads died and when my grandma died we had already lost her years before due to Alzheimers so I know about the feeling of relief (for us rather than her as she was pretty oblivious to anything by then) – we had really gotten to the stage of waiting for it which sounds awful but it was true.

  15. Anonymous
    Posted November 23, 2011 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    I'm sorry to hear of yor losses.
    I'm in a similar situation at this very moment. My absolutely beautiful and beloved black Labrador Barney is coming to the end of his life. He'd be 14 in February. As common in labs, his back legs are failing him and he's becoming unable to walk or get up from the floor properly. He wadi such a bad state and we (my mum, sister and I) decided the vet needed to be called to end his suffering. The next day, he got up, trots around the garden and finishes his food and is stood waiting at his treat cupboard! Its making the decision so much more difficult and I think I'm grieving in a way now. Nothing is going to sadden me more and I feel bad because I've not been this upset at the passing of any humans I know. I've had him since I was 12 and I'm nearly 26 now. I know when we do make the decision, it'll be the right one but I don't know how I'm going to cope with it.

    Thanks for this post – brings it home that I'm not the only one going through this and reassures me that although some non-pet people turn their noses up or laugh at me, you lot know how I feel and are on the same page.

    C x

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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image by Lucy Stendall Photography

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