Grieving A Cat: Surviving The Loss of A Special Friend

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For those who missed the news or don’t follow my blog regularly, I lost my sweet cat, Zoloft, on August 28, 2023. Grieving a cat is never easy, but when the cat you lose is your soul cat it can be even more challenging. I wish I weren’t going through this right now. I wish my dude, my special guy, my best friend in the entire world was still here with me.

Zoloft, a lynx point Siamese cat, lays on a wooden floor with both paws extended.
The first picture I took of Zoloft on his gotcha day, March 27, 2018. Little did I know how much he would change my life and how much losing him would hurt.

No amount of wishing will bring him back. That’s the reality of the situation I’m in. I’ll always have his memory and he will continue to impact the work I do as a cat behaviorist, but not having him here just sucks. There’s no other way to describe it. It absolutely sucks.

What This Grief Guide Is

As I go through this journey of grief, I want to continue Zoloft’s legacy of bringing goodness to the world by helping other cat parents who are looking at the upcoming loss of a cat or whose cat recently died. Grieving a cat, or any other pet, is an individual journey and nothing will make the process any less awful. There are some ways to help and I wanted to share these with folks.

Rather than my traditional blog post where I research a topic and post about it all at once, I had intended for this post to be a living document. It started as an account of my journey through grief and part of the very living impact Zoloft continues to have on the world. He may be at rest, but he is still changing the world. That’s how special he was.

However, as I got going I realized this post was already really long and it was only October, less than two months after my guy left this world. Rather than limiting myself or having to delete something that may help someone else, I decided to make this post as a jumping off point for a series of blogs on grieving a cat. Think of this as the introduction and a place to get going and the rest of the posts as more detailed guides. I still intend to update this post as time goes on, but for the first year after his passing I’m honoring Zoloft with a series of blogs.

A Series

This is my September post and you can find a link to my October post at the bottom. As time progresses toward August 2024 when he’ll have been gone for a full year, there will be additional links to other posts in the series as they get added. Plus, I added a few extra posts about other topics that are grief related.

Zoloft was so special, the pain of losing him couldn’t be contained to just a single post. That’s how special I’m sure your cat was, too. Or your cats. Or your dog, parrot, or any other animal. Many of these suggestions are with the focus of grieving a cat’s death, but you can still take some of the ideas and use them for any animal.

Suggestions, Not A Mandate

I’ll be sharing both my own journey and ideas backed up by science. Just because you don’t follow this process or you grieve differently, doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. Everyone needs something different to come to a place of acceptance.

What you’re shooting for may be different: acceptance, peace, whatever you want to call it. It doesn’t matter what the end goal is, this may help. I will never suggest you move on. You may not ever fully move on. I’m not planning to “move on” from Zoloft. My goal is to help you be able to continue living with the change in circumstances, as awful as they are.

You can skip any parts of this post or subsequent posts. You can choose to not do anything that doesn’t appeal to you. Nothing I’m including is a must. Your journey is different than mine will be. We’ll get there together because I want you to be at peace someday, too.

Why Grieving Is Important

Before we get into suggestions for grieving, why should you allow yourself to grieve? I didn’t know your cat, but chances are you knew them very well. You spent a lot of time with them and they were a constant presence in your home for whatever amount of time you got to share with them. Them not being there is a huge change to your life.

Your cat was also very special. There is never going to be another cat exactly like them. There may be cats that have similar personalities, but they’ll never have exactly the same quirks as your special cat. Grieving is a way of acknowledging that unfortunate reality while also celebrating just how special your cat was.

Mental Health Effects Of Pet Loss

There’s also your own mental health. Pet loss really, really sucks. That’s the only way to phrase it it. It’s awful and it comes with its own unique sets of challenges. While euthanasia is the kind choice if your cat is suffering, it comes with a lot of guilt and complicated emotions. If you look at the research comparing grieving a pet to other kinds of loss, loss of a pet can be just as bad as losing a human depending on the relationship someone had with their pet. People may also experience disenfranchised grief because they feel guilty about how bad they feel following the loss of their beloved pet.

Side note: I have no patience for the who-has-it-the-worst Olympics. Someone else’s loss of a different kind does not make your loss better. You having a “better” loss than theirs doesn’t make their loss any less terrible or yours better. Nobody wins because everybody’s loss sucks. Immediately ignore anyone who says your loss isn’t that bad because you didn’t lose a child or any other reason. Your loss is still valid.

Not grieving your cat can result in some serious mental health consequences. While grieving is absolutely a normal thing, complicated grief is not. It can have serious effects on every aspect of your life. In its most serious forms, it can put you at risk for physical illness, other mental health conditions, or even death.

On the flip side, there is evidence that taking time to celebrate your relationship with your cat can help you continue to live your life. Taking time to continue to acknowledge your cat, celebrate your time together, and continue to see them as part of you will help you begin the process of healing.

Take Time Off

I had already had time off from in home sessions, but was still seeing virtual clients as I was supposed to be helping Zoloft post op. As soon as Zoloft took a turn for the worse, I moved things around immediately. Thankfully, I have some pretty awesome and understanding clients.

I also have another job in a different role and called out for the entire week. With how I have been, it actually would have been worse to have me there trying to work. I would not have been able to function on any level and the random crying spells I keep getting are a lot.

I realize not everyone can just rearrange their schedules to take time off, but if you can, you absolutely should. If you can’t get time off from work, maybe you take time off from a volunteer commitment or from something else in your life. Maybe you don’t take on extra commitments. Heck, maybe you get support from people in your life. Get someone to watch your kids for a night so you can do some self care. Taking time off is different for everyone, but it absolutely helped me quite a bit.

Or Keep Busy

That said, I know there are some people who find being busy to be more helpful than not having anything to do. I love working with cats so the thing I needed more time off from was my other job as I find it incredibly draining, but if you love what you do, there is value in keeping things normal. I’m planning on helping a journalist with an article so will be answering her questions tomorrow. I love talking about cat behavior so it will help me (and feel like a great way to honor Zoloft).

Use caution with this approach if you choose it. Grieving a cat does require you to feel a lot of uncomfortable feelings. You can’t push them off forever. Don’t get so busy to the point you never allow yourself to actually process everything you need to.

Relive Happy Memories

The day Zoloft died, I didn’t feel like thinking about him and our life together at all. Our life together was amazing, but it hurt way too much to think about all of our happy times together as it reminded me that they wouldn’t happen again. The next day, things got better. When you’re ready, it may help to purposefully take time to go through some of those memories.

Do A Memory Tour

I had Zoloft cremated by Pets Remembered as they offer individual cremation. They were remarkably fast in taking care of him (and overall were very kind) so I was able to pick him up to go home the next day.

I didn’t go straight home, however. I had an idea to go on a “tour” with him of the places that meant a lot to him and me. We moved a few times during our time together so we lived in three different places. We also spent significant time at my parents’ home at a few points in the last few years. My current home was clearly the last stop. However, our first stop was my parents’.

Zoloft loved sitting in a few particular spots in my parents’ home and always wanted to get into their sunroom. He was strictly forbidden from going in there, however, as it has a lot of potentially harmful plants. Well, he got to go sit in all his favorite spots and finally go into the forbidden plant room! It ended up being fun, despite all the tears. It also was the first time the memories didn’t sting.

The other two places were apartments so I couldn’t exactly go into them again. The one we recently moved from was closer so we drove by it and I smiled as we drove by. I spent the drive to our next stop, the first place we first lived together, talking about memories of our time there. When I got to the other apartment, I pulled over and looked up at the deck. Memories of our times on the balcony together and of our life living there flooded in. And it was okay.

Go Somewhere To Reflect

After, it was a nice day so I found a spot along the Mississippi river. I grabbed Zoloft’s urn and we went to look out over the river. I cried a bit, I talked a lot, I felt all the feelings. It was good final stop on the memory tour before we did one final task and then he came home for his rest… though we did have one more stop as I really needed some time with cats.

If you moved out of state or otherwise can’t get to the places that meant at lot to your and your cat, there’s no reason grieving a cat needs to be limited to past memories. Find someplace beautiful, somewhere your cat may have liked, and take them there. Sit and reflect on your life together. Cry if you need it. This is your grief so do what you need.

Another option is going to a local cat cafe or shelter to pet some cats. I wanted to pet a Siamese cat after Zoloft died and just looking through the sweet cats available helped me heal. It also resulted in both Prozac and Poutine so maybe be careful with this idea if you lack self control. Don’t feel any pressure to do this if you may find it upsetting. This is your own personal grief journey!

Celebrate With Others

Depending on your specific situation, you may have been the person closest to your cat. You may also have a partner, kids, or roommates who spent a lot of time with your feline friend. Chances are there are other people who are also sad about your cat, too. There are likely also people who want to support you. You are important, too!

Consider doing something to celebrate your cat and their impact on your life with other people. While it may seem silly to hold a memorial service for your cat, who cares what people think if it will help you move on? My cat passed less than two weeks before his 14th birthday and you know I threw him a birthday party and celebration of our lives together with people who cared about him. It was both healing and still fun.

A plate of cookies decorated to look like Zoloft, Joey's sweet cat two passed away in 2023. There are also heart shaped cookies with sprinkles in the same color as his fur.
My mom even made cookies that looked like Zoloft.

As a special memory of his celebration of life, I saved the roses we had there. They are currently drying and in a few weeks will be dry enough that I can turn them into a wreath. This will be something that will stay by Zoloft in his rest as a reminder not only of him, but of the amazing people in my life who came out to support me.

You don’t have to do anything formal, either. It could just be having a few friends over to look at pictures over dinner. You could meet up to talk with friends. Do what feels right.

Create A Memorial

Depending on what you decide to do with your cat’s body following their passing, you may or may not have remains. If your cat was cremated, you can build your cat a special place to keep their memory alive and honor them. You may want to keep a few special mementos in the form of things that belonged to your cat with them such as a collar, a food dish, a favorite toy, or a paw print.

You may also want to find a way to preserve your memories of your cat. When you’re ready, consider looking through photos of them and ordering a photo book of your memories. You could get a journal to write down memories of them or create a scrapbook if you’re craft. With technology the way it is, you also probably have device you can use to take voice notes. Consider sitting down and recording yourself talking about some of your favorite memories of your cat. It doesn’t matter if you cry during it as it’s mostly for you, anyway. Plus, you can keep adding to it as you think of memories for years to come.

Don’t Hold It In

It may seem like keeping your thoughts to yourself is the way to go, but you deserve to be heard and ignoring them won’t help anything. Express your feelings however you feel is best. I find writing helps me, but I also find that talking to Zoloft helps to. It doesn’t matter if I don’t get a response. It just helps to keep him updated like I did while he was around. And if you feel like it’s weird, know that talking to a loved one who passed is actually completely normal.

Write Them A Letter… Or Something Else

One way to get your feelings out is to write a letter to your cat. You can use a word document or regular paper. If you don’t want to keep it around, you can always burn it. I use a Rocketbook to take notes for follow up sessions and you could use something similar to write and erase your letter. You can put it in with their remains or keep the letter nearby. Whatever feels right, do it.

I’ve been intending to lay out my origin story with cat behavior for a long time, but haven’t ever gotten around to it. Zoloft was a huge part of that story so really, my story is his story and will continue to be even if he’s not here. I finally wrote a blog about how I started working in cat behavior as a way to commemorate him and thank him for the gift he gave me.

If writing isn’t your jam, try something else. Maybe you play an instrument or you have an artistic expression of some kind. Do whatever it is you do intentionally to honor them or speak to them. Doing things intentionally and with purpose can help make their meaning more impactful for you. It may take a few tries to find something that fits your needs, but it will be worth it when you do.

Talk To Someone

One thing I’ve found challenging through my life is relying on others for things. I like to be able to do as much as I can myself, but sometimes you can’t do everything alone. Your friends and family want to listen and be there for you. If they know you and how special your cat was to you, they’ll understand why it hurts so much.

If you feel guilty about burdening one person, consider talking to a few different people. You need them right now and that’s okay. You’ll be there for them when they need it.

If you have another pet or another cat, talk to them. While they may not understand exactly what you’re saying, chances are if you’re on my blog about grieving a cat you know the bond one forms with a special feline friend. They may not know why you’re sad (though they may be grieving themselves), but they’ll be able to tell you need them. Zoloft used to comfort me even when I was crying because he was sick. They know.

Seeking A Professional

I’m going to be vulnerable here (as if this whole guide isn’t vulnerability) and share that later today, I am going to be meeting with my therapist. This particular section is being added on day 4 after losing Zoloft so I already knew I needed some support. You may or may not need professional help, but if things get really bad there’s no shame in considering it.

Professional help could be in the form of a pet or cat loss support group led by a counselor or an individual therapist. If things are getting really dark, it may be something more involved like a mental health treatment program. While grieving after losing a cat is totally normal, sometimes it can become pathological. If you’re finding the grief just isn’t lifting, you can’t take care of your basic needs, and especially if you’re having any thoughts that you may be better off not being here, please make sure you seek a qualified mental health professional.

If you are in immediate danger, please call the National Crisis Hotline at 988 or seek out local resources. Mental Health America has a list of national resources. For resources in Minnesota, NAMI Minnesota has a list of local crisis resources.

A person with long hair in a jean jacket is sitting with her hands crossed while another person, slightly blurred, wearing black has their crossed hands visible.
It’s okay to need some extra help. Your cat was a special member of your family. Photo by Priscilla Du Preez.

The Best Way Of Grieving A Cat Is Your Way

As I said, this blog is the first in a series and will be updated over time. When I started this particular post, the grief was still fresh and the loss was still brand new. I’ll be doing other things over the following weeks and months to share with others. Heck, I don’t expect to ever stop missing Zoloft so I’ll be grieving years down the line. While I am planning on doing a post on grief per month for the next year, I may update this post with something that helps with prolonged grief in a couple years or even do a full new post on pet loss grief!

Regardless of what you need to do to grieve, keep trying and keep honoring your cat each day. I know Zoloft wants me to be happy even if he’s not here and so the best thing I can do for him is to keep going. I know your cat feels the same. Heck, I want you to be able to enjoy your sweet cat’s memories and I don’t even know you. Writing helps me process things, but it also helps me share knowledge. This is such a challenging thing to go through and I just want to be able to help you.

So whether this is the last time you stumble across my website or our paths cross again, you have my sincerest condolences on the loss of your cat. From one grieving cat parent to another, I know that the loss is immeasurable and the void left is wider than the entire universe. May you find the comfort you need and may your cat’s memory soon bring a smile to your face. We’ll get through this together.

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Joey Lusvardi

Joey Lusvardi CCBC is an IAABC Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and professional cat trainer based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He runs a behavior consultation and cat training service, Class Act Cats, where he helps cat parents address a variety of unwanted behaviors. Joey is available for in home sessions locally or virtual sessions wherever you are located!