Holding A Memorial Service For Your Cat

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This blog is part of a series as I process my grief over the loss of my cat, Zoloft, in the hope of helping others process their grief. I am sharing a new blog post every month for the first year on different topics related to grieving a pet. While my focus is on cats, the advice is applicable to dogs, birds, or any other pet you love.

While we think of funerals as being a normal part of grieving a human, it’s not quite as commonplace when grieving a cat. However, demand for pet funeral services has grown as more and more people see their pets as part of their family. While you may not hold a formal funeral or use a professional service, holding a funeral, celebration of life, or memorial service for your cat may help you feel some sense of peace. I did and it helped me get through a very challening day.

Zoloft’s Celebration Of Life

Zoloft died less than two weeks before his 14th birthday. Not that his dying at any point in time was going to be great timing, but this timing was especially bad. Instead of preparing to celebrate his birthday with him, I was left with a day that was normally devoted to snuggles and play where I was reminded that he wasn’t here while it was still very fresh. I decided that I needed to do something so I wasn’t alone that day and the idea to have a birthday party/celebration of life for him came up.

I kept it small with just a few people. My mom, being the incredibly creative retired teacher she is, came up with very special Zoloft themed snacks.

A tray with blue frosted cupcakes and roses in the background.
Cupcakes with frosting the color of his eyes.
A tray of cookies decorated to look like Zoloft, a lynx point Siamese cat, along with a few heart shaped cookies.
My mom made the cutest little Zoloft cookies.

I gathered some of the things that were important to him such as the first toy I bought him, some of the ceramic bowls I made him, and a painting I made of him during a paint your pet night. I gathered some photos and created a display for the fireplace in the party room I rented.

A picture of a fireplace set up for a Zoloft's memorial service There are roses, pictures, a box from Chewy, bowls, his favorite toy, and more in view. I miss him a lot.
The display of various Zoloft related things for his celebration of life.

And of course, there was the guest of honor himself. I brought Zoloft’s ashes down to join in the celebration. I’ve shared the story of The Chair before so of course I brought such an important piece of furniture down for him to rest on during his party. A few flowers had fallen off some of the roses I bought so I set them next to him along with a knit Zoloft a friend made and a stuffed tiger I bought as a gift for him on a trip to Vegas a few years back.

The guest of honor for a memorial service for a cat is the cat. Zoloft's ashes in a wooden box are sitting on The Chair (a teal office chair he loved) along with a knitted version of him, a white tiger toy, two pink roses, and a red paw print.
He got to spend his 14th birthday in one of his favorite places, The Chair.

It was a nice afternoon and gave me something to focus on besides how sad I was. I got to go through his stuff and process the memories associated with it in a more productive way. I gave a little speech to talk about how much he meant to me. While I would have rather spent his 14th birthday with him, this was a nice alternative.

Ideas For Your Cat’s Memorial Service

I share Zoloft’s celebration of life not so you feel like you need to do exactly what I did, but to give one example of what a memorial service for a cat could look like. Much like how your cat was unique, their memorial service will also be unique. You could go with a professional service or do something completely unique that you plan on your own. Here are a few other things to consider if planning one yourself.

Logistics

When I was in undergrad, I had an internship planning events at my school. I have a lot of experience planning larger scale events, but many of the same things you’d think about with a huge event also need to be planned for a memorial service for your cat.

Who To Invite?

Social connections are important when grieving so you may want to invite some people to your cat’s celebration of life. That said, you don’t have to invite everyone you know or anyone at all. You can do a private ceremony for your cat by yourself if it feels helpful. It could be just you and members of your immediate family.

If you want to invite a few people, think of those who support you and supported your cat. Depending on your comfort level, you may want to consider inviting close friends, family members, a pet sitter, your cat’s veterinarian, their groomer, or anyone else who meant a lot to them and you. While she was out of town so couldn’t make it, I invited the friend who connected me to Zoloft originally. Think of who will be there for you or who had an impact on your cat’s life.

Hold It At Home Or Somewhere Else

Depending on where you live, you may have a party room you can rent or there may be somewhere nearby you’d want to consider renting. You could also hold your memorial at home. Keep in mind that depending on when you hold the memorial service for your cat, you may not be up for extensive cleaning. There’s nothing wrong with that! Renting somewhere means you don’t have to clean up beforehand. It also comes with a cost so if not within your means, that may not be an option.

Wherever you decide, you’ll want to make sure it’s a private space. Regardless of how many people you invite, there will be tears. You don’t want strangers looking in and wondering what’s going on. You deserve a time to celebrate your cat’s life without the judgement of people who may not get it.

One other consideration: if you are planning to spread your cat’s ashes or bury their remains as part of the celebration of life, you’ll want to hold the service near that location. Chances are you won’t feel like traveling far and it will be less for you to worry about day of.

When To Have The Memorial Service

There are two main things to consider when deciding on the timing of the celebration of life for your cat. First, if there are any special activities that require you to be outside, you may need to wait until the weather is nice. You probably don’t want to spread your cat’s ashes when it’s the middle of January in Minnesota!

That aside (or if you plan on doing a fully indoors memorial service), the next thing to consider is if the timing is right for you. Would it be more helpful to have the service quickly after your cat passes or do you need more time to grieve in other ways? Is there a special day that you’d want to do the service on such as your cat’s birthday or Gotcha Day? What about the 1st anniversary of their passing? There isn’t a wrong answer so choose what’s best for you.

What To Do During A Memorial Service For Your Cat

There aren’t really cultural norms surrounding memorial services for pets, at least not in the US, so there isn’t a set formula to follow. That may feel overwhelming, but if you think about it, it means you can do whatever feels meaningful to you. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Talk About Your Cat

Chances are you have stories about your cat and your adventures together. You may need to share how much they meant to you to help you grieve or have something else that needs to be said out loud. Regardless of what you decide to say, saying something about your cat can help. Share the story of how you met them or a story of mischief that makes you laugh. Talk about the things you miss about them.

You can write something or just let the words flow as they come to you. If you can’t find the words, reading a poem may feel right. Whatever you decide to do, remember that it’s completely okay if you cry. The people who are there will support you.

One other thing to consider: regardless of your beliefs about an afterlife or where your cat is now, it’s not weird to say something to them. If there was something you didn’t get to say to your cat before they passed, this is your chance.

Spread Their Remains Or Bury Them

Depending on what you decide to do with your cat’s body after they pass, you may have ashes or their full body. This may be an opportunity to bury them or spread their ashes in a meaningful place. Perhaps there was a favorite resting spot outside or a catnip plant that you think they’d enjoy. You could take them to a place near where you first met or somewhere you lived together. As long as you aren’t breaking any laws, do what you feel you need to do.

If you don’t feel like doing this, that’s okay too. I’m keeping all of Zoloft’s remains and, one day when I join him, I plan to have us spend our rest together. There’s no pressure to spread your cat’s ashes anywhere as not everyone finds it healing.

Perform A Ritual

Depending on your cultural and spiritual beliefs, there may be things you do to memorialize a human. Many of these could be adapted to do for your cat. If it feels like something that would bring closure to you, consider doing a modified version in honor of your special feline friend.

If you don’t have a ritual in mind, make one up. Do something that feels right to you with the intention of honoring your cat. It could be planting a tree or even throwing out their old litter box. There isn’t a wrong way to do this. Something that seems strange to others may be just what you need to feel closer to whole.

Give Your Guests A Remembrance Gift

For Zoloft’s celebration of life, I sent my guests home with silver vine sticks and Churu if they had cats because Zoloft loved both of them. Unfortunately, I couldn’t give everyone an office chair. Maybe there’s something that your cat loved that you could share with your friends’ cats. Depending on what you decide to do with your cat’s things, you can send them all home with one of your cats’ toys for their cats to enjoy. A small photo of your cat may be meaningful to them.

One of my favorite things to give people going through pet loss is a suncatcher or a suncatcher prism for a window in their home. When the sunlight reflects off of them, it’s a good reminder of their cat. Some people feel like it’s their cat’s way of checking in on them. You can send them home with something small that can add some color to their home and remind them of you and your cat whenever the sun shines in.

Make It Fun

While losing your cat is extremely sad, you had a lot of positive memories with them or you wouldn’t be so devastated. I’ve always preferred the idea of a celebration of life over a funeral as it allows you to celebrate whoever you lost rather than only focusing on the loss. In this spirit, remember that you can add some fun and whimsy to your cat’s celebration of life/funeral/memorial service/whatever term you feel most appropriate.

Get some fun photos of them and create a slide show. Have people over to play (cat themed) games. Make food, play music, whatever you feel like doing and whatever will help you. Remember, a memorial service for your cat absolutely is about your cat, but it’s also about helping you.

I found it helpful to add a bit of fun to Zoloft’s celebration of life by sneaking in little details that related back to him or creating things that were Zoloft themed for the celebration.

A tray of cookies in the shape of cats, paw prints, hearts with blue, silver, and brown sprinkles.
My mom made cookies with the coloring of his fur and eyes and added little mittens to the cat cookies. He had the cutest mittens!

My mom helped me plan the event and added so many details to everything. Beyond the baked goods, she had goldfish crackers as snacks and even got “human Churu” (better known as Go-Gurt) to serve. All the napkins were light blue and I asked everyone to wear something light blue or with a cat on it. I wore my Zoloft print socks and my Zoloft print tropical shirt. I even insisted on having broccoli as Zoloft loved sniffing (but not eating) broccoli.

He was a weird cat and I miss him immensely.

Final Thoughts And A Parting Idea

While the idea of holding a memorial service for your cat may not be commonplace, that doesn’t mean it’s totally out there. Cats mean a lot to us and they change our lives. It may be the thing you need to help you process your grief and feel supported. It doesn’t need to be elaborate or through a professional funeral service. You can make it whatever you want it to be.

One final idea to consider: the memorial service for your cat isn’t just about healing in that day or a one time thing. When I think back to Zoloft’s 14th birthday, I’ll remember how sad I was he was gone and how much the people around me supported me. It was a special day in a different way. It was both awful and comforting.

I took the roses, my favorite flower, from Zoloft’s memorial service and dried them. A month later, after they were completely dry, I took the ones that hadn’t molded (which were the majority of them) and used them as part of a wreath. Some of the petals from ones that didn’t quite fully make it without molding or fell apart after I took them down from drying ended up in the memorial scrapbook of my time with Zoloft.

The wreath now sits on Zoloft’s shelf in along with his stuffed tiger, one of his paw prints, a lovely piece of art a friend commissioned, a memorial candle, and the first toy I bought for him that he loved up until the end. It’s a beautiful reminder of that day, the people who care about me, and, most of all, the love of a truly irreplaceable cat.

Joey and his cat Zoloft sitting close to each other.
I still miss you every single day, Z.

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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!