Grief Following The Loss Of A Cat: Reflecting On The Passage Of Time

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The bond we share with our cats is an important part of cats’ behavior. That bond changes after our cats pass, but the bond still endures. This blog is different than my usual cat behavior focused ones and is more a reflection on grief following the death of a cat and me sharing my experience to help normalize grieving a cat and one of the weirder aspects of grief that I’ve been dealing with.

The Passage Of Time During Grief

Later this month, it will be six months since Zoloft and I parted ways. Since he died, I’ve spent a lot more time than I usually do thinking about time itself and about numbers. The first week after he died, it was counting the days until it became counting the weeks. Now, I’m counting the months, but every once in a while I will get caught up on Mondays or become distressed about 5 am even if I likely will be asleep then.

One of the weirdest parts of grieving my best friend has been how strange time has seemed. I knew he wouldn’t be around forever, but our five and a half years together went by so fast. Sometimes I still think 2018, the year he showed up in my life, was just yesterday even though it was 6 years ago. Even as he got older, it still felt like we had more time together ahead of us until suddenly his cancer diagnosis meant we didn’t.

Everything Slowed Down

The first days, weeks, and months after Zoloft passed went by so slowly. Everything felt like it was going by so slowly. The day he died just felt like it took forever. The day after he died, I went to pick him up (and unexpectedly brought Prozac home) and the day seemed even longer. Time kept clicking on, but it was slowed and distorted. Nothing felt like it was moving at its normal speed or even a consistent speed.

It didn’t help that I was in a fog for weeks after he died. I remember a lot of things happening, mostly the wonderful support I got from friends and family along with patches of memories: being frustrated with Prozac because he wasn’t purring, struggling to write behavior plans for clients, waking up in the middle of the night and being so angry with Zoloft because he hadn’t given me any signs that he was still out there somewhere, obsessively working on a scrapbook so I don’t forget anything, struggling to put up Halloween decorations…

It was a weird time. I wasn’t thinking rationally. I was questioning my beliefs and I was doing things that were very out of character for me. It seemed to last forever. September and October 2023 seemed like some of the longest months of my life.

The days universally felt long and the nights longer than the days. It felt like time, while still moving in the only direction it can, was dancing along with no particular intention of getting back to its normal pace.

Panic Despite The Speed

Not that I wanted time to speed up, mind you. I didn’t really feel like there was much to look forward to. Even when my mood was rapidly shifting between extreme sadness, sublime gratitude for my time with Zoloft, crushing guilt, and at times rage, I didn’t want time to keep going forward. The further I got from August 28th, 2023, the further away from Zoloft it felt like I got.

That first night as I went to bed, I panicked as I thought about it being the last time we’d exist in the same day. I panicked as the last week we were together was ending. I panicked about it being the last time we both existed in the same month. Every marker of time felt like he was slipping further away despite how slow time was going. It may have been my brain trying to defend my against the crushing pain each time marker seemed to bring.

The Big Markers Of Time

When the rest of 2023 had passed and the year drew to a close, I couldn’t help but panic about it being the last time we would exist in the same year. On New Year’s Eve, I fluctuated between being at peace and wanting the terrible year I had to just end and the anxiety about us only existing in the same year for another 12 hours, another 6 hours, another hour, another 30 minutes, another 10 minutes, one last minute…

At times, I felt okay with it because his memory would be coming with me into the next year and I was feeling very grateful for our time together. I sat with Prozac and Poutine as I watched the countdown to midnight pass and I gave each of them a kiss on the forehead at midnight as I did the last few years with Zoloft.

Then, just after midnight in the first few seconds of the brand new year, the dread overwhelmed me and I burst into tears. Nothing really had changed in those few moments other than a human created label on time, but suddenly there was another barrier between Zoloft and I.

Going Slowly Felt Weird

Going backward in time to the fall and early days after his passing, the speed of time felt jarring or didn’t always make sense. I would regularly feel that I should move on that I should be more stable by that point because it felt like it had been so long since he passed. People would regularly point out that it had only been a month or it had only been a few weeks. I didn’t have anything I was looking forward to other than hoping that the passage of time would yank me out of the deep sorrow I was locked into.

I also didn’t want time to move faster. I was moving further away from him when all I really wanted was to move closer. I longed for the days when I lived in our small, overpriced apartment that we lived together for our first two years together. The slow pace felt comforting as that time wasn’t as far away and it would never be any closer.

The only time I wanted things to speed up was after meeting Poutine. When I had filled out his adoption application, I wanted time to pass as fast as it could until I heard back that he was going to be mine. It still moved slowly. I wanted time to move quickly until he was able to come home. It still moved slowly. The day I brought him home, I wanted the work day to just end, but still it moved slowly.

And Then Suddenly Time Sped Up

The slow pace continued and I’d regularly feel that sense of how I should be further along in my grief and mourning and then realize that it still, objectively, hadn’t been that long. Sprinkled throughout this period, time would sporadically go by incredibly fast for a brief moment and then slow back down. Wow, has Poutine really been here a week? Has it really been that long since that session with that client? Nothing made sense.

Then something strange happened as soon as December and the winter holidays came around: time sped up.

Time just didn’t speed up a little. It felt like time realized it overslept and had to make up for the delay. It skipped right past normal and went into full acceleration mode.

Just as soon as it felt like Christmas started, it was the week between Christmas and New Year’s Ever and I was facing the end of the year. The new year came and as I was adjusting to the changed digits, we were halfway done with January. Now January is over and it’s February. Blink and you’d miss an entire month.

Blink and Zoloft would be even further in the past where he now lives. A precious, treasured memory of the cat who changed my life. The last time I heard his purr or the last time I pet him was further away. More things happened and life changed more and more. I changed more and more.

Zoloft, a lynx point Siamese cat, sleeps with his front legs crossed on knitting and crocheting supplies

Markers Of Time

Since Zoloft passed, the markers of time have seemed more and more significant. Some of them have been more challenging than others. I suppose that’s one of the challenging things about the first year after a significant loss is all the firsts you have to go through. Maybe time has felt more rapid because I’ve now gone through a lot of those firsts: the first day without him, the first week without him, first month without him, the first of his birthdays without him, the first Halloween without him, the first Christmas without him

I have four Big Markers left. Six months, his Gotcha Day, my birthday, and the anniversary of his passing. There are lots of month markers coming up, too, and other little events. There are holidays I enjoyed with him, but weren’t the big ones or the sentimental ones. There are markers of smaller events that mean so much or days that favorite photos were taken. I won’t remember these every year or think about some of ever again, but they still pass as I think about them now.

The Passage Of Time Isn’t Consistent

You may be wondering why I’m sharing such an intimate reflection about grief on my blog about cat behavior. Zoloft is a huge part of my story and my work with cats. He was the cat that started it all. We sometimes downplay pet loss, especially the loss of a cat, as being no big deal and people are looked at as being weird for struggling so much when they lose a cat.

I don’t think it’s weird at all, honestly. It’s painful and it hurts more than I can ever describe, but it’s not weird. I hope someone who needs to hear just how not weird their grief is finds this and doesn’t feel weird that they’re missing their cat or that time isn’t moving normally anymore. It doesn’t matter if their cat passed today, this year, or a decade ago. It can still hurt.

It’s also completely normal, especially when you’re in the acute stages of grief, for time to feel off. For some it may go fast, for others it may go slowly. What you’re experiencing is painful and distressing, but it’s not abnormal. Time will pass at variable speed for longer than you’d think. You’ll have moments of peace where the passage of time won’t bother you in the least. You’ll have moments of extreme panic. Neither is wrong.

Reflecting On My Time With Zoloft

Zoloft was such an important part of my life for so long. Honestly, he always will be. I helped so many cat parents while he was alive and have helped so many others after he passed. I will continue to help more cat parents after his passing and eventually, that number will overtake those that happened with him here.

In a few years, more time will have passed since he was alive than I had with him. It will be strange and bizarre. I may not notice it the day it happens, but I know it will feel odd. Right now, still in the more acute phase of grief, the passage of time feels particularly weird. It feels both like he hasn’t been gone that long and it feels like so much time has passed.

However you experience time after losing your cat, it’s not wrong. It may feel off for a while. Things will normalize eventually to a new normal. Will you always miss your time with your cat? Absolutely. I don’t see myself ever really not missing Zoloft. Our love for our cats is forever even if they are not by our side anymore and that’s something that time, no matter how weirdly it flows, can’t take away.

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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!