The Unreliable Guide to…Saying Goodbye to Furry Friends
Our twenty-one-year-old cat died this month. Some cats are bastards, but he was a top lad. He really changed my idea of what a cat can be. Some cats are no more attached to you than an Airbnb guest, but he was a loyal, funny, sociable, affectionate, communicative legend. He travelled all over Australia with us in our van and we had some wild times. Two decades is a long time to spend with anyone. Even if I live for a hundred years, he was there for a fifth of my life. And now he’s not.
There are empty spaces where he used to sit. He’s become a shadow in the corner of my eye. Shoes, left in a corner, pretend to be him. A branch tapping on the window is the sound of him asking to come in. It’s a massive loss and, despite his age, I wasn’t ready for it. Our society has not prepared me to take his death as a natural part of life and it’s got me thinking.
Grief is a Many Furred and Feathered Thing
To admit you are grieving for a pet, especially a cat, is often frowned upon, even though two-thirds of Australians have a pet and two-thirds of them view that pet as a family member. Statistics reveal that more of us live with a cat and/or a dog than with a child. There are around 4.8 million pet dogs in Australia and 3.9 million cats. Allowing that two-thirds of these animals are viewed as part of the family, the death of any one of those six million animals will cause grief.
These creatures are part of our lives for however long we are lucky enough to have them, but research suggests many people feel foolish for grieving for their pet and hide their feelings. Maybe that’s because the usual social mechanisms, such as community and social support, are not offered when a pet dies. That can be an issue, as symptoms of grief commonly last up to a year and hidden grief is even harder to work through.
Rituals of Death
Many experts suggest the use of rituals, such as funerals, help us to process grief, and the death of a beloved pet can be the first experience of that for many people. A funeral is expected when a person dies, but in Australia pet funerals are not very common.
But following the lead of the US (as we often do) that could soon change. Americans spend around $100 million a year on pet funerals and around 15 per cent of funeral directors in America offer pet services. In China, a funeral costing almost one million dollars was held for a Tibetan mastiff, who was placed in a jade coffin at the foot of a beautiful mountain range. Cats in ancient Egypt were sacred and held in such high regard that when they died they were mummified like their owners so they could hang out together in the afterlife. That is a serious commitment to Mr Fluffy, so if you’re sad after the loss of a beloved pet, trust me – you’re not alone.
Finally, The Unreliable Guide suggests that the next time someone tells you their pet has died you take it seriously. Give them a hug, buy them a drink, let them have time off if they need it. All grief is valid. RIP Mr C.