Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Pets and Grief

(My thanks to Alison Townsend for the idea of writing about this.)

For the first three years of their lives, my cats grew up with Evelyn and me. Then Evelyn died. Even though they are not able to tell  me what they remember about Evelyn, they still connect me to her. They knew her. They hold her caring for them. Much of how they to relate to humans they learned through her interactions. She loved them, and we were a family of four. When they die, that family that knew her will end.

In the beginning of my grief over Evelyn’s death, they gave me a reason to get out of bed because they had to be fed. When I cried on the couch, they would jump up, lie down next to me, and sniff my face, knowing something was wrong and wanting to comfort me. They helped me cope and work my way back to the land of the living.

In the evening they would lie in my lap, or sit by my feet when I didn’t move for hours. They would chase each other around the house and jump at shadows, making me laugh. And I needed to laugh. When I came home from work, they’d take a break from lounging in the afternoon sun and greet me. We had conversations about loneliness and anger, the weariness of grief, and philosophy — all the “why” questions that death brings up but never answers.

Eight years ago Buff developed diabetes. He gets insulin shots twice a day, and eats low carb food. In the last year, Minya has developed a thyroid problem. As we were dealing with that, she began having seizures. The vet said it could be a lesion on the brain, epilepsy, or something connected to the thyroid. If it’s a lesion, they can do an MRI to find the location, and then, because such things are on the surface of the brain, do surgery and “flick” it off. Thankfully both situations are being controlled with medications.

I don’t know how long they will live. They’re almost 17, which is 84 in people years, according to the chart in the vet’s office. They aren’t as active any more. Buff liked to play with my shoelaces when I was trying to tie my shoes. He still comes over when I put on shoes. Even though he no longer plays, he has a lingering memory from the past. It is in this memory place where Evelyn still lives for him.

Odds are, they won’t live many more years. I hope I do not have to put them to sleep, like I did with our first cat. A peaceful, natural death is preferable, and hopefully it will come when they’re lying in the warmth of the sun.

They have been with me for almost as long as Evelyn and I were together. I will grieve them deeply when they’re gone.


  1. I have thought often of getting a pet. Stan wanted to get a cat, but they were never my favourite animal, so we never got around to it. Shortly before he died we watched a documentary called "The Secret Life of Cats" and he said, "look how great they are, BooBoo, how can you not like cats?" And so I said we could go and get one. We were going to start looking for one once we got through his son's funeral. Then he died. I am sorry, now, that we didn't get a cat for him. One of my multitude of regrets. Now I am leery of getting a pet because I just could not fathom how it would feel to lose it. Maybe one day... Thanks for this, Mark.

    1. Having to bury a pet is almost a given. With spouses and friends we can put off thinking about who is going to die first. But with pets, we know. And knowing, even after a pet has had a full and wonderful life, does not make it any easier.

  2. After my husband was killed I noticed my dog would bark when she heard his keys. She wouldn't bark at hearing mine( we had the same keys on our key rings and since his were sitting there I would grab them sometimes) The locks were changed so I didn't grab his keys anymore and put them in a drawer where he kept keys and other misc stuff. A few days ago I was looking for something and picked up the keys and remembered what she used to do and looked at her and she had perked up but had an odd face.(It's hard to explain but one gets to know their pets) When there is stressful commotion in the house she sits near his motorcycle in the garage which she didn't do before. It would make sense pets would grieve too, and want to cheer us up when we need it.

    1. They know more than they let on, especially cats. Sounds and smells, they bring the memories back.