Dear Ted: I recently had a cat die and have been devastated to the point of waves of tearful moments, depression and mini panic attacks. I am completely surprised by this and even ashamed by my behavior. I loved my cat and she was with me for a long time, but as people tell me, I can get another one - or they seem surprised and put out that I am having so many feelings. I feel I must be crazy. Am I? Thanks, Shamefully Grieving
I find it beautiful that you loved your cat so much and what a lucky cat to have received and given so much love. Grief is real and it happens when we have loss, and it is the natural and normal healing process from loss. In other words, it makes complete sense that you would have a grief process from the loss of something you cared for, loved and was part of your everyday rituals of life. A pet can also be such an important witness of your life, and when that witness is no longer there, every day seems out of balance.
Society tries to have a measuring stick regarding what should cause pain and emotional disruption, as well as how much you should be impacted by a certain loss. When you have an emotional attachment to somebody, something, a pet or anything outside of yourself, you develop a bond in which your unconscious normalizes that relationship. When it is taken away, your conscious and unconscious have to adapt, as the environment that you became accustomed to has shifted. The rituals of feeding and caring for your cat have been taken away and that forcibly triggers you to adapt to the new reality of your cat not physically being there. This is the grief process. When you add in your heartbreak, the adjustment can be more intense and cause more emotional disruptions within the healing process as you adjust to your new norm. The purpose of the grief process is to honor what has been lost while stepping into the new definition of life. This takes time and no one can choose that time period, as grief is individualized and profoundly complicated.
Any loss can also trigger a reaction due to prior experiences with loss and grief. This does not minimize your cat's passing. It only means that in consciously grieving the loss of your pet, you may be healing other losses along the way.
There is a great saying in some recovery groups: "You can always look back; just don't stare." This is true - as long as you take the time to honor, mourn and grieve the loss and then allow life to slowly seep back in and become your new norm. For many, pets are family members and honoring your love and connection will also help you heal and transform out of the immediate impact of a loss.
This column seeks to help educate our community about emotional healing through grief. People may write questions to Golden Willow Retreat and they will be answered privately to you and possibly as a future article for others. Please list a first name that grants permission for printing.