As a society, we are ill equipped to handle grief and loss. Even people who are genuinely sorry and want to express their sympathy often don’t know what to say, especially when they don’t understand the profound grief that can result after losing a beloved cat.
It is difficult to know what to say, and as a result, people often, without meaning to, say the wrong things that, rather than providing comfort, only serve to upset the grieving person even more. I wrote this article initially after I lost Amber to a sudden, brief illness. That’s her in the photo at the top of this post.
Dealing with my own grief, I was reminded over and over how much some of the things people say hurt, even though they’re offered with the best intentions. And it’s been that way with every cat I’ve lost before and since.
I’m offering the following not to make anyone feel bad about having said one or more of these two a grieving person. They are almost always said with a loving intention. I’m hoping to raise awareness of how these well meaning phrases may land, and to offer alternatives
Sometimes, the best thing to say is to simply acknowledge the loss – because the only thing worse than saying the wrong thing is to not say anything at all.
I know how you feel.
Everybody experiences loss differently. While we may have lost cats ourselves, we really can’t know how the grieving person feels, because each cat and each relationship is unique.
A better way to get this sentiment across might be to say something like “I, too, have lost a cat, and I remember how awful it feels – my heart goes out to you.” This acknowledges the griever’s unique grief without being presumptuous.
It will get better, or time heals all wounds.
Grieving people know this on an intellectual level, but they sure don’t feel that way, especially not in the early stages of grief. Trite phrases like these only serve to minimize the loss and the very real pain the grieving person is feeling now.
Acknowledge the grieving person’s sadness and pain without diminishing their emotions by suggesting that they’re only temporary.
She’s in a better place now. It was probably for the best. It was God’s will.
Any variation of this will not be helpful to someone who’s grieving. Even if their belief system supports this, they’re not going to find comfort in these words, and they may, in fact, serve to emphasize their pain. Any of these phrases, offered in the middle of profound sadness, invalidate the very real pain of missing the lost cat’s physical presence.
Let me know if there’s anything I can do.
This is a classic, and natural, response to grief – we feel helpless, and we want to help the grieving person. However, people who are grieving don’t think straight, and usually don’t know what they need help with, and reaching out or asking for help often requires more of an effort than they can handle.
Offer to do something concrete instead, such as bringing a prepared meal to the grieving person, or running errands for them. If you know the person very well and you think it would be acceptable, stop by to check on them. Otherwise, call them, but accept that they may not want to answer the phone. Leave a supportive message, and check back again a few days later.
It was only a cat.
I really find it hard to believe that some people are still saying this. It goes without saying that this is callous and uncaring, even coming from someone who’s not an animal person. Thankfully, the vast majority of people in my life are animal people, so I’ve not had to hear this one personally, but I’m being told that it still happens more than you would think.
When are you going to get another one?
Not quite as shocking as the one above, but equally inappropriate. Grieving cat parents know that getting a new cat can never replace the lost one, but getting a new cat after a loss is a very individual decision. – everyone’s schedule is going to be different. Just like grief is an individual journey, so is opening your heart to another cat. Don’t judge others, or yourself, if you’re not ready, or if you’re ready before others may feel that it’s appropriate.
Most people are uncomfortable in the presence of others who are crying. It is painful to see someone you care about cry, but tears are a necessary and often healing part of the natural grieving process. One of the best things you can do for someone who is grieving is to let them cry in your presence. Hold the space for them and offer comfort.
There is no “cure” or “solution” for grief – it’s an individual journey. Navigating through the grieving process is difficult not just for the person who is mourning a loss, but also for those around the person. The best thing any of us can do for someone who is grieving the loss of a cat is to set aside our own discomfort with death and loss and gently support them in their grief.