For many of us, our cats are part of our families. They’re more than just pets, they’re companions who nurse us through tough times with their cute antics, and their quiet understanding and sympathy (or they cheer us up with such an obvious lack of sympathy that it’s laughable). They give us things to giggle about, like they know they can entertain us and take advantage of that. They can act like little children, too, jumping up where they aren’t supposed to, only to jump back down and become all wide-eyed innocence when caught, like a small child insisting his hand was not in the cookie jar.
In other words, our cats are not just cats, whatever people who don’t understand may say. Your cat didn’t judge you for any mistake you ever made, when the people around you did. He didn’t offer advice that was both unhelpful and unwanted when your relationship fell apart. He knew when you wanted company last time you had the flu, and when you just wanted to be left alone in your utter misery to try and get at least one moment of sleep. You knew his love was true and unconditional, even when it felt like nobody in the world loved you. He was, in many ways, your best friend, and so much more.
An article on the North Shore Animal League’s website tells the truth when it says that nobody is surprised to see us grieve over the death of a loved one, but many are when they see us grieving that same way over the death of a beloved pet. Non-pet owners often feel that a pet is just an animal, and that you’re making a huge deal over nothing (some who have pets of their own do this, too). These people might even question your mental health.
With our cats, a death can be devastating because we often have no idea that they’re even sick until it’s too late to do anything. Cats are very good at hiding illness until they’re too sick to keep putting in the effort. Alessandro Macaluso published a poignant article about her cat, Bear, and how he’d seemed just fine two days before his death. He had a large mass on his bowels, which killed him.
Arin Greenwood talks about what it’s like when your cat unexpectedly dies. She, too, wonders what she could have missed when her cat, Derrick, died suddenly. The vet said it was likely a stroke or a heart attack, but she and her husband second-guessed themselves for a long time, wondering what they missed.
But even if you knew your cat’s time was coming, it can still be very difficult when he actually does go. Yes, you knew, but that doesn’t make it easier. Those who don’t understand might say, “But you knew it was coming.” You might know it’s coming with a human family member, too, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.
Macaluso and Greenwood were understandably devastated over the deaths of their beloved cats. And those who would say, “It’s just a cat,” to them, or to us, are those who just don’t get it. You don’t have to justify your grief—or your love—to them. He was your family, your companion, and your friend. And it’s perfectly okay to grieve, and to do so in your own time and your own way. He was not “just a cat.”