When Izzy lost her cat Steve on the heels of the death of her mother, she grieved deeply. Pet loss can do that to you.
Steve was a special part of her family. I get that. Maybe you do, too. Relationships we have with our pets can be some of the deepest; certainly the most unconditional. I know Izzy, and knew from reading her Facebook posts that she was grieving hard … since she’s a therapist, I asked her to tell us about Steve and her grief, and also what helped her on her journey through the loss of this special and gorgeous kitty.
Steve was my baby for 12 years. I got Steve and his sister (Violet) when they were weeks old. My mother had the mother cat, so we really kept it in the family. Initially Steve was more partial to my ex, however when that split occurred things started to shift. I would say that Steve then became MY cat. Steve was always by my side, he slept on the bed with me, followed me from room to room, and was always present and involved while I did reiki sessions on people. He loved anything magical, like tarot cards, etc. Super mystical kitty!
What was he like? (If you’ve ever had a pet that was human-like, you’ll appreciate this:)
Hilarious and adorable! He was so expressive! He was a bit mischievous, (I used to call him Dennis the menace in cat form). He was always knocking over whatever he could, gnawing on roses, plants, and tissue. He would run around the house a few times a day super fast looking crazed (we often felt like he was seeing portals). At night he would scratch at our bedroom door like a dog. He was full of attitude and spunk, and would literally meow-yell at people, fling himself on the floor and roll over quickly, and spend a lot of time as flat as possible lying on the floor belly up. He was very communicative and so entertaining to watch. Speaking of watching, he liked to watch TV with me. Game of Thrones and Vampire Diaries were some of his favorite shows. What made Steve special to me was how communicative he was and how strong our bond was. Steve always knew exactly what I was feeling, more-so than any other cat or pet I’ve encountered thus far. He was very empathic and special.
I have never met a cat with as much personality or as communicative as Steve! I don’t think I have had a bond like this with any other pet, however Steve and Violet are the first pets I’ve had on my own.
What is it like to lose a pet that was so close to you?
I’ve actually not had other pets cross the Rainbow Bridge (as an adult). Steve’s passing was unexpected – he died at the vet about 15 minutes before we arrived for pick up. In more personal terms, the loss is like losing a child or a family member. I lost my mom unexpectedly about 11 months ago to a hit and run, and then I lost Steve 3 months ago. The back to back losses have been difficult to say the least. I felt that I was finally making some progress in my grief process with my mother – and then BOOM! I’m now navigating both at the same time.
Losing my mother in such a way has impacted me to the point where I don’t believe I will ever recover, or be the same, 100%. That’s ok with me. I embrace the change and the personal work that has come from both losses. But losing Steve, who lived with me, who I saw daily for twelve years, has totally changed the energy or spirit of my household. It has made my day to day life more lackluster.
In some ways, it’s almost a more difficult adjustment since the void is in my face every day. You have to stop yourself from your reflexes and habits – such as calling Steve to come to me. Or going into my bedroom and picking him up whenever I felt like it. I no longer have a partner for the nights I can’t sleep. You have to re-train your mind and all of your senses, with any loss. It’s challenging… especially because to date, 12 years is my longest relationship!
Compared to losing a friend?
Again, I’ve been fortunate to not have human friends pass. All I can compare the grief to is losing my mom. It’s different because no two relationships are the same, so naturally no two grieving journeys (or processes) are the same either. I believe that its almost impossible for me to truly describe grief in words. It’s so powerful in so many ways – but the best I can say is that it affects me on a cellular level. It encompasses every area of your life, of your entire being, really. Both of my losses are huge, and both are similar and different in their own right.
Losing family is tough because it causes you to reassess your identity and where you currently fit into the world. It feels like everything goes upside down and you have to re-learn how to assimilate yourself back into the life and routine you thought you had down pat.
How have people been helpful?
The most helpful things people have done was to respect my process and refrain from telling me what they think I should be doing. I also love that people didn’t negate the brevity of this loss and they supported and acknowledged that I didn’t see Steve as “just a cat”, but as a part of my family.
I absolutely love that my friend Kimberly suggested that we do a memorial for Steve. I think rituals like that and continuing to express your grief however you see fit, is the most helpful. For me, I’ve been pretty public with my losses online. It really started out just automatic, and the day after my mom died I just sat down and wrote and wrote and wrote, without editing or stopping. So much transpired in those 24 hours that I needed to organize and release my thoughts. I’ve definitely had many anxious moments about bearing my “emotional vomit” on the internet, but it has been SO therapeutic for me and I’ve gotten so much support from people. I’ve heard from many people that my writing has helped them to navigate their own losses, or to feel validated in expressing themselves, so I kept it up. I vowed not to delete or edit anything. Once it’s out, it’s out. This has helped me heal and be free.
Izzy uses A Healing Spirit’s Transforming Grief cards
As I delved deeper into my process I often found myself emotionally “stuck” or inundated with thoughts and emotions and often felt overwhelmed. Yet again I wasn’t able to organize myself, nor write. This is when I started using your Healing Spirit grief card deck. I love this deck because it helps me to better pinpoint where I am in my process on any given day, the messages are poignant and realistic, and the cards/messages aren’t cheesy. It’s a wonderful tool for anyone grieving whether its the loss of a family member, pet, relationship, or job. The cards have given a me compass in directing my emotions when I feel like they’re going haywire. It’s a very supportive and beautiful deck, and I love that I can stick it in my purse and go!
Things that haven’t been helpful
What hasn’t been helpful is people telling me what to do. “You just need therapy.” “You should start going to therapy.” “Have you started therapy yet?” I wholeheartedly agree that therapy is valuable and necessary (I’m a licensed therapist myself). However, bossing someone around repeatedly and imposing your opinions without having experienced any personal loss yourself, is NOT HELPFUL. It felt like criticism, and let me tell you, GRIEF has no room for criticism. Grief doesn’t have room for much, period! It made me feel judged and didn’t make me feel supported in where I was in my process at the time. I cannot emphasize enough that grief is such a PERSONAL process and should be treated with sanctity.
Just like someone would likely refrain on imposing their opinion on someone’s religion or wedding for example, they should also refrain on the topic of grief. If you want to be supportive and don’t know what to say, then just give me a hug. Write me a note and let me know you’re thinking of me. Come by and visit me. That sort of thing is always welcome. Whether you have personal experience with grief or not, there is a way to hold space for people by being gentle and compassionate.
Did you worry about making public your grief for your cat?
I did feel uncomfortable at times telling people I was grieving so hard for a pet. Most of the people in my inner circle “get it” because they are aware of how I’ve always treated and viewed Steve as a part of my family. However I know that there are people out there who may perceive me as overreacting or a crazy cat lady or something. However, it doesn’t really matter to me what those people think. The people who really matter understand that pain and loss are pain and loss, regardless of whether it’s a pet or human.
Has Steve been around?
I have sensed his presence! Weird stuff happens at my household all the time, I’m not wary of that. A few weeks ago I picked up the box of Steve’s ashes and was holding it on the couch. I looked over to the cabinet on my right (where his ashes are normally kept) and a moment later a candle plopped out of its holder and we heard a thud on the carpet. I think maybe he wanted to say, “thanks for picking me up.”
About Isabelle: Isabelle Futsi is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Los Angeles, CA. She splits her time between working with special needs kids and working her private practice treating individuals, families, and couples. She is also a trained Usui reiki practitioner, cat lover, an avid concert/festival attendee, loves to travel, and is currently delving more into grief and trauma work.
If you’ve lost a pet and would like to share in the Comments, we’re here for you.
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