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  • Writer's pictureShaeden Berry

The Unique Pain of Losing a Pet

When my vet broke the news that my cat, Purralta, was living on limited time due to an enlarged mass on his heart, I knew I had to let my manager know what was going on.

I knew how much Purralta meant to me, and that the situation was going to result in a distracted employee who was frequently logging into her pet camera remotely from her desk just so she could sit, watch, and count the breaths my cat took as he slept on the bed.

But when I walked into my manager’s office to speak, I felt suddenly awkward and unsure.

I was saying what needed to be said, yes, but I couldn’t help the caveat that I rushed to add at the end – "sorry, this is so embarrassing."

That’s the thing about losing pets; it’s a unique pain that people either understand, or they don’t.

The reactions when you speak about the grief will either be sympathy or a sense of bemusement, an edge of "… it’s just a pet?"

It becomes a gamble when you talk – will this person be empathetic or will they roll their eyes?

I’ve found myself constantly adding self-deprecating addendums – “so silly, I know…” and “sorry, I’m being ridiculous.”

It’s frustrating and I hate every time the words leave my mouth because openly trying to diminish my pain feels like a betrayal to the cat that had unconditionally loved me for the past three years.

It’s like I’m deeming him “less important” by telling people I’m being “dramatic” in my upset.

Navigating grief is already a tricky thing.

Unfortunately, it was a path well-trodden for me having only lost my grandma six months ago.

Already I was familiar with how sadness makes people uncomfortable.

People don’t want to hear about sad things, and, look, I get it.

In society, sadness is viewed as a "bad emotion," like anger, hatred, and jealousy.

One of those all-encompassing emotions that you feel in your entire body – the aching heart, the constriction of your lungs, the heaviness of your limbs.

We will often take pain-staking steps to avoid feeling grief.

This intense avoidance of sadness has led to grief being a private thing.

To perform grief in public is to be labelled performative and attention-seeking.

Crying needs to be done behind doors, under blankets, and speaking about the pain is shit only your therapist needs to hear, okay?

So, grief is already complex and hard to go through.

Then we add the complication of grieving something that isn’t a human.

My cat did pass, not two weeks after the vet visit.

As is often the case with pets, the owner can be faced with a difficult decision when said animal no longer has quality of life.

I was alone when I had to face this decision.

I called my parents.

It was close to midnight by this time, and they lived 45 minutes away.

They told me they would get dressed and be there as soon as they could to be with me.

I told them no.

It was a knee-jerk reaction. It felt like to ask for someone to be there was to be demanding.

Again, there was this sense that I needed to underplay how much this was affecting me.

It’s just a pet, insidious voices whispered in my brain, it’s just a pet, stop being dramatic, it’s just a pet.

My parents came anyway.

Of course they did, because they knew how much Purralta meant to me, and how tough the decision I was facing was.

And that is another thing that makes losing a pet so unique.

The guilt.

The questions afterwards.

Would he have had more time?

Maybe he had months left in him?

Did I make the right choice?

It’s a spiral of questioning that has no answers and leads nowhere good.

I sent a message that night to my manager saying I wouldn’t be in the next day and explaining the circumstances.

I added – "sorry, I know I’m being silly…"

I couldn’t spend the next day in my apartment, and instead holed up in my partner’s, despite him being away for work.

The thing about losing a pet is how irrevocably it changes the landscape of your home.

I have always adored my apartment; I’ve dedicated many hours to curating it into a place that reflects my soul.

It’s normally my happy place, my safe place.

But now when I walk through my door, all that I notice is the absence.

Where once I was greeted with loud, demanding meows, now I enter through the door to silence.

The couch I sit on used to be cramped, because Purralta would demand to cuddle close to me, and we would end up spooning as we both napped or watched television.

Now there’s too much space.

No one knocks the laptop off my lap.

No one twines around my legs as I make dinner.

No one lies next to me in bed and purrs a machine-gun-loud purr that once drowned out the vet’s stethoscope when they were trying to listen to his breathing.

I’ve never really minded living alone.

I’ve found it quite freeing in the past.

But I realise now that I was never alone, not really, because Purralta was a constant presence, even if he wasn’t next to me or near me.

He was a solid, reliable comforting thing that meant I wasn’t alone.

When you lose a pet, your house is filled with reminders.

Not just the physical ones – the water bowl, the litter box, the toy mouse – but memories attached to the mundane aspects of existence.

I won’t remember Purralta on birthdays or Christmases where he is missing, like I do my grandma, I remember him the quiet moments that would have been filled with his purrs and in the unconscious movement I made for days after to fill up his water bowl, even though it wasn’t there anymore.

Pets, like humans, become embedded into our lives and routines.

When we lose them, everything feels just that little bit out-of-step.

It’s been two weeks and I’m still tearing up every second day, and I’m still apologising like I should have moved on from this by now.

I’m still thinking people will judge me for crying about my cat weeks on.

And I think part of why losing a pet becomes so hard is because we feel like we must hide it.

We aren’t allowed to indulge this grief fully, and it becomes prolonged because we can only let it out in small doses and behind hidden doors.

We’re also expected to get over it quickly.

The other day at work someone asked if I was going to get another cat.

I’d like to remind you; it’s only been two weeks.

People view pets as replaceable – just go to the rescue centre and get another one.

But – there are people who understand.

The co-worker who left a block of chocolate on my desk to cheer me up.

My sister-in-law, who’s never had pets but still has enough empathy to know my love for Purralta and send me flowers in the days after.

The friends who hug me extra when they see me.

The one’s who send me memes, so I don’t wallow.

Oh, and that boss – the one I kept apologising too, dismissing my emotions as silly – who sent me a text message saying, "Don’t apologise, it’s not silly to mourn the loss of a beloved pet. Take some comfort that any suffering has ended now. Hope you’re okay."

Moments like that catch me off guard, but they exist.

We’re not alone in our pain and, dammit, we’re allowed to cry as much as we need.

I give us permission to.



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