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My dead friend's cat is dying
December 18, 2013 5:55 AM   Subscribe

A friend of mine died nearly thee years ago and his cat ended up in the care of my mother. The cat is now dying. Should I email my friend's family when the cat dies? If you were the friend's brother, is this an email you'd want to receive? (The obligatory picture from healthier times.)

I have an email address for my friend's brother from when we needed to work out the details of me rescuing Eaton from Animal Control. I've never met the brother or any of my friend's other family (the funeral was eight hours away and I couldn't go). My mother never even met my friend and I honestly don't remember if I ever told my friend's brother that Eaton had found a permanent home. My last contact may have been 'Letting you know he's safe and sound with me.' (I had committed to rescuing him and keeping him until he found another home.) The email would basically be "Hi, I wanted to let you know that Eaton died recently. I've attached some pictures of his life with my mom." Part of me thinks such an email would be appreciated and part of me thinks it would just be upsetting.
posted by hoyland to Human Relations (31 answers total)
I would not want to receive this email, especially from someone I had never met. They lost a loved one three years ago, so they are healing but likely still in some emotional pain. Do not dredge up those feelings again.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:02 AM on December 18, 2013 [12 favorites]

I would send it. I would wait until after the holidays if the cat dies before then. I would use it as an opportunity to say something nice about your friend.

Dear Brother of Friend,

I wanted to drop you a note to let you know friend's cat lived his final years in a nice home. He died last week. Your brother would have been happy with cat's final years. My mother adopted cat and loved having him. Whenever I visited or spoke to mom, it was a reminder of your brother/my friend. I still think of your brother, my friend, often. I miss him.


or something like that.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:03 AM on December 18, 2013 [57 favorites]

Without knowing the brother and the details, no one can say for sure, but I think it more likely it would meet either with appreciation or indifference. Upset seems less likely to me: it's not as if he's forgotten his sister by now, or isn't sometimes reminded of her. Since I think the odds favor a good or neutral outcome, I'd send it.
posted by tyllwin at 6:05 AM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Here's a trick I often use to give advice: Whatever you said last is how you really feel. With that in mind: "part of me thinks it would just be upsetting." That's probably correct. If you haven't been communicating with them about the cat for three years, that means they don't really care about the cat. Save those pictures in case anyone ever asks, "Hey, whatever happened to Eaton?", but don't send an email out of nowhere.
posted by Etrigan at 6:06 AM on December 18, 2013 [15 favorites]

I would not send that email, nor would I want to receive it. This seems more about you than what they would want, and so if you want closure make a donation somewhere in memory of the cat or your friend. You don't need to involve the family.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:08 AM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

I wouldn't do it. If you want to get in touch to say nice things about friend do so by all means, and if they ever do ask about Eaton (great name!) send only happy pictures and note that he passed away after a good life but I wouldn't make the cat's death the reason for contact.
posted by freya_lamb at 6:08 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

I understand the impulse, but it just seems infelicitous.

If there had been a regular correspondence between, say, your mother and your friend's family, letting them know how Eaton was getting on, sending pictures of that cute thing he did, etc., then yes, I think a note would be in order. However, it sounds like that was not the case -- which is fine! -- but I don't see the upside to an out-of-the-blue sad note about a kitty dying that may well bring other sad feelings to the surface.

I think you should save pictures in case anyone from the family does contact you about Eaton, but don't contact them first.
posted by Sokka shot first at 6:17 AM on December 18, 2013 [8 favorites]

I wouldn't.
posted by kavasa at 6:21 AM on December 18, 2013

Because you have not really been in contact with your friend's family, I would do as suggested above, save some pictures in case any one in the family ever asks, but don't contact them--basically out of the blue--to tell them your Friend's cat has died--especially given how your mother end up with the cat (rescuing him from the shelter where he ended up when your friend died).
posted by crush-onastick at 6:27 AM on December 18, 2013

If a family member died and left a pet that I cared about even a little bit, I would take that pet in myself. Since your friend's cat ended up living with your mom and not someone in the friend's family, my guess is that no one in the family cares/cared about the cat all that much.

If you send any note about it (and I don't think it's necessary, really only if you really want to send one), I think something along the lines of JohnnyGunn's script is best; focus on the friend and how the cat reminded you of the friend and how you miss the friend. I just don't think they're going to care much about the cat.
posted by phunniemee at 6:35 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

If a family member died and left a pet that I cared about even a little bit, I would take that pet in myself. Since your friend's cat ended up living with your mom and not someone in the friend's family, my guess is that no one in the family cares/cared about the cat all that much.

Yes- if he hasn't asked for any updates in the past three years, it doesn't sound like he really cares about the cat. That's not a judgement of him- it was never his cat and some people just can't have them for whatever reason- but it sounds to me like he saw the cat as another piece of property to be dealt with in the aftermath of the death. If you'd gotten a vase from your friend and it got smashed, you wouldn't email him. I'm sure you and your mother don't feel that way about the cat, but the brother seems to.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:42 AM on December 18, 2013

He didn't seem terribly invested in the cat, it sounds like he's not a big cat person, so I wouldn't send it.

If he loved the cat, either for the cat's sake or as a connection to his lost brother, then it would have been obvious as he would have asked for yearly updates on the cat at least.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:58 AM on December 18, 2013

I wouldn't.

It's one thing for people to become attached to their own animals. But for the family I'd guess the cat's real symbolism is that he was owned by the person they loved and knew. If three years have elapsed without contact then they've managed so far without news.

Option 1: You tell them. They appreciate the news and the sentiment. They probably still think of their brother. Their day may end up a little better. It may not though.

Option 2: You tell them. The news is a painful reminder. Their day is not better.

Option 3: You don't tell them. They don't give the cat any further thought. Their day is neither worse nor better.

Option 4: You don't tell them. They keep wondering what happened to the cat and their day is marginally worse.

Looking at the options, 4 seems the least likely to me. 1 the next least likely. 1 and 2 more likely. On balance, you have more chance of making their day worse, not better.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:01 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would not want to receive this email. My late MIL's cats are safe and loved somewhere, cared for and looked after, and please -- I don't want that memory of her in her kitchen, playing with them because it will make me think of all of the time that she missed with them, and with her family, and... Just tend to the cat, so that he is loved in his last moments. You have done a kindness, placing Eaton; please don't inflict another loss on those still suffering.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:08 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would want to know.
posted by Flood at 7:13 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would want to know, myself. But as others have said, I would have taken the cat in to my home. So I am probably biased.
posted by clone boulevard at 7:25 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd be a lot more upset to discover later that the cat had died and I was never informed...

Sharing news of death isn't always a feel-good experience, so you might not "make their day brighter" but I don't think that means you don't do it. The only reason not to tell them would be if they honestly never liked the cat, or never thought he meant anything to their relative. If there was any sense of meaning attached to the animal, then it seems right to let them know.

Not everything has to be judged in happy vs sad. It could be sad news that, delivered with care, still makes them feel something worthwhile.
posted by mdn at 7:40 AM on December 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

I would want to know, myself, but I am a cat person and would have moved heaven and earth myself to find the cat a home, and it seems that your friend's brother may not be as attached to cats as I am.

I do want to add this, as people have been mentioning it above: that bringing up the memory of someone who died is not a bad thing. I would get upset if I found out people weren't talking about my dead loved ones because they thought it might upset me. That would feel like an attempt to erase that person from my life.
posted by telophase at 8:00 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

The only reason not to tell them would be if they honestly never liked the cat, or never thought he meant anything to their relative. If there was any sense of meaning attached to the animal, then it seems right to let them know.

Well, they've never reached out to OP or otherwise inquired about the cat's health or happiness. I'd say it's safe to assume they aren't invested in the cat.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 8:00 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

"If you were the friend's brother, is this an email you'd want to receive?" Very much. I would phrase it per JohnnyGunn above though. It tells the family members that your friend is remembered.

On preview what mdn said.
posted by vapidave at 8:03 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have never understood the "painful reminder" thing. It's his brother. He knows he's dead. He knows it all day, everyday. It's not going to be like he forgot and bang, now you're suddenly reminding him. People generally want to know that others remember their loved ones, too. Given both of those things, I think it would be really nice to send the email.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:07 AM on December 18, 2013 [22 favorites]

I doubt an email like this would be devastating. We humans have the ability to be resilient and recover from grief.

Anyway, a short email would probably be enough. I think the biggest concern on their part would be that, out of the blue, you would want to start up a relationship based on this cat.

That would be what I would be most worried about if I received this sort of email.

So sending a short email that is kind and compassionate, and to the point, and ends with closure (rather than a hint that you will keep emailing and contacting them) would be enough.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:12 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

If my brother died, had a cat, and I didn't want the cat and some random stranger (to me) ended up with the cat, and then years later the cat died, it would not be something I was interested in at all. If I had cared about my brother's cat, it probably would have ended up with me, not a random stranger.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:36 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

People are assuming the brother did not care for the cat but equally he may have been overwhelmed with their siblings death, dealing with logistics from eight hours away. He was probably grateful that the cat was looked after and may have not followed up on where the cat ended up in case the news was bad (oh the cat was sick and had to be put down) and may not have felt resilient enough to deal with it. Blissful ignorance may have let them imagine it had a happy life. I would contact the brother but, as mentioned, focus on your friend. If you have photos of your friend, send them too.
posted by saucysault at 8:39 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

No, I wouldn't mention it unless asked.
posted by windykites at 9:02 AM on December 18, 2013

I don't know if it would be upsetting, but to be perfectly honest I don't keep close tabs on siblings' pets. As much as I like all of their pets, it would be the furthest thing from my mind in a situation like what you describe. Especially years later, at the end of said pet's life.
posted by Sara C. at 9:44 AM on December 18, 2013

When my mom died, she left behind a beloved cat that was her best friend. My father took care of the cat for as long as he could, and then I took it off his hands. Not long after that, my dad's dog died - a pet he loved probably as much as his kids.

And then my mom's cat died. I still haven't told him. My dad lives in another state and is too old to travel to visit me; he's never going to know the difference, and it would just make him sad if he did. Every time he asks - which is pretty often - I say "Oh, he's fine. He's in his golden years. He's sleeping."

I fully intend for that cat to outlive my dad, as far as he's concerned.

So add me to the count for "No, don't tell him about the cat."
posted by kythuen at 10:40 AM on December 18, 2013

Don't tell him. And actually, that would kind of apply even if he had loved the cat (but couldn't take it in for whatever reason). You never know, maybe he didn't inquire about the cat because it stirred up grief and guilt, not because he felt indifferent.

My ex husband has our cats (couldn't bear to split them up when we divorced and my new place only allowed 1 pet); it's kind of too awkward and painful for everyone to have me be in those cats' lives. They are his pets now, and I feel horrible about it constantly even all these years later, but I know he can give them a better home and better care than I ever could. Someday they will encounter their last illnesses, and honestly I won't want to know, and hope he doesn't think to tell me.*

*Unless he needs help with expenses, which is unlikely.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:54 AM on December 18, 2013

Have any of these people ever reached out to you about the cat? If no, then I think they have made it clear that the fate of this cat is in your hands and they really don't care enough to need an update.
posted by BearClaw6 at 11:04 AM on December 18, 2013

I'm also voting don't contact them, but save the pictures in case at some point, someone inquires. This is not something that I personally would want to know, and I tend to agree that it will most likely be met with indifference.
posted by sm1tten at 12:11 PM on December 18, 2013

If my brother died and left behind his cat, and I was not able to take the cat in and the cat ended up with someone he was associated with (even if it were that person's mother that he'd never met) I would definitely appreciate an email out of the blue letting me know what happened to the cat. It would make me both happy and sad to receive that update, but I would appreciate it.

You don't know why his brother hasn't asked about the cat, but it doesn't necessarily mean he doesn't care or would rather not know. I personally think it's better to tell him than not, since I know how I would feel about it. Since you've gotten such a wide range of responses about this, I think you should just go with your gut, and do what you would want someone to do if you were in his position.
posted by wondermouse at 12:44 PM on December 18, 2013

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