Helping partner through sudden pet death
September 16, 2017 12:33 AM   Subscribe

Seeking advice to help my partner, and myself, through the sudden and unexpected loss of a pet.

Last night we suffered an unexpected loss. Miles, a three-year-old FIV rescue cat we'd taken in a couple months ago, had spent the day at the vet under anaesthesia for some dental work that the shelter we took him from had booked and paid for. I'd been told to call back mid afternoon to check he was OK to pick up. I called, and was told to call again at four. Then five. Then I got a call back from the vet, and was told he'd suffered what looked like irreplaceable brain damage due to complications with the anaesthesia. We went down to see him and say goodbye, and agreed to allow him to be put to sleep.

We'd not had him around for too long, but both loved him dearly and were looking forward to having him around a long time - he was a sweet, gentle animal and a perfect fit for our situation, we couldn't have wished for a nicer cat. I feel horrible about the whole thing, but my main priority is to do my best to help my partner, who is devastated. I'm not always the greatest with difficult emotional situations, and I'd appreciate any advice.
posted by ominous_paws to Pets & Animals (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
From my personal experience (both being comforted and being the one doing the comforting), there isn't a lot to do at this point except hug and cry and talk about how he was such a good cat. Also, pet deaths (for me, and I reckon I'm not the only one) can bring up feelings of other kinds of losses (deaths of parents, siblings, children, relationships, etc. - it's a kind of touchstone), so reactions that seem magnified are in fact reactions to all the loss that this particular pet's death embodies. You don't have to ask about it or anything, but be aware that there's likely more going on under the surface. I'm very sorry for your loss.
posted by rtha at 12:46 AM on September 16, 2017 [11 favorites]

My condolences. Losing a cat, especially suddenly, is terrible. All you can really do is mourn and reminisce. You can support your partner by reminding them that grieving is natural, and grieving a pet is totally ok. Also, people grieve at different "speeds." Don't give in to guilty feelings of "he was just a cat" -- he was in your lives, and your (and your partner's) reaction to that is a legitimate reaction.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:17 AM on September 16, 2017 [5 favorites]

This FPP and the associated discussion might help you get your head around some of your feelings. Of course, it might also make you cry, but that's not necessarily bad.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:06 AM on September 16, 2017

We have had burials for our pets. If you can get his cremated remains and have a funeral, say goodbye and tell him you love him it could help with closure.

I'm so sorry about your loss. You were all lucky to have each other.
posted by waving at 5:17 AM on September 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

I am so sorry. I lost one at a young age to acute liver failure and was devastated.

All I can say is to cry as much as you need to and don't worry about how it looks. You've lost a family member. Of course he wasn't a human being, but that's no worse...just a different kind of loss.

What really helped me, after the worst of the grief had passed, was to go out and adopt another sweet cat. If you did this, you wouldn't be replacing him, and you certainly wouldn't forget him, but another cat will definitely bring you comfort.
posted by tully_monster at 9:20 AM on September 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

My heart goes out to you. I've walked that path a few times; like grieving a person, lots depends on what psychologists call "the death surround" (all the circumstances leading up to and following the loss).

The short time you and Partner had with him doesn't necessarily make coping "easier," of course:

1. You probably knew tha FIV could (but wouldn't inevitably) shorten his life, but by taking him in you had a reasonable expectation of Improving his outcome. (Arguably, you still did, since he died knowing he was loved and didn't have to be in a shelter or go to adoption fairs anymore.)

2. He was an innocent, and he was young, and you two might well have already fallen in love with him. (Pets are often an "at first sight" kind of love.)

3. He was going to the vet, a professional, for a routine procedure. Moreover, although anaesthesia always carries some nonzero risk, there was no compelling reason to expect that he might not survive this.

A couple weeks ago, our elderly rescue Conan went to sleep at our feet and never woke up. (He had been fine, but he had always had a heart murmur.) I wept for days, and that was pretty much an "ideal" death surround, so please give yourself and your partner permission to grieve as messily or awkwardly as you need to. rtha is spot-on: hug and cry and comfort each other.

Every couple has those rough places where their grieving styles don't perfectly match up; be gentle with each other when you trip over them. (My husband and I have different sensitivity levels, different attitudes about faith, and nearly always different bonds with the pet in question. We've mourned several pets over the years, and some clumsiness is still inevitable. Don't beat yourself up when you encounter it.)

Connect with others when you need to, as well. And do rescue again someday, when you feel ready -- knowing again that there'll be heartbreak at the end someday, and that the love in between will always be worth it.
posted by armeowda at 2:15 PM on September 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

I brought my two senior kitties with me to Hong Kong, and sadly they both died unexpectedly within months of each other. One of the things which is a thing in Hong Kong are pet funeral services. They lay the cat out for you so you and your family and friends can say goodbye, and then you wait while the cremation happens on site. The staff brought their own pets to the site so you could cuddle if you wanted. Many people brought their other pets to say goodbye, since Hong Kong people believe their pets accept death better if they can see the dead body of their companion. The site has small shrines where you can leave the cremains, if you choose, and people come back over time to leave them offerings of food and water and toys.

With my first kitty, I did this because one of my coworkers insisted and she was so worried about my grief that I agreed. I thought it would be horrifying, but it was honestly really soothing. It gave me a place of closure in a place where others were grieving as well. I didn't stop being sad, but it helped me into recovery.

I don't mean to suggest that you should find something similar-- I'm not even sure it exists in the West, I don't think it did in Amsterdam. The point for me is that ceremony has its place, and it can help heal.
posted by frumiousb at 6:09 PM on September 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Losing a pet is a small and very private horror and there's no real cultural infrastructure for it. The grief is so alien because it's not a person--you know most people don't get it, and that fact is inescapable.

These are the words (from a metafilter user) that most comforted me when I lost my cat a few years ago.

I am so sorry for your loss.
posted by nanook at 7:11 PM on September 16, 2017 [9 favorites]

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