How do I say goodbye?
If you own a pet (which we presume you do!), you'll know that it's much more than just a domestic animal. Your cat is a member of your family, and just because she can't talk doesn’t mean you can't build up a really strong bond. Which makes it all the more difficult when the time finally comes for her to go to sleep for the last time.
Just remember that the feeling of pain is absolutely normal, and that time will truly be the greatest healer. "This too shall pass," as the saying goes.
Let yourself say goodbye
For some, it's really important to be able to say goodbye to their pet. If she's being put to sleep at the vet, most will allow you to stay with her throughout the procedure. Even if you can't be in the room, you'll always be able to spend some time with her and say your final goodbyes afterwards.
Allow yourself to grieve
After the death of a pet, you may feel a variety of emotions: shock, disbelief, pain, anger, guilt, depression, anxiety, and finally, acceptance. Don't suppress any of these feelings; they're quite natural. The grieving process, like all human emotional processes, has a very important role. It helps you to come to terms with the death. With time, memories which before would have reduced you to feeling guilty, or angry, will start to remind you of her in a positive light, and you'll find yourself smiling instead of crying.
Help and support
Some people prefer to grieve alone, but for others it's important to have the support of family and friends. You may feel embarrassed about grieving over 'just a cat', but you shouldn’t. Still, you might feel more comfortable talking to strangers, in which case your vet should be able to tell you about any local support groups.
If you're a private griever, why not write down your feelings and thoughts in a diary, or in poetry?
Please don’t underestimate how important your pet might have been to your children (if you have any).
Up until about five years of age, most children don't understand the concept of death. They may understand that death isn't very nice but they tend to imagine that the situation is only temporary and that the pet will eventually return. Even so, they may be deeply distressed by the fact that their furry friend just isn't around any more, so they'll need a great deal of support and reassurance.
Between five and nine years of age, children become aware that death is final. They may even believe in an afterlife. Because they're able to comprehend the meaning of death, children should be allowed to talk about what's happened, and never dismissed as "too young to understand".
From nine years onwards, most children can understand the concepts of death and of grief. As a result they can experience the same range of emotions as adults following the death of their pet. But in addition they can also develop behaviour problems, such as becoming clingy, bed-wetting, having nightmares or being unable to concentrate in school.
You can help by talking to your children about how they feel. Be honest about what's happened. That goes for the decision-making process before death, if it's necessary to put your pet down. Make sure you involve your children in the decision, or you may be blamed afterwards. Also, try not to use the phrase 'put to sleep' with children - it may sound a lot less harsh than 'death', but it's also misleading for young children.
If you haven’t had time to really think about everything you need to do after a death, you might not know what to do with your pet's body. It's best to talk this through with your family and vet while she's still alive. The options fall into four categories:
- Burial at home
- Burial in a pet cemetery
- Individual cremation, where your pet's ashes are returned to you
- Communal cremation
Your decision might be guided by things like cost, by-laws or
space, but whatever you decide you should make sure everyone who was
close to the pet is content with the plan.