Grieving a Kitten

Grieving a Kitten

If you are grieving the loss of a foster kitten, please read this excellent post by Hannah Shaw (Kitten Lady). If you are grieving a “resident” kitten (one you had planned to live with through their full lifespan)), I hope you’ll find comfort in this post.

When a kitten dies, it’s particularly painful, because as a species, humans are hardwired to care for vulnerable babies (of any species). We expect them to live a full and long life, rescued from the perils of fending for themselves, and surrounded by comfort. It feels to us as though their lives were cut short.

There are wide-ranging estimates of mortality rates for kittens younger than 12 weeks, but few are lower than 15% (some are as high as 70%). There are many reasons for this: maternal health problems, developmental issues (especially with kittens who were conceived later than their littermates), blood-type incompatibility, umbilical site infection…the list goes on.

Even in circumstances where a mama cat is healthy and well cared for throughout her pregnancy, deaths happen. Rescue cats are often far from healthy when they come into foster care, which means a higher percentage of their kittens are likely to have some of the issues above.

When a kitten dies, we want to know why. Our human minds like to figure things out. It gives us the illusion of control. But sometimes, we can’t know. And allowing that space of uncertainty is harder than coming up with theories. It’s easier to blame, attack or theorize than to sit with the pain of loss.

Everything that is born, dies. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later. It’s an irrefutable fact of nature. Some species have a lifespan of only a few hours. When we cling to ideas of how it “should” be, we suffer—and that compounds the pain of grief.

Nearly every experienced foster I know has endured kittens dying in their care, and it’s especially painful for them. They do everything right, staying up around the clock, tube feeding, racing to the emergency vet at 3am—but still, sometimes kittens are just here for a short visit. Or, as Shelly Roche of Tinykittens said of one recently, “He was just passing through.”

This is the most heartbreaking part of “kitten season.” It’s the reason those of us involved in rescue advocate for spaying and neutering, to prevent this unnecessary suffering. Veterinary care is advancing every day, and people like Hannah Shaw (Kitten Lady) are doing an amazing job of educating as many people as possible on neonatal kitten care (the highest mortality rate is among orphaned kittens). But even with the absolute best care in the world, not every kitten can be saved.

We can find solace in the knowledge that kittens in foster care inevitably lived longer than they would have in the wild, and that they knew comfort, love and safety while they were here.

 

 

Photo by Kote Puerto on Unsplash

Forgiveness and Self-Forgiveness

Forgiveness and Self-Forgiveness

“Forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past.” — credited to Lily Tomlin 

One of the things that makes grieving a pet so difficult is the guilt. Should we have done something sooner? Did we wait too long? Could we have done anything more? What if we’d had more money, more time, better specialists?

I’ve heard it said that, when it comes to the end of our animal companions’ lives, we make the decision that gives us the least cause for regret. No regret usually isn’t an option.

Feeling guilt doesn’t change anything; it just makes us feel even worse. It’s the mind’s way of trying to be helpful by distracting us from emotions we really don’t want to feel—the rawness of grief and the pain of loss.

If your mind weren’t preoccupied with guilt, what would you have to feel? And how would you feel if you could know, with absolute certainty, that you did everything right?

Allow self-forgiveness. See what happens.

 

 

Photo credit: svklimkin on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-SA

How Grief Makes Us Gentle

How Grief Makes Us Gentle

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” — Leonard Cohen, based on Rumi 

Grief makes us gentle, because it opens out hearts and stops our minds, if only briefly. It shows us what’s really important in life (love) and renders everything else pretty much meaningless. The gift in this is that we can make the most of the time we do have, ourselves and with each other, of all species. This first hit me after my three closest (human) friends died in a two-year period, when I was in my early 20s, but I found it coming up again after Hedda died. There is no escape; the only way out is through…and in that process, there’s a transformation.

 

 

Photo by Lina White on Unsplash

Everybody Grieves

Everybody Grieves

2600 years ago (the story goes), a woman distraught with grief went to the Buddha and begged him to revive her son. He told her to collect a mustard seed from a home that had not been touched by death, and he would indeed bring her son back to life.

The woman walked through the village, and then through another village and another, and at every home she visited, the inhabitants told her they would be happy to give her a mustard seed, but they had experienced death. As the woman listened to their stories of loss and mourning, she came to realize that there was no such thing as a home that has not been touched by death.

I love this story, because it speaks to the universality of grief. None of us is immune, and none of us (nor our cats) are immortal. The silver lining of this knowledge is that we can make the most of the time we have—in our own lives, and in our relationships with others (of all species).

No matter where we live, what our occupation, passion, political or spiritual perspectives, no matter how much or how little money we have…every one of us will experience grief. And we can allow that understanding to open our hearts, to make us more compassionate towards ourselves and each other.

 
 
 
Photo by Oleg Danylenko on Unsplash
 
You are Not Broken (Pet Loss Version)

You are Not Broken (Pet Loss Version)

When a beloved cat dies, you may feel broken—I know I did, at times—but you are not broken. Who you really are is never broken.

We live in a culture that insists that if we’re not happy-happy-joy-joy around the clock, even when we’ve experienced a major loss, that something is wrong with us. Or worse, that it’s our fault we feel bad. Neither of these are true.

Emotions are part of life’s ebb and flow. Loss hurts, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling deep grief. The mistake is in believing that we ARE the grief, that something has gone wrong because we experience grief. But we grieve because we have loved deeply.

The trick (and it is a Jedi trick) is not to identify with the feelings. The feelings are passing through you; they are not who you are.

If you’re feeling happy, if you’re feeling despair, if anxiety arises, if you are dumbstruck with grief—you are not broken. If you have to take medication to function or to begin examining the feelings—you are not broken. If your body or brain functions differently than the majority of people—you are not broken.

The nature of being human is to forget our wholeness on a regular basis. The task of a lifetime is to remember it. Forgetting doesn’t mean you’re broken.

(Adapted from my post “There is Nothing Wrong with You” on Living the Mess.)

 

 

Photo by Alexandru Zdrobău on Unsplash

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