According to the ASPCA, 85.8 million cats live with humans in the United States. Ninety-five percent of us consider companion animals part of our family . Yet the indoor domestic feline lifespan averages 16 years, which means that every year, between four and eight million American adults have to say a final farewell to a feline friend.
Our cats are witness to our most vulnerable moments, our most private pain, the aspects of us we would never dare allow another human to see. And they accept us wholly, as we are. In turn, we accept their behavior in ways we would never tolerate from another human (Finicky? Okay, we’ll try a different food. Knocked a glass off the counter? Well, that’s just how cats are. Doesn’t want to be pet right now? No problem.)
I believe our relationships with animals are so powerful not despite the fact that they’re nonverbal, but because of it. Distilled down to its essence, the relationship is one of two beings witnessing each other (mostly) without judgment. Being seen and accepted is a powerful human need, one that’s often not filled (entirely) by other humans. And when that relationship is gone, the grief can be profound.
As a culture, we have no rituals or spaces for grieving an animal, no guidelines for how to comfort the bereaved; this often compounds the human’s grief by leaving them feeling isolated or misunderstood.
Below are seven ways to care for yourself after your cat has passed away. This list is not meant to be glib. It’s not going to magically make the grief subside—only time can do that. But these practices helped me through the process, and I believe they can help you.
One final thing: You are not alone. Grief is a universal human experience. In a world deeply divided, every single person has or will experience loss and grief. Remember that statistic from the beginning? Within any given minute (on average), 10 Americans are saying goodbye to their cat. Sometimes, it can help to imagine yourself as part of a cohort, connected to those anonymous other people through your shared love of your cat.
Sarah Chauncey is the author of P.S. I Love You More than Tuna, the first gift book for adults grieving their cat. Follow @morethantuna on Instagram to share stories and memories of your cat(s)—past or present—or tag a post #tunatributes to receive support from people who understand.