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How I Dealt With The Bittersweet Aftermath Of Losing A Childhood Pet

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Toronto MU chapter.

If you have had a pet of your own, you know first-hand how difficult it is to imagine a world without them. But I don’t think any pet owner wants to imagine that scenario. I know I didn’t.

Since I was a kid, the thought of losing my cat was always a fear of mine, but I never thought that day would actually come. I had to remind myself that like everything else in this world, my cat’s lifespan was limited, and no matter how much I wanted my cat to stay on this earth forever, there would eventually be a day where I would have to say goodbye. Up until a month ago, that day always seemed like it was a part of some alternate reality. I assumed that it wouldn’t be any time soon, but honestly, I think I forgot that life tends to slap us in the face every once in a while. I was slapped really hard on February 17th.

I had my cat, Max, for fourteen years. I adopted him as a kitten when I was in kindergarten, so we practically grew up together. Despite his habits of biting my ankles and sleeping on all my clean clothes, he was a great cat. When I would come home from school, he would be sitting on the stairs waiting for me, and in the morning, he would meow outside my door until I let him in—just so he could walk all over my pillows and make a mess of my bed sheets. Our relationship grew even closer throughout the pandemic. Since I would spend most of my time at my desk and he couldn’t do all the things he used to do when he was a kitten, he would always be by my side. Max was a quiet cat in his final years, but his absence was definitely noticeable after he was gone. His presence was ingrained into my everyday life, and when you’ve lived with that presence for so long, it’s extremely difficult to have it taken away from you.

The first few days were the hardest. They truly didn’t feel real. There were so many little things that I didn’t realize I would miss so much—hearing his meows from another room, seeing him sitting on my bed at night, filling up his food bowls. It was a strange time for my family and I, but I quickly realized that I didn’t only lose a pet. I had also lost the part of my childhood that I wasn’t ready to let go of just yet. So many of my childhood memories were connected to Max. No matter where I was or what I was doing, he was always there. When I was sick with strep throat in third grade, he slept right next to me the entire night, and whenever I was upset, he would paw at my face to try to get my attention (probably because he was hungry—not because he was concerned for my well being).

I think anyone who owns an animal can say the same thing. When you live with them for so long, they become a part of you. Animals can leave such prominent imprints on our lives, but sometimes we don’t notice them until they’re no longer with us. We don’t notice them until our rooms feel emptier and our hallways are quieter. Although, I think each day grew brighter because I chose to cherish what I lost instead of focusing on what was missing. I held onto these memories by looking through our family photo albums and laughing at the chaotic videos of him in my Snapchat memories. Eventually I understood that even though he was an important part of my life, another part of my life was only beginning.

I was just getting ready to start attending in-person university classes for the first time ever when Max passed away. It was a whole bunch of changes happening all at once, so I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t overwhelmed. I managed to lose something important while experiencing something exciting at the same time, but soon enough, I realized that this was just a part of growing up. If my life was a novel, the very long, emotional and exciting chapter had ended, and I had just turned the page to begin another one. In other words, Max became a memory, and by holding onto these memories and reminding myself that life goes on and change is inevitable, I was able to move forward.

It’s wonderful how animals can impact our lives in the same ways that humans can. So, if your childhood pet is still in your life, make sure to cherish them. You might be surprised at how valuable they are in this world.

Claire is an English BA student at Toronto Metropolitan University. When she's not writing, she enjoys spending her free time wandering through the aisles of her local bookstore, attending concerts, and cooking new (and sometimes disappointing) recipes.