This past September I said goodbye to my best friend of 12 years, my cat Andy. He was around 17-19 years old, which is quite an accomplishment for most cats. I have experienced a range of emotions since finding out about his death while I was away at college, and honestly, I still am. I feel like many people don’t quite understand what it’s like to lose a childhood pet when it feels like you’ve had them forever and it feels like they’ll live forever.
I feel like a lot of people have the assumption that getting over the death of a pet is quick and hard but for the friends I have who have bone-chillingly had their childhood pet die these past few months, they agree that it’s definitely hard but not quick enough. I want to take this as a moment to remind anyone whose pet has died recently that it’s okay to feel all of the emotions you’re feeling and that it’s perfectly reasonable to take time for yourself. When a part of our family dies, no matter how “small” their presence might seem to others, you’re allowed to mourn.
Since Andy was pretty old, I thought I would be ready for when this day came but I wasn’t. Even though I had watched his health slowly deteriorate these past few years and paid the increasingly expensive veterinarian bills, I still wasn’t ready for him to go. So when I got the phone call about his passing on a random Saturday while doing homework, I felt defeated and alone. I took some days off school and went home to bury him in my aunt’s backyard.
I’m getting over this sense of defeat and feeling alone. No matter how much my friends support me and try to make me feel better, I’ve learned that these are feelings I have to deal with by myself in my own way. I have a second cat that I adopted a year ago before Andy died that I named Raja. At first I felt sad because he reminded me of Andy and I was sure that Raja missed him. Now I try to focus on how Raja reminds me of the good memories of Andy, like how they both used to annoy each other all the time.
Childhood pets are really special because they watch you grow up and they’re part of all of the early milestones, but don’t feel like you have to give them up when they’re gone. I keep a picture of Andy in my living room and I hold onto his collar because it comforts me, and that’s okay.
How you grieve your childhood pet and how you choose to cope with them being gone is up to you. The process isn’t necessarily a straight line but it’s what you make of it. My recommendation is to try to focus on the happiness you shared with them and how you both touched each other’s lives.