Pet Bereavement – How It Impacts Us

Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. The company remains independent, and now has a further three offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley, and Hurstpierpoint. Through both their work and their personal lives, the team has a keen understanding of those who are bereaved. Today, […]

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Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. The company remains independent, and now has a further three offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley, and Hurstpierpoint. Through both their work and their personal lives, the team has a keen understanding of those who are bereaved. Today, Community Co-Ordinator, Becky, discusses her recent experience of a less-discussed bereavement…

When it comes to animals, there are two kinds of people: those who get it, and those who don’t. Some people just aren’t animal people (I’ve known a few), and I won’t pretend to understand them, because I’m definitely a pet person.

As well as primary school gerbils and hamsters, plus many riding school ponies and horses (and a few via previous jobs, and holidays), I’ve lived with two pets. We got our first family cat as I was finishing primary school, and she died whilst I was living away at university. Shortly afterwards, missing the presence of a feline, my mum took a trip to a charity rehoming centre and picked out another, who was then a rather bedraggled stray with six kittens at heel.

Flora, as we named her, arrived with us in 2007. I was an intermittent presence for several years, before rejoining the household permanently in 2014 – by this time, I think she was under the mistaken impression that she was the most important offspring in the building, and we had a few conversations about that.

She was a quirky creature, thanks in part to her difficult start in life. We had no idea how old she was, though a vet’s best guess was that she was about a year old when she made her way to us. It was obvious that she had been a stray for some time – she took a long time to understand that food wasn’t scarce, and that she wouldn’t need to climb into the bin ever again. Part of our early experience with her felt more like having a dog than a cat, as the kitchen bin was tipped over so regularly that we had to end up hiding it away. It was several years before we were able to stand it in the kitchen again without fear of it being assaulted by our four-legged friend.

Although Flora had already reached the later stages of her life by the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she apparently wasn’t immune to the changes that many people noticed in their pets: including Flora, we were a household of four for the duration of each of the lockdowns – my sister relocated to form a household with her partner, and I was left with our parents and the cat. I vividly remember two experiences from that time relating to our beloved pet.

The first was when we three humans left the house simultaneously for the first time in months. My parents and I took advantage of a sunny morning to go out for a walk together. When we returned, we found Flora howling her head off in the living room, a behaviour which can only be interpreted as her being distressed by the house suddenly being fully empty, even though this had previously been a regular occurrence (she had become used to the presence of my mum, who had been furloughed, and my dad, who had transitioned to working from home).

The second was when my sister was able to visit again. Upon spotting this different human in the garden, Flora was visibly shocked, and clearly recognised my sister by sight (and, presumably, smell), but seemed confused too. We surmised that my sister’s extended absence had led Flora to assume she’d left for good, as this was repeated over the course of several visits, until she seemed to catch on to the pattern.

Sometime during these years, we recognised that the cat’s health was declining. I cautioned mum to think carefully about medication, as I was aware that cats are often medicated during their later years, and that this can become a significant burden in terms of finances and care. We nursed her along for as long as we felt reasonable, and other changes were clear too: she was less active and enthusiastic, wanting to sleep even more than cats ever do; she was less inclined to go outdoors, having previously enjoyed being outside; and her famously significant appetite declined.

We forced ourselves to make a decision when trips to the vet for the ongoing issues increased in frequency, and then one morning we recognised that she was really struggling to get herself around the house. We knew that it was time to accept the inevitable, and felt that the kind thing to do was to allow her life to end comfortably. The vet agreed with our assessment, explained exactly what would happen, and we said our goodbyes to our faithful feline.

We chose to have her cremated, which the vet arranged on our behalf. Before we were informed that the ashes were available for collection, a card arrived via post – they had sent us a handwritten condolence card, which we all appreciated.

It took me a while to recognise what was happening in terms of my own feelings, but eventually it clicked: this is the first time that I’ve experienced the death of someone I live with. I’ve been bereaved of friends and family members before, but I’ve not shared a home with any of them. I think this is why I’m finding it so unusual to expect to enter the house and see our cat, or for her to walk into a room and hop up next to me on the sofa. My brain knows that she’s gone, but something in my body is still processing it.

I’m glad that our pet is no longer uncomfortable, and that she didn’t slink off without us being certain of what happened to her. And I’m also sad that she’s gone. Whether you are bereaved of a person or a pet, the process can take time and involve a variety of emotions – remember to do what is right for you.

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Written by Becky Hughes

Community Co-Ordinator

May 24, 2023

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