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Confession: Sometimes We Mourn a Cat More Than We Would a Friend

I'll admit, it's happened to me. Here are four reasons why I think we mourn pets so deeply.

Catherine Holm  |  Sep 15th 2014


I’ve had people tell me that they have an easier time getting along with their cats than with some people. I’ve also had people tell me that they mourned their cat harder than the passing of a human. Why would this be? My curious mind wanted to know. Wouldn’t a human relationship, in all its complexity, cause more grief when the relationship is dissolved? What is it about our cats that cause some of us to grieve so hard, perhaps even harder than when a close human in our life dies?

I’ll be honest and admit that I have had the same experience. My cats’ passings have always been harder for me than when I’ve lost humans who are close to me. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. But here are some of my intuitive hunches about this:

1. The human relationship possibly came with more “stuff”

We humans, with our big brains, are complicated. This makes our relationships complicated. I have seen the strangest things happen after the death of a human. I’ve seen people get upset over who gets a piece of furniture, for example. Maybe all this stuff gets in the way of needed grieving. When a cat dies, it’s heart-wrenching, but perhaps less complicated.

2. Perhaps the passing of a cat helps us process all grief

It seems to me that everything about a relationship with a beloved pet is very pure. At least that’s been my experience. When I’ve grieved a cat who is leaving, or has already passed, it’s a deep grief, but somehow also an uncluttered and pure grief. Of course, this hurts, but I’ve been surprised at the clarity that such “pure grief” (I don’t know how else to describe it) brings me. I have wondered whether a cat’s passing has perhaps helped me process other grief that may be buried. Maybe, for example, when I’ve lost a cat and I grieve hard, I’m also grieving the death of my parent, years ago. Maybe something about the cat’s passing makes it easier to understand or process the death of that parent.

3. The stuff at the end of a human life is complicated

Heck, life is complicated. But when a human passes on, there’s lots to do. Closing out a life is a lot of work. I have wondered if all of this administrative “stuff” makes us put grief on the back burner. Anyone who’s been through this knows what I mean. You’re dealing with the person’s possessions, accounts, friends — everything that comprised their unique footprint in life.

When a cat dies, it’s much more raw and immediate. Sure, I may have been dealing with a multitude of medical details, or hospice caregiving, or whatever — but when it’s over, it’s over. There’s not probate, lawyers, wills, trusts (usually), and all that stuff that is more likely to come with a human life. We simply get to grieve and be with our animal. We have our memories.

4. Cats love us unconditionally, and it is sooo hard to let that go

This may be the biggest reason, for me. Of course, we may have loved that family member or friend who passed on, and they loved us back. But cats do unconditional love so well. It’s hard to lose that and it’s such a gift. Sometimes we learn from the animal how to give unconditional love back. That’s a huge gift. Losing the opportunity to give unconditional love to that animal is hard. No doubt about it.

Karen Warren-Severson, a clinical mental-health counselor, life coach, and author, talks about the unconditional love of pets and why this makes this grieving process so hard. According to her, our relationships with our pets are unique in that they are “pure uncomplicated love relationships.” Pets often offer us unconditional devotion, something we cannot find elsewhere. So when they die, “we lose a relationship that is unlike any other.”

Having gone through the letting-go of several loved humans and cats, I’ve learned these things:

  • We all grieve differently.
  • Grief may manifest differently for each person or each cat.
  • Do not be ashamed or embarrassed if you feel you grieve more for a loved cat than, perhaps, a human. This is your business. You don’t need to justify what you’re going through. There are likely good reasons for whatever you’re feeling. Honor your feelings and your unique process.

Letting go is a part of life. Perhaps we grow as humans if we understand this better.

Have you had the experience of grieving a pet harder than grieving a human? If so, why was the pet loss harder for you? Let us know in the comments.

More by Catherine Holm:

About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn’t know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet, with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of The Great Purr (cat fantasy novel out June 1), the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of two short story collections. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.