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Is There a Way to Prepare for the Sudden Passing of a Beloved Cat?

Catherine Holm  |  Feb 4th 2015


It’s something I never want to think about. And honestly, it’s something I never want to go through. I’ve helped several cats pass over and it’s been either peaceful or something I could foresee. I’ve been fortunate to have time to say goodbye, whether within a time frame of a few weeks or a few months.

But humans die suddenly, and so, sometimes, do cats. I recently had a poignant reminder of this when a commenter on Catster responded to an article I’d written in the past on how we might mourn our cats more than friends and family. The commenter had recently been through the traumatic and unexpected sudden passing of a loved cat. He was trying his best to process it. I can only imagine how awful this would be.

It made me wonder, is there ANY way to prepare for this situation? It’s not something that I want to think about, or have on my mind daily, but is there some way I can prepare mentally for this, and “set it aside” in my brain, so to speak, in case I ever need it?

Thinking things through and imagining scenarios before they happen helps me react better. I remember when I was getting to know the person who would become my husband. We were driving, and the car in front of us suddenly flipped on its side. (I can’t remember the cause.) With no hesitation, my husband sprang into action, and jumped out of our car, checking on the other driver and making sure she was okay. (She was.) I, on the other hand, was frozen in some state of freak-out-ed-ness.

I don’t want that to happen should something traumatic suddenly happen to my cat.

How can I prepare for the sudden passing of my cat? I think the answers are pretty simple. They involve awareness, love and gratitude. I want to remember to “hold these things lightly,” so to speak; maybe I can gently prepare for these possible eventualities, and then gently put them away. There might be some good in thinking about this ahead of time. Language might fail me, maybe because our culture doesn’t easily allow for this discussion in thoughts and words. Regardless, here are ways I can prepare for the sudden passing of my cat.

Live in the moment

We only have NOW, as I’ve been reminded again and again in my life. It’s a cliche, but it is so true. The past is gone, and the future unknown. Therefore, I need to remember, daily, to spend quality time with my cats, each and every one.

Of course, we want to do this — we love our cats. But are there days when we get too busy. I want to be sure I have quality, loving, connected time with each cat, daily. I have no idea how long they’ll be around. How terrible would I feel if my cat suddenly passed on, and I hadn’t paid that cat enough attention?

Say “goodbye,” in a way, even though you’re not really saying goodbye

Can you be okay in your mind with letting your cat go? This is, in essence, practicing nonattachment (also a tenet of some philosophies, such as yoga and Buddhism). Just like it might be a good idea to practice nonattachment in other areas of life, maybe we can apply it here. There is some freedom that can come with this. Nonattachment gets practiced in many ways. If for example, I get too attached an “internal story” that “I am only a writer — I can’t and won’t do anything else,” that limits me. Can you prepare yourself somehow for the letting go that is eventually going to happen, whether it’s sudden, and/or violent, or more peaceful?

Make amends

The spiritually based 12-step programs include making amends with those you may have wronged. Again, language only approximates what I am trying to say. We’re not really making amends with our cats, but I like the idea of making sure this it carried out. Can we take time to recognize and love each of our cats and meet them on their own terms?

If you can stand it, picture the process, or at least try to shape your imagined reactions

If you don’t want to completely picture a traumatic passing, don’t. It’s probably not of value, and we don’t know just what will happen, anyway. Maybe of value is recognizing, and picturing, that you could react to such a situation in the best way possible at the time. It could be your last moment with your cat. Do you want to remember yourself shrieking, freaking, or freezing? Or do you want to remember yourself loving your cat until her last moment, helping her pass as gently as possible, even if it is not gentle, or there are no alternatives?

If it does happen, and it is traumatic, be kind to yourself

The unexpected death of a loved cat (or any loved being) will almost certainly be traumatic for us. Everyone processes grief differently. Treat yourself kindly if you have to go through such a thing, and try to avoid second guessing what you should have done. Seek professional help or group support if you need it. Even after peaceful passings, or more traumatic events in my life (like an auto accident), it does take a while for the memories to fade.

At a yoga-teacher training conference I attended, one of the well-known, highly respected speakers made a comment that stuck with me. This person had been through several harrowing surgeries (and brushes with death). He said that the best thing in life you can do is to prepare well for death. Perhaps we can do this for our cats, as well.

What do you think?

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, 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.