By Madeline Christie
Losing both of my cats just four months apart led me on a journey to find peace, acceptance, and healing through ritual and ceremony. I believe the difficulty of losing a pet is not talked about enough, and while I speak of death frequently in my life and in my work, I still feel lonely in my grief.
We lost Mowgli first, and then his sister Penny. They were both sixteen. My partner and I brought them home as tiny kittens, wild and hissy. After so many years with those little beings, the house feels quiet and empty. I miss the small, daily occurrences we had with them; our everyday rituals. There was much anticipatory grief and anxiety leading up to losing both cats, and palliative care in the final months, weeks, and days was difficult.
One morning, Mowgli was limp and lethargic. I was devastated. A home euthanasia was being planned soon but I wasn’t expecting him to start dying so suddenly. Unfortunately, many of us often experience the death of a pet this way. We took him to the vet that day, as they weren’t making home visits. We brought him home and held a short wake before burying him. Afterwards, I felt it wasn’t long enough and made a point to take more time with Penny.
We were blessed to have a home euthanasia for her, which let us say goodbye in the days leading up. Her wake and burial were more healing and less painful, although there were still feelings of panic and wanting to hold her again. They’re both buried in the backyard, under a plum tree where sweet violets grow, together furever.
So how have I found peace amongst all the loss and kept my grief moving? My experience has taught me to go slow and to make my grief more tangible through ceremony and ritual.
I used Be Ceremonial platform to help me prepare for Penny’s home euthanasia. The rituals around pet loss within the app can support someone leading up to, during, and following the death of a pet.
The urgent nature of Mowgli’s passing journey didn’t allow for the ceremony I initially planned, but I was more prepared for when Penny’s time came. The rituals I chose included creating a sacred space in our gazebo, playing soft music, lighting and extinguishing a candle, writing notes to Penny, reading a poem out loud, and placing flowers on her body.
We kept Penny home overnight, surrounded by ice packs, and then made breakfast the next day with her nearby. We moved slowly. I took over an hour to pick flowers and arrange them in the basket around her. We kissed her forehead and held her paw for as long as we both needed to.
I took paw prints from both cats and clipped a tiny bit of fur to make memorial items with. I put up photos on an altar, and around our home, to remind us of all the wonderful years we had together. I connected with nature and performed grief rituals, such as planting bulbs around the yard in their honour. These rituals have made all the difference in helping me acknowledge and honour my grief.