Why We Laughed the Day Our Cat Died

How do we help intense and sensitive children cope when a pet dies? If your family’s anything like mine, you threw out the rule book about what you ’should’ do in these situations long ago.

When we lost our cat this week, I just focused on being present to what my kids needed, moment by moment. Coaches refer to this as  ‘holding space’.

Kids who have OEs often have vivid imaginations and an incredible sense of humour. Mine amazed and inspired me yesterday in the way they used those qualities to bring to bring light into a sad day.

Bad news

We took our sweet cat for a check-up on Tuesday morning when she appeared, thin and weak, after several days’ absence. At lunchtime the vet phoned to say that Flissy – whose birth in our playroom six years ago Cordie and Jasper watched – had terminal cancer. By 5pm the three of us were at Flissy’s side while she was gently put to sleep.

Honouring complex individual reactions

My children reacted to the news quite differently from one another.

While my 11-year-old son burst into tears, his 12-year-old sister remained dry eyed. A stranger might say she almost smiled. I was reminded of how Cordie used to get into trouble at pre-school for ’smirking’ at inappropriate moments.

Thankfully I know my daughter. I know how deeply she feels things, and I know how hard she works to find strategies to process her intense emotions  I honoured her reaction, (while part of me was thankful that my son, at least, wanted the hug I craved too).

The healing power of laughter

After gentle cuddles we left Fliss to enjoy her final afternoon in peace, and set off for the river with our dogs.

The jokes started in the car. I’ve shared some below. I warn you – the humour was dark. If you’re upset by conversations about dismembered feline corpses you should stop reading now.

The children talked about getting a new cat, giggling at the blatant tastelessness of having that conversation before Fliss was even gone. My daughter googled local pets for sale. We joked about arranging to pick up a new cat on the way back from the vets later.

An eavesdropper might have thought us heartless, but I knew that humour was helping my kids cope with something that might overwhelm their sensitive and intense souls if they focused on their grief for too long.

The intensity of our shared experience brought an extra loving dimension to our interactions that afternoon. Sibling bickering subsided as the children raced roly-poly style down hills and competed to invent the silliest cat names.

Dark humour on the way to the vet

We laughed through our tears as we drove Flissy to her final vet appointment. My son’s humour became darker.

“I hope they give her nice drugs before they get the chainsaw out.”

* *

J: “You know, we needn’t have paid the vet to do this. I could’ve just swung her around in the carrier. I’ve always wanted to do that.”

Me: “Maybe we could ask the vet if we could have a moment alone with Flissy afterwards. We’ll pop her in the carrier and you can have a little swing?”

* *

“Do you think they’d let me keep a paw? Or maybe her head?”

Saying goodbye

In the vet’s surgery tears rolled down our cheeks as we stroked Flissy’s warm, velvety fur for the last time and felt her tiny body go limp beneath our hands.

Before settling up I asked the vet, “Do you still have that swing outside?”

The children ran out to play. (No cats were swung.)

Home alone

As we drove home my son said sadly,

“I keep thinking of all those experiences she never got to have. Meet a panda … eat her first diamond.”

I suggested he might have a future as a grief counsellor. For the right sort of person.

“Yeah, they’d have to have a very black sense of humour,” he replied.

Back home, I quietly removed Fliss’s food bowl from the counter.

“How about we ditch dinner and order Dominoes pizza?” Jasper suggested. ” We could watch that episode of The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon gets all the cats.”

And that’s what we did.

“I feel so sad,” he said softly at bedtime.

“I know sweetie. I do too.”

We hugged.

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8 thoughts on “Why We Laughed the Day Our Cat Died

  1. Oh Lucinda, you made me cry.
    I am so, so sorry you lost your fur baby.

    A few weeks back we lost one of our precious pets and we opted for pet cremation. Our much, much, much loved Opal is now in an urn in our lounge room, with an etching of her head on the plaque.

    Dark humour. Yes. We all cope in different ways.
    One of my daughters commented that she sometimes feels like she must be living in a mockumentary, what with the urn of a chicken’s ashes on the shelf beside the dining table.

    I do hope you are all doing okay. I know this is really hard. Big, big hugs.

    1. Thank you, M. I was glad to get this story finished because I kept crying while I wrote it.

      I’m so sorry for your loss, too. What a beautiful way of remembering Opal.

      I’ve never heard the word ‘mockumentary’ before but I think I’ve been searching for it for ever. I often feel like we live in a mockumentary!

  2. I’m so sorry Lucinda. I’m still not over the deaths of our puddy cats George and Lucy. It’s been a year and I’m still not ready to get any new additions. Death I think is very personal and how one deals with it is entirely personal.
    Yay for coping mechanisms whatever they may be 🙂

    1. Thank you, Claire. I can’t believe it’s been a year since you lost your cats. I feel like I was just reading your beautiful post about them. Since we lost Fliss we’ve had waves of all different kinds of emotions with the predominant one being sadness. I guess that’s the way it goes. And yes, yay for whatever coping mechanisms get us through. 🙂

  3. Lucinda,

    I’m sorry to hear you lost your cat. I understand how humour can be a coping mechanism for grief. Sometimes when I get together with other bereaved parents we end up making dark grief jokes. We feel this is okay, something we need to do. But it’s only something WE can do. We’re speaking the same language and understand each other and our needs. If someone who hadn’t lost a child tried to joke with us it wouldn’t be right. Maybe it would even be in poor taste.

    You told your story beautifully, Lucinda. I could feel your family’s pain despite the jokes. I imagine you will all be expecting to see Flissy appearing from around the corner for some time. Having pets is hard sometimes. I suppose if we didn’t have pets, we’d avoid a lot of pain, but we’d miss out on a lot of love too.

    1. Sue, Thank you for your lovely comment. I was a bit worried about sharing this story. I wondered if people might judge us for laughing in such sad circumstances. Maybe some people would, but your kind words show me that you understood exactly what I was trying to say.

      You’re right about expecting to see Flissy. Many times this week I’ve imagined I heard her mewing, or something moves on the garden wall and I glance around expecting to see her. (I have seen some cute squirrels, though!) And just today I did a double-take when I saw her lying in her favourite spot on my bed – she did like to spread her black fur on my white duvet cover 🙂 – but of course it was just my nightie!

      I can’t imagine a household without pets, even with the sadness.

  4. I love the way you write about this difficult subject. So glad you found comfort in your shared humour and felt brave enough to share your strategies for coping so honestly.

    1. Thank you, Kirsty. Your encouragement means a lot. 🙂 (I edited your ‘b/rave’ ;)) Thanks too for your lovely email – more on that soon!

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