Healing from pet bereavementWhiskers and Tears

– Healing from Pet Bereavement

Today I’m talking about pet loss and how to navigate the effects that this can have on us. Hi, I’m Shelley Treacher from the Stress, Anxiety and Overeating Recovery podcast. You might be asking what pet loss has to do with comfort eating. A lot of my clients happen to be pet owners, so I know that they are a huge source of comfort for many of you.

So it’s inevitable then that experiencing pet loss might lead to more comfort eating. This is something I’ve been truly able to relate to in the last few weeks. So I’m taking this opportunity to talk about the difficulties around it, and how I’ve been getting through them. This podcast might be a little bit more personal than some that I’ve done.

So if you are in one to one therapy with me or you’re thinking about doing that, I urge you to really consider whether this is the right thing for you to listen to right now. In therapy, my main goal is to help you talk about yourself and find your way of doing what’s best for you. This means that I rarely talk about myself in therapy.

And this I believe is something that a lot of my clients need, to have the space to really focus on themselves, and to not be clouded by somebody else’s experience. So, as I said, use your own judgement about whether this is appropriate for you right now.


Cat bereavement

If you’re a regular listener, you might already have guessed by now, that I had to let go of my beloved cat, Mia.

This had a huge impact on me. I want to share some parts of this with you because it’s also been very healing and I’ve been using the skills that I use as a therapist to get me through.

The first and most difficult thing that I went through was the decision on whether it was the right time to let her go.

This is really painful. People had told me that I would know when the right time was, but for some months before she died, my cat gave me this look as if she was telling me that it’s time. I didn’t know what she meant. She wasn’t able to spell it out for me, unfortunately, so I just worried about it for a while.

But then her symptoms got worse, and it became quite clear that if I’d kept her alive, she would have been suffering, and I couldn’t stand that. The vet helped me with this. This is someone who knew Mia for years and loved her, by telling me that she wouldn’t disagree with the choice to let her go now.

And she also offered me to be able to do this in my own home. Mia was a sensitive cat. Every time I took her to the vet, she went to the toilet in her basket. She was so stressed out. So this seemed like the best option. So I made the decision on a Thursday, and she was let go of by the Monday. I cleared my diary for that weekend.

I spent a sacred weekend just with her. I whacked the heating up, I made her as comfortable as possible, I gave her all the treats that she could possibly require, and I told her how much she meant to me. Oh, I’m not going to get through this podcast without coming up with tears. It was a sacred time, a painful time, but a beautiful time.

And I really told her every single piece of happiness that she had ever given me. And it was a lot! When it came to her passing, it was traumatic, because she resisted. If I could have done it again, I would ask the vet to slow down. But both of us were a bit traumatized. She was given a drug to make her more relaxed, to sedate her.

This was the one that she resisted. Her whole body went into survival mode. And then I held her in my arms. As the vet gave her her final injection, her body went completely limp, so much so I almost lost her. And I felt a warm, wet patch on my leg. The vet left pretty quickly, and I sobbed. A loud, guttural sob.

But within the minute, a sense of deep peace came over me. I can still feel that experience. It actually didn’t feel like mine. I didn’t feel peaceful. It felt like hers. I’ll never know whether my brain made that happen or she communicated something to me, but I often return to that sense of peace. It was such a peaceful, gorgeous feeling, and I choose to believe that that was her experience.

After she’d gone, I lay her on the floor, and I cleaned her. This felt like an act of love, my final labour of love. And I lay curled up behind her tiny body, my skin touching her soft, soft fur. Until I was able to move. I had chosen to keep her body overnight in my house and to take her to the pet crematorium in the morning, so I set about making my house cool enough for her body.

I kept her in my bedroom. I didn’t know I was going to do that until I actually did it, but then when it came round to it, there seemed like no other place to put her. That’s where she’d slept for six years, and I didn’t want to part with her. My friends. was so amazing. I’d contacted all my loved ones, and they had all contacted me.

They held me, physically, and emotionally. I call on my friends when I need help and support, but I’d never called on them all at once like this. It instantly made me realise that over the years with Mia, I’d changed all my friendships. Something about the love that I had learnt to have for this little girl, and that she had given me, made me realise that I’d also done that in my friendships.


Bereavement guilt

One of the hardest things about losing someone or something that you love is what happened to me next. The guilt kicked in. Had I looked after her well enough? Was it my fault that she got cancer? Could I have stayed in a little bit more and looked after her? And of course, had I made the right decision at the right time?

Should I have done it earlier? Should I have let her go on a bit longer? The resistance of her body to the sedative haunted me. But of course I knew that this kind of depth of feeling and going over and over something in my mind, or in my body even, comes from triggering. I had been a carer since the pandemic.

My girl started to get ill just at the beginning of the pandemic, and my life slowly became governed by looking after her. This echoes my relationship with my mother. My mother was depressed. She was a single workaholic mother. And she shared her emotions with me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to her for doing that part of it.

But I felt like I had to look after her. My father left when I was really young. What I’ve learnt in my therapeutic life is that I’ve interpreted that abandonment as there was something wrong with me. That suffering is my fault. That I haven’t done enough. Do you see how the story parallels? We have a tendency to blame ourselves when something goes wrong.

And this is 100 percent deepened if something went wrong when we were younger. Which it invariably has for many of us. Luckily, because I do this work and I do things like deliver this podcast, I know about the connection between abandonment, addiction, and feeling bad about yourself. So with some help, some support, I understood that this is what I was doing.

And I urge you to consider this if you’re feeling guilty about any pet loss or anybody else that you’ve lost. It’s such a painful thing to experience, and it’s so inaccurate. We did nothing wrong. I definitely did my best for that girl. I did a lot for her. And she was found on the streets. She could have lived a very miserable life, but she didn’t.

She lived a happy life, and she was very much loved. It’s not my fault that she came to me damaged. None of us escape our own suffering. And we all have to deal with it within ourselves. My little girl was no exception. And her resistance to the sedative was just the animal instinct to survive. So I felt pretty tender for a couple of weeks.

I wrote a post on social media that’s actually been the most popular post that I’ve ever written. And it was really touching because I talked about the love of pets and so many people responded. It’s like it gave people permission. to talk about what they were struggling with and relate it to the grief and the loss of a gorgeous pet that they’d had.

It gave me a huge amount of comfort, because I could see how much love people had for their pets. People shared their pictures with me, which was gorgeous. If you want to add to that post, you’d be more than welcome to. It’s still a delight to look at it. And you might get comfort from it too, if pets are close to you.


Undervaluing pet loss

But then gradually what grew inside me was the feeling that I had to hold this back, that I should be over this by now a little bit. And actually one of my friends said, I can’t believe you’re still upset about losing your cat. I again wrote another post and got a lot of support for this, for this not being true.

But it’s a bigger thing, isn’t it? We’re, in this culture, we’re conditioned to think that we shouldn’t be feeling so bad, and that we should keep it quiet if we are. One of the things that one of my friends said that really helped me, at the right time, she said, Shelly, you don’t have to hold it all. And that made me cry my eyes out and let go.

Again, I think this wounding, where we first learn to hold ourselves back and not be emotional. I know a lot of you listening to this can relate to that, but I know, most of all for me, personally letting go of holding the caring stress doesn’t mean I’m letting go of her and our love, which will still exist.

But the point was, I let go of the responsibility. You see again how that reflects triggering? Many of us were brought up to extinguish ourselves to fit in with the families we were brought up in, whether they intended us to learn that lesson or not. So I let go. Again. Gradually over about two or three weeks I had started comfort eating, and during this week it got quite bad.

So much so that I was a little bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to pull it back, and that actually my whole career might have just ended in that moment. But I reminded myself of all the things that I’m trying to teach you. And after a little while of letting myself go, I pulled it back again. And I wrote one of my blogs on that.

I’ll give you a link to that as well if you haven’t got it already.

(Sign up for your comfort eating recovery starter kit, below this post).


Pet grief & spirituality

Another thing I want to mention is spirituality. This is not something I usually talk about on this podcast. But when my cat died, I went looking for some comfort. And I found some things that helped me at the time. Things like we return to energy when we die.

And gorgeous things about how animals are put on this planet to help us. And then they go back to where they were before and they’re very peaceful. But that whenever we think of them, they can join us again. I got particularly interested in what some people were saying about dreams. And I longed to have a dream about my cat.

To begin with, I only had anxiety dreams about whether I’d looked after her well enough. But then one day I woke up, having dreamt that she had just peacefully sat by my feet. And you know I talked about that feeling of peace after she died? That comes back whenever I think of her and was in that dream.

I hope this doesn’t sound crazy when I tell you this, but when I was looking after her body for the night, and I was stroking her lovely little face for the last time, I heard her purring. Of course, this could just be an imprint on my brain, but it was a good experience for me anyway. But one thing I cannot deny about the spirituality I feel with my cat That is the sense that she was always, a hundred percent, consistently there, reminding me of my higher self, or the higher good.

Because that’s what she embodied. That’s what animals do embody. And they do it so well. Thankfully I can continue that relationship. And so now, a few weeks on, of course I still miss her. It’s such an adjustment. She was there every second of the day. And I still have moments where I forget that she’s not here.

And grief brings up other grief. So I’ve been thinking about all of the animals I’ve lost and the people. It’s been a strange time. But as I said in my post, love is the most important thing of all of this. I am so grateful to my human relationships and it made me realise how much love there is there.

Somehow, despite the fact that I’ve had an abandonment trigger for most of my life, I can now see that I’ve been loved in exactly the way I always wanted. It wasn’t really till after Mia died that I realised that. Can a human even love you the way an animal can? In many ways, I’ve been writing this podcast for months in my head, preparing for the loss of my darling.

So there is some relief. And I go in and out of waves of grief and waves of taking control. Waves of just wanting things to be the way they were. And moving forward with things that are important to me. Sometimes I hear her footsteps in the hall. Another little strange thing that happened. I have a little silver locket which I’ve not worn for years, like over a decade.

I bought this when my last cat died a long time ago and I put a bit of fur, her name is Chloe, I put a bit of Chloe’s fur in the locket and I used to wear it a lot. But then I just kind of lost it, I didn’t really know where it went, didn’t think about it. But it turned up just a few days before Mia died.

Isn’t that lovely? In my grief, I came across a poem about how much a cat meant to the poet. Mia will always be my special little love, so I’m going to end with this poem as a dedication to her and to all the pets that you’ve loved. The poet Gregory Richard Barden has given me permission to read this to you.

I was so moved by this poem that I asked him if I could read it on air. To my delight, he was touched by my request. So here’s the poem. It’s called Sugar by Gregory Richard Barden. I might have a job to read this without crying, so prepare yourself for emotion, people!


Never Just A Cat – Sugar

Oh little one, mine
How you have stolen my soul, completely
You worked your furry way inside, and grew my heart to twice its size
You taught me, in your endlessly patient way, what is truly important
You have the sweetest, most gentle spirit of any creature I’ve ever known
And I can no longer imagine a world without your fuzzy smile.
You are the very embodiment of love, unconditional
And my bright spirit grows every day with my need of your need of me.
I once told someone how much you mean to me
And they replied, “But it’s only a cat!”
“Oh, how foolish you are”, I said …
“How much joy and love and tenderness you deny yourself!”
If only they, and every other cold-hearted person, could know You
Or have something in their life as sweet as you
What a different world this would be …
Full of abiding happiness and love.
You are everything to me, little one
And I care not who finds me silly or foolish because of that
Or who finds my time spent with you as wasted
Or who sees you as “just a cat” …
For you are a part of me, and always will be
As surely and deeply as any other creature I’ve ever known.
You are a blessing and a miracle sent from heaven
And I have a full, full heart and a charmed life
All because … of You.

–  Gregory Richard Barden



-Today I talked about pet loss.

-I talked about all the difficult emotions that I had to cope with in losing my cat.

– I talked about guilt.

– I talked about feeling that we should be over loss quickly. I talked about undervaluing the feelings of pet loss.

– And I mentioned how some of our feelings can be reflected in what we learnt when we were young, our triggering.

– I talked about leaning into support,

– I talked a little bit about spirituality,

– and I talked about overcoming comfort eating during this time.

– And then finally, I ended on a poem about the love for a cat.

In the show notes you’ll find a link to my post about Mia’s passing. In the post I invited people to tell me about their dearly departed pets and I want to invite you to do the same. I found it really deeply healing to see people’s gorgeous animals and the love that they felt for them and I do see that there’s just not enough acknowledgement of how important they are to us.

So please feel free to share yours too.


Final words on the bereavement of a pet

Having an animal is such a different relationship to any other relationship. For one thing, my cat was so much more attentive than any boyfriend I’ve ever had. But they’re there with you 100 per cent of the time. And I know that I tolerated things with my cat that I would never tolerate in a boyfriend or a friend.

Because they give so much back. I’m sure in many ways we project things onto our little pets. But this relationship deserves so much more acknowledgement than it gets. If you’re wondering how I got here, how I got to be okay after suffering the grief, and feeling the guilt, and feeling the abandonment and triggering, even having to recover my meaning for life once my dear little companion had left, having been through a phase of comfort eating and then recovering, if you want to know how I’ve done this, I’ve put together a simple document that shows you exactly how I help you.

Please just get in touch. so much. Next time, I’ll be talking about overthinking. I’ve done a big campaign on social media about overthinking, so I’ll be bringing some of that to you. This is my chance to apologise for not having done a podcast in February. This is partly due to the loss of my cat, but also lots of other little factors that mean I need to focus my attention elsewhere.

I’ve been focusing on my one-to-one individual psychotherapy work more, and as a result of that I’ve changed the name of the podcast. Because I’ve realized that the majority of my work with binge eating is about how to regulate around anxiety, worry, and stress. So I see my podcast as being useful in both of those ways.

My next podcast is likely to be in April. Thank you for listening to this, and for your love. This has been Shelley Treacher from the Stress, Anxiety, and Overeating Recovery Podcast. I’ll see you in April.

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For help navigating loss or bereavement of any kind contact Shelley today.