Today marks a year since we lost our cat Pandora. Her illness and rapid deterioration was one of the hardest and most traumatic experiences I've had. I'm trying to look back at the past year to understand how I dealt with the loss.
Pandora's decline was rapid, and it was just three and a half weeks from when we first noticed something was wrong to when we realized nothing was helping and we had to let her go. Throughout that time I was determined to do whatever I could to help her. Despite my pain at seeing her suffering, I tried to be strong and pragmatic for her sake. I wanted to remain hopeful, but none of the treatments were helping, and eventually we decided there was no point in extending her suffering since she wasn't improving. I feel completely certain this was the right and compassionate decision.
On the day that we said goodbye to her, I felt such pain and loss that I could hardly stop crying. When we came back home with an empty carrier, the first thing I did was to remove the items that would most remind me of Pandora: her food bowl, her tunnel, her collection of boxes. I knew it would be a difficult adjustment.
I tried to pull myself together that same day to write her memorial post and do justice to her memory. Looking at her photos and remembering her life helped me see her as a complete individual, with her different moods and behaviours, and various moments and experiences from her 13 years of life.
Over the next few days, I seem to have started employing defence mechanisms to protect myself from the pain of loss. It seemed that every time I started remembering her and feeling the pain, I somehow turned my thoughts away from her, afraid that I would be overwhelmed by crying and loss and unable to function. This meant that after the first few days I was no longer crying much, and the pain was somehow suppressed or submerged.
One thing that helped was my determination to devote myself to our other cat Eleni, who was then 15 and is now 16. She has also had health problems, and since she was not close to Pandora, losing her and becoming an only cat has actually been good for her. I've always been physically closer to Eleni, and she is a complete lap cat and snuggler, so she gave me a lot of comfort.
After about four months, my subconscious gave me a little reminder. I dreamt that I was telling someone about Eleni, and suddenly thought "I haven't seen Pandora for a while. Where is she? Is she safe?". Then I woke up, realizing that Pandora was dead. I think that was about the time when I came to terms with having only the one cat.
As time went on, the stabs of pain whenever I remembered something associated with Pandora lessened into acceptance of her loss. It used to bring tears to my eyes whenever one of us said "Pandora used to do that", or when I remembered her sitting on my desk, keeping me company while I worked.
For a while I was worried that I wasn't mourning "properly" and that I'd suppressed the grief and wasn't "dealing with it". I thought this might be unhealthy for me. But now that a year has passed, I think that I just mourned in a different way, avoiding the pain because I'm so sensitive, and letting time and my subconscious do the healing. I think different people grieve in different ways, and perhaps even the same person mourns differently with each bereavement. So I've stopped judging myself for turning away from my pain. It wouldn't have helped me (let alone Pandora) to be in tears for weeks on end after her death.
I still remember and miss her, but now she has joined the ranks of my past cats and her loss is no longer an open wound.