Saturday, June 27, 2009

Wrong Thing to Say

Losing my little cat has hit me quite hard. The past week has been filled with a sadness that won’t be easy to put to rest. The silence reveals the heartbreaking truth that he is gone from my daily life.

It has also sent me reflecting on pet-owner relationships. I had grown up with dogs, especially a cherished dog that was considered “mine.” Unlike those who have a strong inclination as a "dog person" or as a "cat person," I like both sets of animals equally. Consider me "bi-animal."

When an animal that you had a relationship with as as an adult dies, though, it strikes me as fundamentally different. Maybe it’s partly because, even though I had a tentative ownership over my dog, my parents still had the ultimate authority over her treatments. With my cat, only I could make those decisions.

Most people have been remarkably sympathetic. Those who haven’t, it seems to me, are more likely to have never really had a dog or cat as an adult. For some of them, noting the loss of my cat registers at about the same level as if I had said that I totaled my car. They understand it’s a bad thing, but can’t quite imagine it as a loss of a valued friend.

Indeed, some have misguidedly allowed their first thoughts to flow unfiltered from their brain straight to their lips. Since “pet loss” is seemingly difficult for such people to grasp, here is a list of things that are not that helpful to say upon the death of cat (all of which I have actually heard over the past week):

    – I didn’t know you had a cat.

    – I don’t like cats.

    – Your cat never seemed to like me.

    – A cat once bit me.

    – Cats aren’t that affectionate anyway.

    – At least now people with allergies can come to your house more often.

    – How long did you think he was going to live anyway?

    – He was just an orange tabby. Can’t you just get another cat just like him down at the shelter? I mean, it's not like he was a rare breed exactly.

    – My brother has a cat that destroyed his furniture.

    – Look on the bright side! Now you can get a dog.

    – Your cat died of kidney disease? Did he have a drinking problem?

    – Traveling will be much easier for you now.

    – You wasted a lot of money trying to save him. I wouldn’t have bothered.

Considered it a public service announcement from GayProf.


Pete said...

Those remarks -- just unbelievably cold. All my sympathy to you, GayProf. I lost my dearest friend when my very aged cat died a few years ago; it still hits me every once in a while and I have to sit and cry. It's every bit as painful as losing a family member. Really, my heart goes out to you.

Anonymous said...

Loss is loss, period. I'm sorry for yours and hope you start feeling better soon.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry you lost your kitty pal! We've had to deal with this, too, especially when we put our 20-year-old cat down because of cancer. I've decided that anyone who says cold remarks like those (especially of the "how long did you think he'd live?") variety, indicate a lot more about the sayer than they realize. I hope once you've grieved for your friend, you'll be able to move on and maybe find another four-legged buddy to share your life with.

jaclyn said...

I'm so sorry about your friend. There is nothing like the love of a pet.

Jason said...

I'm sorry to hear about your cat! I know how tough it is. I think I told you Malcolm died early in the year, same kidney problems that it sounds like your cat had. James and I still aren't over it. It does get better though.

pacalaga said...

I'm deeply sorry about the loss of your friend. As to the comments... well. I've always said I liked animals better than people.

inflammatory writ said...

Wow. What a bunch of assholes. I'd be gutted if I lost either of my cats. One of mine got really sick this year and it was just awful. My sympathies. :(

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry.

life_of_a_fool said...

I am so sorry for your loss.

I can't believe you heard any of those comments, much less all of them. The loss of a pet is heartbreaking; I'm sorry you've had to have such awful interactions on top of it.

Frank said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, GayProf. Losing an animal is heartbreaking. Many people fear death because of the thought of powerlessness, but the fact that we often have full power over our animals' deaths doesn't seem to make it any easier. At least he's no longer in any pain, and that's what matters.

Still, I have to say, "Your cat died of kidney disease? Did he have a drinking problem?" made me laugh. Sorry.

Stay strong, Amazon Sister!

lurker said...

i'm sorry. i've been there, too.

Anonymous said...

i'm so sorry. i missed the update from the last post, and i'm so very sorry for your loss.

as you know, people are morons and insensitive ones at that. losing a pet is incredibly difficult. i am so so very sorry for loss. i know if mine go during the school year, i will have to take bereavement leave. my heart goes out to you.

my sincerest condolences,

Clio Bluestocking said...

What horrible things to say!

Exactly: bi-animal. A furry companion is a furry companion and you love them for that regardless of their species. I'm so sorry that your furry companion had to pass on. It is the loss of a great love.

Steven said...

When I read the intro to this post that your cat passed away, I thought that I missed a previous post announcing his death, when in actuality, you announced it through an update to the last post. Sorry that I missed the update.

The following days and months after losing Dexter were hard, particularly when I would find a ball (with a bell inside) he played with months later under the couch. Just the sound of the bell in the ball brought back so many memories. Or no greetings at the door upon my return home. The house all of a sudden seemed very "empty." I made a cat tree for Dexter which I gave to another friend and seeing the cat tree generates memories as well.

So sorry to hear of your loss. May you gain strength from all the good memories that were created.

dykewife said...

i'm so sorry. losing a friend, whether human or with four feet, is painful and difficult to adjust to.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Oy. Some people.

I'm so sorry about your cat (and about missing the update until now). We had to put our own orange tabby to sleep last November and it was terrible. They leave a hole much bigger than you'd think such small animals could.

susurro said...

first, I'm shocked by some of these comments. Empathy is hard for some people but I thought we all knew basic things to say or not say.

yet, reading thru your list I was reminded that one of my closest friends called when Michael Jackson died completely unhinged, when I reminded her that today was the day my dog went in to have grapefruit sized cancer removed and that I needed to keep the main line free in case the vet called, all she said was "oh" and then tried to keep talking. She was actually annoyed when I said "seriously, I'm getting off the phone."

It's good that you can place these moments in a context that makes it easier to deal with people who have disappointed in the future. I'm looking at this post and trying to do the same. Often when ppl don't seem to get it, I liken it to if they had cancer or if their pet had cancer and try to get them to see it through those eyes. It just depends how much energy you have to engage them, how much you want to try and give them a context they can relate to for understanding after they've unintentionally caused hurt.

Please know that all our love is with you right now. Try to focus on the joy he brought and not the emptiness of the house. & even if it feels like no one gets it, grieve as long as you need. you and your cat both deserve that.

Mel said...

I got to meet David Sedaris last fall, and one of the things he said he hates is when people say, "My pet is my child." I realized that he's right - pets are so much easier and don't usually wreck the car while running around with their buddies - but at the same time, they've each got their own personality and worm their way into your affections in a different way.

I won't say I don't play favorites among the bunch. My little dog is absolutely and utterly devoted to me, and I am, therefore, to him. But I do love them all, even my one remaining step-kitty, who will be a hot tranny mess until the day she dies.

I guess my point is that they're a part of your life, and it's right to mourn them. And anyone who says differently deserves a bitch slap.

Java said...

I now have a cat, the first cat I've had as an adult. My eyes are opened. I love my little fuzz-butt kitty.

I'm so sorry for your loss. Truly.

Roger Owen Green said...

Haven't had a cat in over two decades because the loss is so tremendous. Totally understand where you're coming from.

tornwordo said...

I was surprised at how poorly I took the death of my dog. I totally understand the grief and how some people have no grasp of their insensitivity.

Historiann said...

GayProf--that David Sedaris essay about the death of his cat is called "The Youth in Asia," and it's in _Me Talk Pretty..._

I think you'd enjoy it a lot.

Doug said...

People constantly amaze me at their ignorance.

I'm so very sorry for your loss, GayProf. Cats are family members. The unconditional love they bring into our lives cannot be diminished just because they aren't human.

Unknown said...

As I've said earlier, I am truly sorry for the loss of your kitty companion. As a mother to a human child, I can say without reservation that our pets are not our children. As the companion of several cats (and one dog) throughout my life, I can also say without reservation that our pets are a hugely important part of our family.
When my two old girls died from kidney failure, I was devastated. It took me such a long time to stop looking for them when I came home and to be able to talk about them without sobbing (and I was raised by an English mother so we NEVER cry!). At least one person said to me something like, "they weren't your kids, come on!" Does every loss have to be the most horrible loss we can imagine to be counted as a horrible loss?

Please, GayProf, take your time in mourning. In my tradition, we believe that you must mourn for a whole year--go through a whole year of firsts without your companion--before you can rejoin the community as a non-mourning member. During that year of mourning, the community must give you space to grieve and take care of you so that you can spend your energy grieving. This is an ideal that rarely happens in the real world, but the point is that you must go through the grieving process. The fact that the companion you lost is feline is not particularly relevant (although orange tabbies in general tend to be very special animals--almost all of them are male with the sweetest of dispositions).

Susan said...

Gayprof, like several others I missed the update on your previous post. So I'll just add my condolences. It's a hard thing to deal with, as I know from when my kitty died of kidney failure. As for the idiots you've had to deal with, people should remember that if you can't be sympathetic, keep your mouth shut.

Kendra Leonard said...

Gay Prof, I'm so sorry about your cat. I'm also very sorry that people are being so unsympathetic. My thoughts are with you.

Keri said...

I'm so sorry for your loss.

Belle said...

Words don't help, do they? I'll send hugs.


Earl Cootie said...

Losing a pet is such an intensely personal hurt. I never expect anyone to understand. But I would never expect anyone to say anything so heartless either. I feel for you.

squadratomagico said...

I also missed your previous update. I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your sweet and devoted kitty. I know how devastating it can be -- the friendship I had with my first kitty was so deep and trusting, I grieve for him still sometimes. There can be a bond with pets that is unlike a relationship with a human (like a child) but that is truly strong and abiding. Anyone who doesn't get that, has a fairly impoverished emotional imagination.

Here's wishing you more supportive friends, and the solace of time.

Tenured Radical said...

Yeah, what everyone here said. These absurd responses are also part and parcel of how self-absorbed many academics are.

And by the way? People who believe orange tabbies are ordinary cats who can be easily replaced are simply fools.


Carrie K said...


I'm so sorry to hear about your loss. I was a mess when Sheba had her stroke.

Anonymous said...

I'm very sorry for your loss.
As for the idiotic comments, words fail me.

Flavia said...

I'm so sorry, GayProf.

Dr. Bad Ass said...

Those were mean people who said those things, and thus you should ignore them.

I'm looking at the potential loss of my old scaredy-cat, Marty, and it makes me tear up even to think of it. She's 13 years old and is beginning to fail.

I'm so sorry that your buddy is not there to meet you when you come home.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Gayprof, I am so sorry to hear about your loss. I don't have my own animal companions/home-sharers/lap-warmers, but my best friend from grad school lost hers to kidney failure, and I know how much it hit her. At least you got to make each others' lives happier places for a time.

And honest to Wonder Woman, my word verification password for this post is "odcat."

dpaste said...

What a bunch of fuckwads.

Patrick said...

You're right, only people who had never loved a pet would be so clueless in this context. I'm with JP and others, loss is loss, and I hope you give yourself the space and time you need to mourn your kitty. Life is hard enough, we don't need to dismiss or discount the bonds that lighten it for us, now matter how or where they form.

Anonymous said...

Just found your blog through David's Someone in a Tree.
My belated sympathy for your loss. We've had pets all our married lives. We still mourn those we've lost. Our first were Tibetan Terriers, a very longlived breed. For the past year we've had cats and we've discovered that we are also "bi-aninmal".
Have you heard of the poem The Rainbow Bridge?
Although it makes me cry, it still is so uplifting and comforting.
May you find a new companion to make a new place in your life.