Guilt. Grief. They seem to go hand in hand. Every time I have grieved for a cat I have felt guilt. Each time I have wondered what I could have done differently. How I could have changed things. Did I do the right thing?
“Guilt is one of the most common response to loss” Murray told me. Guilt is so common, she says, because we are used to controlling everything about our pets life. We decide when they get fed and what they eat. We decide how and when they play or go for walks. We control their medical care and when they receive it. We tell them where they can sleep (though, for cats whether they listen is another story). But we can’t control death. Sometimes we can decide if and when we are going to euthanize them, in the case of sick animals, but even then our control is so limited. We can’t control how they respond to medication, or if they get sick. And that can be terrifying.
When Sam died it was very unexpected. He had been in to the vet a few weeks prior for a cardiac ultrasound. He had a heart arrhythmia, but minor. Both the cardiologist and his vet felt that it was of minor concern. Neither of them thought he needed to be on heart medications at that time; there was a good chance his heart condition was related to his newly diagnosed hyperthyroidism. After speaking with his vet (a good friend of mine still) we agreed to treat him for hyperthyroidism and recheck him to see if that worked. Before we had a chance to get him back for a recheck he died. It was most likely a heart attack or some such thing. He went peacefully in his sleep.
To make matters worse in the days before Sam died Crash had been horribly sick. He had a pancreatitis flair-up and I was so focused on him. The day Sam died he was acting strange, but I decided I would just keep an eye on him, it was nothing worth rushing to the vet for. I know that even if I had taken him to the vet there is a strong likely hood he still would have died. It doesn’t keep me from feeling guilty.
For weeks afterwards I felt guilty. I blamed myself, I blamed the doctors, I blamed myself some more. I was so angry. I kept telling myself I should have put him on medicine, I should have taken him to the vet, I should have paid better attention to him. All the “shoulds” and “if only’s” added up. I was angry. I jumped every time the phone rang.
With guilt we seem to think if we could figure out what we did wrong we could fix it and get our pet(s) back, says Murray. But we can’t.
Muffin’s illness came on very suddenly, and for a month I tried to treat her. She would rally and then plateau. Rally and plateau. She fought and fought and had spirit in her eyes until the last moment. It was horrible. I couldn’t make the decision, I didn’t know what to do. Now that she is gone I feel guilt over the thought that I kept her alive too long. I worry that I should have euthanized her sooner. I wasn’t ready to euthanize her though. I wasn’t ready to let go, and she kept fighting. Murray reassured me there is “no perfect, right time” to euthanize a sick pet.
Murray assured me that what I went through was normal. She said when we are grieving, or getting ready to say goodbye we are under stress. When we are under stress we think differently, especially when emotions are involved. After all “who wants to think rationally with a loved one.” Listen to the advice of your veterinarian, try to listen to your heart, and watch your pet. Muffin told me when she was ready to go, that last day she told me. She told me with her body language, with the fire that had gone out of her eyes. She told me she was tired and ready. And I knew at that moment it was time. Watch your pet for signs, and listen to your heart because you know your pet better than anyone. It has been my own experience as a veterinary assistant and as a grieving pet owner that doing these things helps to lessen the guilt. Lessening the guilt helps to lessen the pain and makes grieving a bit easier. At least, from my own experience. There will always be guilt though. You will always wonder what you might have done differently. Talk about this with someone. Don’t keep it bottled up inside. Share your concerns with people who love and support you.
Tomorrow I will post my final entry in the series. Finding Support.