Monday, 7 October 2013

A Cat’s Guide to Coping with Grief

The past two weeks have been an ordeal for us humans here at the homestead, but through the sadness of losing their Mum, our remaining cats - brothers Titan and Orion – have been a constant source of comfort and kitty cuddles. Their father ran out on them before they were born. Scratchy was their parents, and now they are orphaned. It really should be us furless ones consoling them.

Yet, the boys get along with their cattypuss routine just as they did before. There’s a little more food in their dish at din dins, a little less poop in the litter tray and extra space on the bed to choose from when curling up to sleep, but there’s no trauma… no frantic pacing of the house, crying and howling, mourning the loss of their dear mother.

As the cyber-pandemic of hyper-viral cat memes shows, we like to project opinion upon our kitties, and though I’m sure there have been a number of moments and incidents since Scratchy died that I could narrate as the boys recognising their loss, they would be romantic imaginations.

One such event was that I was cuddling them both on my bed and – which happens rarely – they were close beside each other. Titan gave a polite nod to Orion, before bopping foreheads, and – almost unheard of – Orion didn’t feel he had to retaliate. He bopped right back, with a purr. I wondered if they realised it was just the two of them, now, and maybe they were becoming closer because of it. Almost the instant I thought that, Titan bit Orion’s ear. He couldn’t resist it. It’s what he does. Orion leapt up and swiped Titan across the face, then he jumped off the bed and ran downstairs.

The truth is, they’re just getting on with their lives, doing what they always do, and though, through the filter of the human ego, it may seem they’re coldly aloof to Scratchy’s disappearance, it gives me peace that they don’t grieve like we do.

Eckhart Tolle famously wrote:

“I’ve lived with several Zen masters - all of them cats.”

Such truth, and we can learn so much about present awareness just by making our fluffy companions the focus of our attention… and, thus, zoning into the moment. Depending on their schedule and assuming they have free time for a massage, lovingly stroking a kitty is a perfect portal to a wrap-around experiment in mindfulness.

(There will be so many people out there who will insist that practicing mindfulness is too difficult, to the point of assuming it’s personally impossible, yet they’ll do it like masters when they’re pampering their pussies.)

In the first few days after Scratchy departed, I’d look at Titan and Orion and get a sick feeling in my chest, wondering which one would be next… which one would be left… how much longer would I have with them? I soon recognised and recalled, though, that that was just my stupid ego-brain thinking – not to be listened to, as usual - and miring myself in such consideration was wasting both our time.

Now, once again, I find myself hypnotised by them as they flop down beside me, purring and snuggling in beside my chest, or as they dance around the garden, tails up, chasing a moth or something that most likely isn’t even there. I watch, listen and feel… and smell, too, occasionally, when they yawn mid-cuddle and I get a waft of cat breath. (I was going to say that no, the final of the five senses is off the agenda when immersed in the cat appreciation experience, but I swear, sometimes Titan lets one off and it is so thick and rancid a pollutant of the air, you do seem to be able to taste it, even if you evacuate to other areas of the house.)

Focussing the senses allows us to become reacquainted with joys the mind has long-ago labelled mundane. You can drive through the same stunning woodland every weekday morning, but only ever see the road. You can look at your partner and see a familiar face, rather than get that rush of adoration, lust and gratitude that used to hit you in the early days of your relationship. A purr can be just a noise you hear.

Invoking present awareness gives us the opportunity to refresh our experience of life. It can be a challenge to keep on refreshing, especially when you feel like you’re under artillery assault from the encircling armed forces of Shitland, but the wild thing is that – truly in every moment; including the toughest moments – we can step back into our tranquil centre and let go… even just for a little while… shutting out the mental clatter and all the drama that whistles and whirls around us as we forge forward along these paths we choose to walk.

I’d like to come back as a cat, if reincarnation works. Our ‘superior’ Super-Ape brains are good for a great many things – such as inventing the Internet and discovering the perfect recipe for Carrot Cake – but, despite all the philosophical rumblings from humanity over these past few thousand years of so-called civilisation, cats are far our superior when it comes to just chilling out and letting worries drift away.

Cats are indeed our little Zen teachers, and not everyone will be fortunate enough to learn from them, but I am grateful for all the lessons from my feline friends, past, present and future. I will aspire to be more like a cat from meow on!

(P.S. If you've enjoyed this and have the will and ability to contribute to my ‘fighting fund’…  donations would be most welcome through PayPal, at ‘’. Anything would be greatly appreciated!)


  1. We live with four kitties, have lost many ( Frisky was in her mid twenties) and know what you say. It was gut-wrenching at the time. Thanks for your thoughts and not jacking it in cyber- wise. I have Scratchy's pic as wallpaper I felt sick at his passing

  2. Purr-fect!! Cat's dominance order a little like people. That also in play. When our dominant Captain died, his brothers struggled with who would lead. We still see Sean after he died. Do the cats?

  3. I have had cats all my life, and therefore understand what you're feeling.
    My mom always reminds me "It's not just about what you give them in their lives. The most powerful thing is what they give to you."
    Don't dwell on how much time you have with them, just enjoy the time, no matter how long it is.

  4. Nice post... i love cats too... who doesn't?? haha..

  5. I had never looked at my cats as Zen Masters. I know they have looked up at me as one of several awkward giants they tolerate, but I like the idea of calling them Zen Masters. I think Zena, my girl cat, would be better categorized as a Kitty Jedi because of her special power to put me to sleep as soon as she snuggles up with me and purrs.

  6. I think often the cats know what we need much better than we do. We get so focused on our work and our life that we forget to stop and just enjoy the moment and relax. We had 3 cats until a few years ago when we had to put one down due to health issues. I was amazed at the change in the other two cats towards me when that happened. The one we'd had to put down had been the attention hog of the family. The two girls left behind, one was moderate and the other hid from everyone and everything. However, after we put him down that third one started coming around us more again. She started climbing up on the furniture next to us asking to be petted. And the other one that had been in between seems to have taken over the role as attention hog. As I grieved over losing the one cat the other two comforted ME. I never really even thought about the idea that they might be mourning too.

  7. The more I thought about this post the more it spoke to me. In the end I had to share it in today's "Sunday Inspiration" post on my blog:

  8. when my dog Molly died I swear her cat Goldie cried for a couple of days after. To all or our furry friends- Every day I drive down the same road, and every day I slow down as I past a farm on the road. I slow down because the farm has kittens and chickens walking freely around the yard. I like seeing the kittens, chickens and cows out on nice sunny days, sometimes one of the cows sticks its mouth through the wire fence and eats because after all the grass is always greener, but I always slow down to keep an eye out for the critters. There is this one black and white cat that has crossed the street a few times that I have driven by and I stopped and allowed it to cross. I always tell it to be careful. A couple of days ago I was driving down the same road I do every day at the same time but this time it was different. I slowed down to look out for the chickens and kittens and that was when I saw the black and white cat laying still in the middle of the road. My heart sank into my chest. I didn't know the cat but I cared about it as if it were one of my own pets and felt sad for the rest of that day. I still slow down every day and watch out for the chickens and kittens still hanging around the farm.

  9. Isn't it interesting how in Zen moments, wisdom of the ages will come through our consciousness ... I wrote a poem about cats which I will post on your facebook to make it easier for sharing.