Staying Sober After the Loss of My Cat

I got Lucius at a farm on my way home from work one day. It was a rainy September day and a coworker had mentioned that there was a family giving away kittens. I had wanted a cat for quite some time, and with my wedding coming up in less than a month, I thought the timing was perfect. My then fiancé/current husband and I were unsure about whether or not we wanted to have children at the time. I was 23 and he was 25, and we only knew that we loved each other and wanted to spend our lives together. I thought raising a cat together would be a wonderful experience and bring even more joy to our lives. I was absolutely right about that, but I wasn’t prepared for how much it would hurt to have to say goodbye to him 14 years later….

Lucius was such a sweet cat. He was playful, affectionate, and goofy. He loved to play, especially with those sticks with feathers at the end of them! We’d hold the stick up in the air and he’d jump so high to grab the little feather with his claws. We often did this whenever we had company because we were so proud of how high our kitty could jump. People were always impressed and delighted by it.

He had some funny quirks as well. He liked to eat catnip, not just roll in it. He hated the sound of anything that rattled. And he was terrified of laser pointers…for some reason. We were never sure why, but we discovered that randomly after getting him a laser pointer for Christmas one year. He didn’t want to chase it like most other cats do. He would just run away from the little red dot and hide upstairs immediately! We got rid of it after he did that a few times.

A few weeks ago, we noticed Lucius was sneezing a little bit, but we really didn’t think anything of it because he seemed perfectly healthy otherwise. His breathing sounded fine and he didn’t have a runny nose or anything like that. He was eating and drinking normally, sitting with us on the couch. He even chased our son’s mechanical lizard toy around the kitchen one night! We chalked the sneezing up to dust from the furnace running since he seemed fine.

Then, on Friday night last week, my husband called me upstairs. Lucius was in the office and was breathing heavily and making a funny noise. I figured he had a bad cold and he probably needed an antibiotic. I called our vet and asked if I could bring him in that afternoon, but they said they were too busy and suggested we call another vet if it couldn’t wait until Monday. I didn’t want to risk his cold getting worse, so I called around to other veterinarians. Finally, I found one that could see him in the morning. I figured that would be soon enough. We brought Lucius’ food and water upstairs and made a comfortable bed for him with some blankets. He had stopped making the funny noise, but his breathing was still labored. My husband and I checked on him throughout the evening. He mostly slept.

In the morning, Lucius was still breathing funny and he didn’t want his food or water. He hadn’t eaten or drank anything the night before as far as we could tell either. He also didn’t want his morning treats. And when he meowed, I noticed it sounded different. But he still seemed alert and he was moving around on his own, so I still wasn’t too worried. I was just glad we had an appointment with the vet so we could find out what was wrong and get him healthy again.

My husband put Lucius into his carrier and I headed out the door with him. I remember telling my husband, “I’ll probably be about an hour, maybe less. I’ll keep you updated.” I was completely unprepared for what was coming.

I arrived at the vet and called to let them know I was in the parking lot with Lucius (because Covid precautions). They called me back a few minutes later and said to bring him in. The vet tech asked me a few questions about his condition and asked if I could give him medicine at home if needed. I said that I could, then she took Lucius in the carrier to the exam room and told me the vet would call me when he was finished. I went back out to my car to wait.

Those 5-10 minutes while I was in my car are the last thing I remember clearly. My phone rang and the vet asked me to come inside. He was standing in the lobby when I walked in and he immediately said, “I’m sorry, but your kitty is not doing well.” My heart sank, but I thought maybe he meant he needed surgery or some other kind of big treatment to get better. Then, the vet said, “He’s trying to die and he’s suffocating. The most humane thing to do would be to put him down.” Shock and horror. I brought my sweet kitty and companion of 14 years in for what I thought would be a quick visit for some antibiotics to make him feel better and now I was being told he was dying, suffocating, needed to be put down. I started sobbing immediately. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It made no sense! I told the vet I had had him since he was a kitten, that I’d gotten him just before my husband and I were married. The vet seemed truly sympathetic, but he said there was nothing he could do and that suffocating was a terrible way for a cat to die. I told him I needed to call my husband.

The rest was a blur. I think I was in shock from the moment he told me Lucius was dying. I couldn’t think straight. All I knew was that I couldn’t let him suffer and I wouldn’t let him die alone either.

My husband got there about 20 minutes later. By then, I was sitting in a private room with Lucius on my lap. The vet tech had wrapped him in a towel and he had a catheter placed in his arm to make the injection easier. His breathing was still labored and I think they had given him something already to relax him because he seemed really calm. They gave us some time to say our goodbyes to Lucius, but it went so fast. Before I knew it, the vet was walking into the room with the syringe and he knelt down in front of me. He explained that it was an overdose of an anesthetic that would cause my cat to fall asleep and die quickly and painlessly. My husband pet his head as the vet administered the injection. He twitched once as the fluid started to go into his arm and then he was gone. I felt him go limp in my arms and sobbed. My husband and I stayed with his body and cried together for a while. When we finally pulled ourselves away, we were both so shaken and raw. It was all I could do to make out the check to pay for the “procedure” and his cremation costs. My husband placed his empty carrier in the trunk of our car and we drove home in silence.

My cat Lucius wasn’t the first pet I have lost, but it was the hardest pet loss I have faced so far. I wasn’t prepared for it at all and, although I am doing much better now, I am still trying to make sense of what happened.

After we returned home, my husband and I were destroyed. We could barely do anything. We tried in vain to distract ourselves. I barely ate or slept for three days. The sadness came in waves, and I sobbed at random when each wave of sadness reached its peak. Everywhere I turned in our house reminded me of Lucius. His food bowl, his basket, his toys, his favorite spots to snuggle…I couldn’t escape the reminders. Late at night on the day after he died, my husband and I went around the house and lovingly placed our kitty’s things in a box, then put it on a shelf in the garage. It was heartbreaking.

Someone told me, the first few days are the hardest, and they were absolutely right. I wanted to drink SO badly! But instead, I allowed myself to feel it all. I was in so much pain for those first few days, but every day it has gotten a little easier. I still miss my cat, but I am eating, sleeping, and functioning again. I made it through the hardest days of grief without alcohol and I am so grateful for that.

How do you survive a loss like this without drinking? I don’t have a simple answer, but I can tell you that my spirituality and the coping techniques I have developed in the first months of my sobriety had a lot to do with it. If you’re struggling with losing a pet right now, I am so sorry. I don’t think there’s any one right way to get through it, but here are a few suggestions based on my experience:

  • Read something inspirational or comforting. Every morning and throughout the day when I was feeling really low, I would turn to the Bible. The verses that came up randomly each day were oddly specific to my situation and, whether that was a coincidence or not, I found that so comforting.
  • Write about how you’re feeling. Especially early on, I found it easier to write about the feelings I was having than to describe them. It gave me a way to organize my thoughts about what had happened and I think it calmed me, too.
  • Pray or meditate. I prayed for strength often as I rode out the difficult emotions that took over after I lost my cat. Each time I prayed, I felt a little better.
  • Keep your “why” in sight at all times. I reminded myself why I got sober in the first place more in the days after losing my cat than I probably have in the past 5 months. My emotional state was so raw and unstable that I had to keep doing this. Write it out, post it somewhere visible, talk about it with someone…just never forget why you quit.
  • Reach out to friends and family for support. I really went all out with this because I was an absolute wreck and I knew I needed lots of support if I was going to make it through this loss sober. I told my parents what had happened, I told my sisters, and I talked with friends, I posted on Facebook, I posted in a support group on Reddit, and I wrote this blog post. Having so many outlets helped me a lot, especially when people shared that they had been through a pet loss as well and could relate to my pain. It made me feel less alone.
  • Know that your pet wouldn’t want you to drink. I knew that Lucius wouldn’t have wanted me to return to the dark place that I had so painstakingly worked to escape. He loved me, after all! Drinking also wouldn’t bring him back or make me feel any better in the end. Staying sober through the pain was important for me to honor his memory.

I hope that this post has brought you some comfort, inspiration, and strength today! If you’ve lost a pet, I am so sorry for your loss. Please be kind to yourself as you work through the grief.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.” -Isaiah 9:2

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