What do you do when your furbaby dies—especially when they were instrumental in coping with childlessness?
My beautiful rescue cat, Portia, recently died. She was nineteen and had a few health problems, but a few months ago she went rapidly downhill with suspected renal failure. She went very peacefully in the end. Just like that, she was out of my life.
Portia helped me cope with difficult life circumstances. She helped me survive singledom when I was living alone, keeping me company on long nights, cheering me up when I was stressed or sorrowful. Then I got married and became childless. She helped me survive that too.
She helped me survive singledom. Then I got married and became childless. She helped me survive that too.
I know having a cat is not the same thing as having a child, but Portia truly made a difference. She was a real lapcat and I didn’t know how much I needed that affection. Like any cat, she needed her alone time, but then she would come and find me for pats and cuddles and three-hour sleeps.
It wasn’t a one-way street. I enjoyed taking care of her just as much as she loved looking after me. It was a pleasure to fuss over her and give her treats. Even her interruptions, where she would jump up and paw at my lap when I was trying to write, were entertaining and sweet. Deep down, I didn’t mind. Sometimes she was a welcome distraction.
I enjoyed taking care of her just as much as she loved looking after me.
In her last few ageing years, she became frail and needed more intensive care. She couldn’t jump up on things like before. She needed daily medication. She required regular check-ups with the vet. In her last few weeks on earth, she was making a mess on a daily basis. There was a lot of mopping up to do. (Who says a furbaby ain’t the same as a child?!)
It seems strange to say, but while cleaning up after Portia felt like a chore at the time, I actually miss that now. Because it was an act of love. I was doing it for her. Now she is gone, and I don’t have to do anything for her anymore. Just how does one survive childlessness without their furbaby?
I felt the void of childlessness before, but now I feel it keenly. The house seems eerily quiet without her. I keep listening for the pitter-patter of her little paws, listening for her meowing, listening for the sound of her eating in the morning. Every once in a while, I think I can hear her gentle snoring.
I felt the void of childlessness before, but now I feel it keenly.
I see something move out of the corner of my eye and my brain thinks it’s her. I dream about her too, not as often as at first, but every few nights she pops up in my dreams. And it’s disconcerting. Because in my lucid dreams, I know she’s dead.
I keep waiting for her to come around the corner and jump on my lap. When I make my tuna salad, I want to call her and give her the empty tuna can, like I always did. It takes quite a bit of self-control not to call out. I miss her. I always knew she helped me cope with childlessness, but now it’s abundantly clear.
I feel, more than ever, the desire to look after someone.
The loneliness and grief of childlessness is more acute since her death. It’s hard to say how I’m coping with that, because I’m still in the middle of it. I feel, more than ever, the desire to look after someone. The maternal instinct persists. I am sure there will be furbabies in my future, but for now, I am doing my best to sit in this grief and not shy away from it. It sucks, and it’s yucky, but the only way out of grief is through. And it’s a way of honouring Portia and the love we shared.
She’s worth it.
Have you lost a long-term furbaby? How did you cope with that? Do you still feel their absence? How do you cope with childlessness in the void left by their departure? Share your story. Let’s have a countercultural conversation.