Originally posted Aug. 5, 2015, on my other blog.
Our cat Aoife died the end of June. It broke my heart.
You may not have known her name, but if you follow me on Facebook and Instagram, you knew her face. She’s the pretty little calico who kept me company (and warmed my lap) as I worked at the computer at my desk or on the couch.
I’ve waited a few weeks to write this post because it was hard to say goodbye to her. (I can tell you I’m failing; I’m starting to cry again.) Aoife had a severe case of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and while we were able to help her manage it for the better part of 10 years, in the end, the inflammation was just too much for her aging little body to bounce back from. We had to make the decision to let her go.
My son is 7, and while Aoife (pronounced EE-fa) was never allowed in his room to sleep with him (IBD can be messy), he became more attached to her in the two years since our other kitty, Rory, died. He would talk to her and pet her, and feeding her at night and giving her fresh water was part of his daily routine. Because he was older and closer to Aoife, her death hit him harder than Rory’s did.
So the night after she died, and the day before we brought her body to the vet for cremation, we held a memorial service. Aoife loved to sleep on fleece on the bed, so we sat on the bed with her one last time. The vet had put her body in a cardboard coffin, which I placed in the middle of the bed (on a fleece blanket, of course) with a candle and a bowl of 10 stones. I brought an empty cat food dish to the room as well.
First, we took turns reading “The Tenth Good Thing About Barney” by Judith Viorst. When I was a kid, this was the book we read when a family pet died. Checking it out from the library to read together was part of our ritual when dogs, birds, fish, and hamsters died. When our dog died in 1994, my parents bought me my own copy. Inside, I keep track of the pets we have lost since I got the book.
Then, we used the stones to list 10 good things about Aoife. She was soft. She liked to snuggle. She loved ear rubs. She would walk on a leash – and then beg at the door to go out every time we were outside. For each good thing, we put a pebble into the empty cat dish.
After that, we wrote messages on her box. It makes me smile now to think of the sweet things my son wrote: “I’ll miss you.” “Goodbye, kitty.”
To close, I read a chapter from “Why Cats Do That” by Karen Anderson. The passage is called “Why do cats completely endear themselves to us?”, and it’s all about how cats’ reputation for aloofness is untrue. They truly do love us – and to be loved by a cat is an honor.
Two years ago when Rory died, my son was five. He didn’t want to see Rory’s body; he didn’t even want to see the box. This time, he was OK being in the room with the box, and at the end of our memorial service, I asked him whether he wanted to see Aoife. I was surprised when he said yes. We talked about how soft she still was and that this was just her body – that the things that made Aoife Aoife were alive in our hearts and memories. I’m glad he chose to see her. I hope it made death just a little less scary and mysterious for him.
A couple of weeks later, my son and I made an Aoife memory book. I used this template from Fantastic First Grade Froggies. I love that it is open ended and was able to grow with him. When he was five, he drew pictures and I did the writing. This time around, he did more writing.
I hope this helps you guys. I’d love to hear how you help your kids (and yourself) cope with the death of a pet.
In memory of Aoife O’Brien. March 17, 2004-June 27, 2015. Thanks, Aoife, for letting us be your family.