Goodbye Bearcat and Mimi + How We Told Our Kids That Their Pets Were Gone
I secretly hate when people allude to either great news or bad news on social media without divulging, but now I realize why they/we do it. A few of you may have noticed that about a month ago, I was a bit absent from social and the blog. I just wanted to check in and say “I’m fine but something is going on” when really both my cats died and I was very sad. The loss of Bearcat was especially heartbreaking, as she was such a big part of our lives and on the blog and social a lot (Mimi preferred to be on her own). I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it without bawling, but not talking about and pretending I was fine felt awful. We had them for 13 years and then they were suddenly both gone.
For anyone who wants to know the details, keep reading. If you’re averse to super sad details, skip ahead a few paragraphs, by all means. So here’s what happened: It was 8:30 pm and I was writing at the dining table, after making my first soup of Soup-tember. Brian went outside to pull up the trash cans and I heard him whisper-scream “EMILY!!!” in a way that was terrifying and it will haunt me forever, followed by “Bearcat is dead.” I went to the front door and he met me with eyes full of sheer horror. I would later remark how crazy it is that emotions can produce such immediate physical responses. My eyes exploded with water, my throat closed up, and I started choking/crying. As I saw her body lying in the front yard, I collapsed onto the stairs.
We don’t know what happened and part of me doesn’t want to know because I fear it was my fault. You see, Mimi (our other, more independent cat), had been sick for a long time and refused even the finest of cat food and was losing so much weight, becoming terribly skinny. The only thing she loved was chicken. She would jump up on the island and beg for it, which was admittedly gross and infuriating, but the lady was old and hungry, so we would often cave in. That night, as I made my first soup, I shredded extra chicken and put it outside for Mimi. Bearcat could have died from a heart attack, or a coyote could have shaken her (they live in our area and there was fur all around her), but I really fear that she choked on the chicken I put out for Mimi. That maybe I didn’t shred it into small enough pieces.
I didn’t go outside to see her, I saw her from the front door. Brian said that only one of us needed to see it because you can’t un-see your first dead fur-baby and he didn’t think both of us needed to have that image forever branded in our brains. After googling what to do and calling Emily B. (who I knew had experience with this), he wrapped her in a towel and took her to the only nighttime vet that would cremate a cat at that hour (in a very depressing coincidence, it cost the same $50 to cremate her as it did to purchase her 13 years ago). I sat at home, nauseous and crying until he got home. I was feeling guilty in so many ways, but mostly just missing our Bear. Our little Bear Bear was gone.
I’ll be pretty honest here, we had two cats, we got them at the same time and I should love them both equally but I didn’t. Bearcat was special. She was the most affectionate, sweet, loving, cat ever. She would jump on your lap, rub her face against yours, snuggle into your arm all day every day, and purr so audibly that sometimes you couldn’t hear the TV. Everyone who met her remarked that she was the best cat that ever lived. She gave so much love, and our kids were obsessed with her.
Mimi was just a different story. During her last 10 years of life, she became unpredictable, rather “catty” and could be mean and lash out. She liked Brian more, but I was kinda scared of her, and so were the kids (although the kids were more fearless than I was around her). She was clearly so unhappy, and had been for years. They both suffered from upper respiratory infection, which they contracted from the Bronx housing project in which they were bred, amongst 15 other cats (at least). We bought them off Craigslist for $50 each. They both had ear mites and kitty aids. We debated calling the ASPCA but instead lied and told them we had called them (after we had our cats in our possession), but never actually did. Our hope was that they would be scared and stop breeding street cats, but we didn’t actually want them to get in trouble because clearly, their lives weren’t awesome if they were breeding stray cats for $50 a piece as a source of income in the projects. So they weren’t technically a rescue, but in some ways they definitely were.
That was when we were 25. When we moved to LA, before we had kids, we treated them like our children. Our friends remember us saying stuff like “we need to go, we miss our cats and want to get home to them.” At one point, I wouldn’t let a friend cat sit for us because I feared that if they let the cats get out and one of them got lost or killed, I could never forgive that person, and our relationship would be forever changed. So I would hire someone, a professional cat sitter (later our nanny) to stay with them.
What I’m about to write next may be asking for some pretty emotional and negative responses, but the truth is a lot of the guilt about Bearcat’s death was also guilt that we hadn’t been the same parents to her since we’d had kids. The first 10 years of her life she (and Mimi) were treated like gold. They received hours of attention a day. After we had Charlie, it diminished a bit, (Mimi actually ran away a few days after his birth and was only found after a week of Brian papering the neighborhood and spreading their litter and our dirty laundry outside our house). But then after we had Elliot, it got worse. We just didn’t have the hours in the day to give them the love that we used to and we felt AWFUL. We would complain about the smell of the litter box, how Mimi had been peeing everywhere, how they destroyed our rug, how they snotted all over our baseboard. Our laundry room was a constant source of disgust and annoyance with daily pee, litter, and often cat poop on the ground in the morning (despite a constantly fresh box). We complained about all of that, but we still loved them, especially Bear, so MUCH. I felt this incredible guilt in so many ways.
Meanwhile, we knew that Mimi was sick with kidney failure. Brian took her to the vet for the 4th time this year and the vet confirmed that she was dying, in pain, and miserable. So a few days after Bear suddenly died, we made the decision to put Mimi down. We had no doubt it was the right thing to do, but it still feels terrible to end the life of your pet, no matter how much you maybe didn’t connect with her.
It was super odd to go from two cats to none. But strangely, the kids didn’t notice. Both cats had become indoor/outdoor which reduces their lifespan by years, but they loved laying in the sun in the backyard all day and always managed to find a way out. They weren’t like dogs, making their presence known all day. They would often sleep in closets for hours or hang out under our bed.
For the first few days, I couldn’t talk about Bear without having to leave the room and immediately start bawling. So I knew that I wasn’t ready to tell the kids. Then I had to go up to Portland and I didn’t want Brian to do it by himself. PLUS the kids hadn’t asked where the cats where! So we kept putting off telling them and had an answer just in case they asked while I was out of town: that they were at the vet because they weren’t feeling well. But it never came up.
We knew that at some point we were going to have to tell them. But our kids are young, at the time not even 3 and 5. We now knew why parents say that family pets left to go live on a farm instead of telling their kids the much sadder truth. And despite my educated parent brain knowing that lying to them would be the wrong way to handle the situation, it just seemed so easy.
But as we grieved and healed, we both decided to tell them the truth. But how?? Obviously, I Googled it, but most of the advice was for “kids” around 7 and up, not small kids like Charlie and Elliot. We weren’t worried about Birdie, she is so young. But Charlie had been asking about death lately and we really didn’t want him to think that being old automatically means dying. He is VERY close to Brian’s parents and he knows that they are technically older than us, so we didn’t want him to think “if Bearcat can die just like that, then can Boba and Sue Sue?” I know that is a natural fear that he should process, but also easier said than done when you’re the one actually doing the parenting (like so much of parenting). We also didn’t want them to think that at any moment one of us could die, even though that is also true. We subscribe to the parenting style of making them feel secure and safe for as long as possible. I’ll go ahead and admit that we shelter our kids from unnecessary negativity all day every day. So talking about death and the fear of death was new and hard for all of us.
But we knew we had to. So in case you are in our same situation here is what we said, our script verbatim. It was Friday night, before family movie night and it was just the four of us.
Hey kids, we need to chat with you about something. We sat them down on the sofa. I don’t remember who said what, but Brian and I took turns and had rehearsed it a few times.
Remember how Bearcat and Mimi were really old? They nodded. For cats, they were the oldest they can be (a lie, but it felt okay). And you know how they were sneezing all the time and Mimi was really unhappy and skinny? They nodded. Well, we took them to the vet and they said that they were really sick and that it was their time, so they passed away.
Charlie got it immediately and started bawling and asked, Bearcat is dead?? and Elliot, hearing Charlie’s question and our answer, started crying, too. We said yes, buddy. Then I grabbed my “prop” (a glove), and put it on my hand. My mom had given me the idea for this analogy.
I put on a positive voice.
Listen guys, every person or cat is made out of a body and a soul, like my hand. Your body is like the glove and when it’s time for you to die, your body gets discarded (I took off the glove) and what lives forever is your soul (I happily wiggled my gloveless hand). I was even prepped for the oncoming questions. Where do souls go?
We don’t know, but we know that they are so happy, they are together as best friends, and their souls will always be with us. I kept reiterating that they were together and so much happier because they didn’t feel old and sick anymore. Which, in the end, made the kids super happy.
We related that we were also so sad and we missed them too, but without crying. Then I gave them a little stuffed animal that they could reach for, squeeze, and snuggle every time they missed the cats. Birdie was immediately fine and happy, having a new toy, and said I’m going to name her Bearcat. Internally, I was like hmm…uh, well, I’m not totally sure that’s what should happen, but I didn’t say anything and by the next day, she had already renamed her Alice.
That night, we all cuddled and watched a movie and the kids went to bed like normal.
The next day we got a call from their preschool teacher that Charlie was talking about his dead cats and really sad, so we walked her through what we had told him so that she could reiterate the same ideas. We picked him up from school and talked a bit more about it, sharing in his sadness. When we got home, we looked at a bunch of old photos of the cats, specifically Bear which made them both happy/sad.
So far, so good. We felt like we had helped them through this process in a way that taught them a bit about the process of life, while supporting their emotions and giving them some vocabulary to their feelings.
Then we had a parenting fail. A week later, we took them to get beta fish because they had wanted them forever. We honestly didn’t make the correlation that we were somehow replacing the cats with new pets. The kids were both asking for a dog but neither Brian nor I were or are ready for another real pet. I suppose we were trying to distract our kids from experiencing the pangs of missing the cats and putting off the impending dog situation. We wanted to give them some responsibility and help them understand how to care for something else, blah blah. They took to it all immediately, excited to feed them, telling them they were their “mommy and daddy” and saying good morning and goodnight to them. It was incredibly sweet. But a few days later, I overheard Charlie telling his friend my cats died so I got a fish, wanna come see? And I again thought uh, well, ok, but eek, I feel weird, he’s not wrong but it doesn’t feel right…
So that is where we are now. We try to bring the cats up in a way that feels positive so that we aren’t just shoving their feelings under the rug. We don’t want them to think that the fish replace the cats, so we try to separate the two but I think we probably should have waited a little bit longer between the two situations.
Meanwhile, the fish are now two weeks old and well, the kids are totally over them (SHOCKING). And now I have to change fish bowls every week. Our kids weren’t old enough to care for fish and let’s face it, a single beta fish in a glass bowl is a VERY boring pet. But these are the types of parenting tropes you don’t fully understand until you’re committing them yourself.
They both beg for a dog or cat, but we aren’t ready and they aren’t either. I miss Bear so much. I miss her snuggles, her soft fur. Her purr that was so loud you could hear her in my Insta stories. She was the sweetest, happiest, best cat in the world and even though Mimi didn’t want much to do with people, they were our first babies and it’s just odd to live without them.
Anyway, I guess I just needed to tell you all. Bearcat specifically had a big presence here, on the blog, and I couldn’t NOT tell you. Plus, I felt my mom’s advice was perfect for younger kids, and I hadn’t been able to find that kind of advice online. So if anyone has any other suggestions to share for anyone dealing with this situation, please leave in the comments.
Thanks for listening to my long journal entry about my cats.