May 1, 2013

Atheist Grief

My cat passed away on the 22nd. I say cat, but he was only a kitten; 9 weeks old when he we put him to sleep. I've been asking questions ever since.

Death is a topic I less than rarely see talked about by the non-religious. I don't know if it's because we try to avoid the subject or if it's because we haven't been around death enough to have been able to become resilient.

I have never really been religious, even as a child. But I did like the idea of heaven, and I think that idea was what held me from accepting my non-belief for years. When I was a child (I don't remember the age, but I was younger than 10), our dog died from bone cancer. This was my first experience with death, and my only experience until my grandmother died when I was 15. I wasn't very close to my grandmother, so her death didn't affect me very much. It was the death of a relative that I didn't know very well.

I'd say the first time where I had actually balled out crying was when a friend and mentor of mine died in a car accident. I didn't cry to the same extreme when our mastiff died; his death was expected. He was old; he was older than his breed usually got. I practically grew up with him, so he was more of a member of the family than he was a pet.

Siegfried after adoption

My girlfriend and I didn't have Siegfried for very long. He was 5 weeks old when we took him into our care, and we knew he was sick when we adopted him. I was the one who got to name him, and I chose Siegfried. I thought it would be a fitting name for a cat who I thought would recover from his sickness. The name Siegfried is derived from Germanic elements meaning "victory" and "protection".

When we first adopted him, he had fleas and an eye infection, and the vet thought he had herpes of the eye. He got better after a week, and for another week, was active. He was afraid of everything at first, including his toys, but watching him learn was fascinating to me, as I had never had a cat, or a kitten, before.

About a week later, he injured himself, likely from climbing onto and off of things that were too high for his little self. His injury caused him to limp and later, to have him prefer to have us carry him to his food, water, and litter box.

After another week, his limp was gone and was able to walk himself wherever he wanted, and was climbing again, but carefully. But he was lazy now, I thought because we had spoiled him when he was injured and because he was bored of his toys.


During the morning of the 22nd, we saw improvement from him, to which I was excited about. Our usually lazy uninterested cat walked himself out of our room and into our bathroom where Anraleth was straightening her hair and where I was doing my own hair; we were preparing to head out to the store. When we got back  home about three hours later, Sieg was still doing fine. Laying down, but attentive and purring. But a few hours later, his breathing became labored and was so lethargic, he couldn't stand up, much less have much interest to bring his head up, or even to chew food.

We took him to an animal hospital.

I did some research the night of and the morning after we lost him. Based on his symptoms, he had haemolytic anaemia, likely inherited.

I was shocked when we were in the animal hospital's waiting room. I probably still am, and I likely still will be by the time this article is posted. He was doing well all day, but then so very suddenly, he got very very sick.

The questions I had been asking were being asked because I don't know how to handle grief. Even though I wasn't religious as a child when our first dog died, I liked the idea of heaven that my parents told me about, where animals get to go there as well.

I am an atheist, but I miss the comfort and the convenience of religion. I wish I could believe that Siegfried was in kitty heaven playing with yarn and being happy instead of him always being sick like he was with us. I wish I could believe that there was a reason why Sieg was born with bad genes, like there was some sort of benign plan laid out for him. I wish these things, because it wasn't fair to him to have been born with genes that would lead to his early demise.

In my search for answers, I've found that there aren't really any.
I just wish I could have grown up with him.
My only solace is that he's not suffering anymore like he was that night.
I just hope he felt at peace when he was being put to sleep.

I've found that George Hrab's "Small Comfort" is at least a start for coping.

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author Tiger Craven About Tiger
Tiger is a 22 year old college student, activist, and professional living in the Saint Louis metro area. When he's not being apathetic to the idea of God or writing about atheism, he is serving a presidential term for a mental health organisation and a board membership of another, does public speaking about mental illness and disability, and is a photographer and a bassist.