20 Oct 2017
Coping with a dead house after a pet’s death: Empty beds and silence

Coping with a dead house after a pet’s death: Empty beds and silence

 As I write this, Tia has been gone for more than 230 days and Spartacus' health is not good. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say, we are not sure he will be with us much longer. In fact, a recent medical crisis has had us at the vet's office multiple times trying to stabilize his condition and return him to a decent quality of life. Some days we have hope, others we do not. 

This series of events has had my worrying mind pinging in all different directions. Most of the time, it lands on imagining what life will be like once our household is absent of all feline presence - and it terrifies me. The thought of rambling around an empty house without animation by anyone but me sets me to crumbling. I honestly fear for my mental health. Those of you who have had significaly close, personal relationships with their animal companions will understand my trepidation, but to paint a clearer picture for you of why this has me in such straights, here are some of the reasons I anticipate the loss of my last cat (Spartacus) to be so incredibly world-shifting for me:

  1. I have lived with my cats for over 21 years.
  2. As an adult, I've never lived in a space without my cats.
  3. For the past 10+ years, I have worked from home, thereby spending nearly 24/7 with my cats for that entire period of time.
  4. I have shared more hours and days with my cats than any other creature on earth, including my husband.
  5. The final 4 years of their lives have involved intensive, hands-on hospice care that has given me a purpose and occupied many hours of my day.
  6. We have no human children (by choice) and so there have been no other draws on my attention.
  7. I see my cats as unique, individual souls, the loss of which will be singular.

And so for me, once Spartacus passes away, I believe I will experience the grief equivalent to a mother who has lost two children to death, a parent who is faced with an empty nest, and a friend whose best friends have been taken away. The emotional struggles will be formidable. 

No kitty eyes will look up to see what I'm doing when I walk into the room.

No soft paws will follow me as I tidy the house.

No cat ears will perk up to listen to me as I prepare a meal.

No tail will wag to go outside with me when I get the mail.

No nose will sniff at every bowl to see if it's somthing tasty.

No wee furry body will lay beside me when I go to sleep and greet me in the morning.

There will be undeniable stillness, silence, loneliness. For this, I am afraid.

Empty Nest Pet Death Silence Tiny Pet Memories

Tools for Coping with the Empty House of Pet Loss

Some people call it a "dead house"; others an "empty nest". Either way, the idea is the same. I will be the only living presense in my house, and I know this will be very bad for my sanity. And so I am working how to prepare some activities and coping mechanisms that may help me move through this period of my life with more equanimity than I can imagine at the present moment. This is just an initial list - one I hope to add to as I do some more reading and research. 

If you haven't already, be sure to work on building out your network of support. Use this free printable to identify other sympathetic souls who can support you when you really need it.

Using My Pet Memorial Videos

As you may have already read, I've created pet memorial videos for my cats that contain all of the pictures and movies I've recorded of them over the years. This motion-picture, chronological exploration of their lives serves as stories I can watch any time if I cannot remember a certain look or how a favourite trick was performed. I used Tia's video as my screensaver for months after she died. It would turn on every time I'd be away from my computer and so I'd suddenly hear her meow or see her move through a room out of the corner of my eye, and it was almost like she was with me. I'd sit and watch it for many minutes each day. I plan to do the same once Spartacus goes for both of them, but may take it up a notch by having two computers set up in the house so that several rooms are animated by their recorded presences.

For some, I realize, even the smallest reminder of a lost pet - a chewed toy, the smell of wet dog, or a crumb of food - will send them into a grief spiral. Of course, if this is you, perhaps having a video of your sweet pet playing in the background will not be a good choice for you. Speak with your mental health professional if you're not sure what's the best choice for you.

Install a Water Fountain

I'm not sure if this will work, but it's something I think I'd like to experiment with. My thought is that if I can see something moving and alive in a particular space, it won't feel quite so dead and silent. Water takes on a life of it's own as it flows and so may prove as a welcome distraction to my loneliness. The sounds of trickling water are also quite soothing. So why not give a water fountain a try yourself? This tiered waterdrop is the one I'm trying. 

Work Outside My Home

As a freelance writer, I have worked exclusively from home for over 10 years. This has been a HUGE luxury, and one for which I am thankful virtually every single day. However, I fear that being alone all day with no one to talk to may be my undoing, at least in the first weeks and months. I think therefore I will plan to work from coffee shops, co-work spaces, or friend's house for all or most of my days as a way of ensuring I'm not too isolated and alone. Caveat: I like to grieve in private and so I'm not sure how I will balance the need to weep openly with working in public spaces. This, too, will be an experiment.

Babysit The Cats of Others

I have many friends and neighbours with cats and so perhaps I will ask if their cats and come over to visit me during the days so that I don't feel quite as alone as I might otherwise. Having them in my home will afford me the animation I want without the commitment and emotional drainage of taking on the responsibility of caring for another feline at this stage of my life.

Seek Advice of a Counselor 

These ideas of mine for coping with the realities of a silent house after Spartacus passes away are a start, but I feel like they will not be enough for me to avoid despair and depression. My hope is that I can seek out the guidance of a trusted therapist who can be a shoulder for me to cry on while also providing me with practical tools for working through this change in my life and the various stages of the grief. I know there will be many and having an expert walk beside me through the journey will no doubt be a wise move. I know others who have found solice in in-person or online pet loss support groups. Whatever your choice, having a network of grief support is supremely important - at least it has been for me.


This is a journey I do not look forward to, but one I hope to thrive through. I am open to suggestions of all kinds from others who have gone through something like this before. Please share your insights and the activities that helped you avoid sheer panic and anxiety of living in a house truly alone.

Images: Kari SheaDaniel Barnes

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