Question from a reader: I have been grieving the loss of my cat for some time now, and the pain does not go away. I am still very sad and wondering what kind of help you can give me. I keep thinking—did my Mittens go to heaven or not? I had a very tight bond with this cat. I miss her companionship every day and I miss her so much.
Marty Tousley, CNS-BC, FT, DCC, responds: I’m so sorry to learn of the death of your beloved cat Mittens, and I offer you my deepest sympathy. Having lost my own beloved Tibetan terrier Beringer just last month, I certainly can relate to what you are feeling.
You’ve asked if your dear little Mittens went to heaven. I’m not a biblical scholar and I cannot point you to any passages in the Bible that address the issue of whether animals go to heaven, but I can tell you that you are not alone in asking that question. Many bereaved animal lovers struggle with whether they’ll be reunited with their beloved pets in the afterlife.
I can also tell you that, whenever we are confronted with a significant loss, it is absolutely normal for us to question the spiritual beliefs that we’ve held all our lives—the really big ones, like “Is this all there is?” and “What is the meaning of life?” and “Where do we go when we die?” There is no denying that death is a very spiritual event. When one of our cherished pets dies, it is evident to us that the pet’s spirit is no longer in his body. So where did that spirit go? What happened to it? Is your cat’s animal spirit okay? Can you still communicate with her spirit in any way?
As a grief counselor who also specializes in pet loss, I have worked with many bereaved animal lovers over the years, all of whom have their own spiritual beliefs. Some take great comfort and peace in the belief that their animals are okay and being cared for in a different realm (see, for example, the Animals’ Eden and Rainbow Bridge stories you’ll find on my website’s Comfort for Grieving Animal Lovers page). Others believe their animals may come back and be reincarnated in a different form. Still others experience a crisis of faith, questioning everything they ever believed before.
This is what I consider to be one of the great Lessons of Loss, that such a profound life crisis forces upon us an opportunity to re-examine our basic values and beliefs and pushes us to grow. I encourage you to think of your Mittens’ death as an opportunity to explore your own values and beliefs, in your own way, in your own time. Don’t let anyone (relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, clergy) tell you what you should believe or even what brings you comfort. We can look to others and their beliefs as models to learn from, but in the end we each must discover and clarify our own beliefs. We can find comfort in them and let them serve us.
I can also tell you that there are a number of books out there about this subject, which in itself tells you that you are not alone in your search for an answer to your question. Some are better than others, of course. I happen to prefer children’s books, because their message is simpler and less preachy, they are so beautifully illustrated and they bring me more personal comfort. But there are books directed at adults as well. Here are just a few of both types:
Blessing the Bridge: What Animals Teach Us about Death, Dying and Beyond ©2001, by Rita M. Reynolds
Animals and the Afterlife: True Stories of Our Best Friends’ Journey Beyond Death ©2006, by Kim Sheridan
I Will See You in Heaven ©2010, by Friar Jack Wintz
I Will See You in Heaven (Cat Lover’s Edition) ©2011, by Friar Jack Wintz
Bill at Rainbow Bridge ©2010, by Dan Carrison
Will I See Him Again? (A Look at Pets in Heaven) © 2005, by Tom Waldron
Who Says Animals Go to Heaven? © 2008, by Niki Behrikis Shanahan
Cold Noses at the Pearly Gates ©2008, by Gary Kurz
Goodbye Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet © 2006, by Gary Kowalski
Will I See Fido in Heaven? © 2005, by Mary Buddemeyer-Porter
Paw Prints in the Stars: A Farewell and Journal for a Beloved Pet ©2008, by Warren Hanson
All God’s Creatures Go To Heaven © 1996, original story by Amy Nolfo-Wheeler with illustrations by N. A. Noel
For Every Cat An Angel © 2001, by Christine Davis
For Every Dog An Angel © 2004, by Christine Davis
If you click on the titles above, you’ll be taken to Amazon’s description and reviews of each. I’m sure you could find one or more of these at your local library, or you could ask your librarian to order some of them. Be sure also to visit some of the wonderful sites I’ve listed on my Memorializing a Pet page.
I hope this information proves useful to you, my dear, and I hope it helps to know that I’m thinking of you and your precious companion at this sad time.
© 2011 by Marty Tousley, CNS-BC, FT, DCC