How paintings help with grief

May 29, 2024

Two years ago I decided to make a painting of Mitsy’s signature move: looking at the world topsy-turvy. She still loves to do this and she is the only cat I have ever had that does that.

Not long after, I also felt called to paint our other resident cat, Suzi. And of course Mitsy was very interested in it…

Our sweet red female Suzi has since passed. She fell ill and within a couple of days it became apparent that she had inoperable cancer. We decided to let her go, a blessing we can bestow on our pets to save them from terrible pain and hardship. This is now 3 months ago, to the day.

In the weeks that followed her passing, the painting I had made of her in May 2022 was an incredible source of comfort to the both of us. The painting really captured who she was and what she looked like, even if I say so myself. And at times we both felt that she was still with us. I think the biggest grief we felt was that we could no longer SEE her. We could think of her and we had our memories, but missing the familiar image of a cat in the house is just a terrible pain. But the painting truly helped. We regularly catch Mitsy staring at it too. Who knows what she makes of it…

I do remember that we witnessed a similar phenomenon when my senior cat Dixie passed. Suzi, at the time still a relative newcomer in our house, gladly took her place in the corner of the living room. It was super comfy and caught a lot of sun = warmth. The below picture was made before I made a new painting of Dixie and there was a beloved photograph of her in that corner. I would see Suzi sit there quietly, staring at it for minutes, before she went to sleep. It does makes you wonder if cats recognise their old companions from photographs and paintings…

Dixie’s painting in the making, a few weeks later. At the time, I worked in a basement that lacked a lot of natural life. Painting her was part of processing her loss; I barely remember making it. But I do remember this moment: when the painting was almost finished, I stood there, brush in hand, when suddenly the sun hit it. This never happened. I was never in the basement that early in the morning. It felt as if Dixie was saying hello and I burst into tears. It was 3 weeks after she had passed. The painting still gives me comfort, every time I look at it.

I hope that Mitsy’s painting will give us joy for many more years to come. But I hope that her passing is a long, long time in the future. It does not bear thinking of right now. She is still young, we think maybe four years old, and super healthy, so with a bit of luck, she has many good years in her. But in the meantime, being able to see Suzi and Dixie every day will keep warming our hearts and softening our grief. In a way, they are still with us.

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