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Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: The Loss of a Pet and the Afterlife

Bethany Sullivan

Apr 15, 2024

"In the silence of loss, I cling to the whispers of hope, believing that beyond the veil of goodbye, our beloved pets wait, their love an eternal beacon guiding us through the darkness."

In June 2022, my family had to put down our cat. How much we loved Sassafras cannot be overstated. My sister aptly said that he had been the heart of our family. In many ways, he felt like the nucleus of our family. He pulled all of us closer together. He was the kind of cat—indeed, the kind of being—that is so special and beautiful that I won’t be surprised if I never meet another like him in the rest of my days.

I had lost a couple of other loved ones before this, including two cats. But Sassy was a load-bearing part of our household, and my life, for fourteen years. It was the first time I lost someone central to my own life and routine, day in and day out. The others were more peripheral, more distant. The spaces they left behind didn’t leave a gaping hole I was painfully, horribly aware of every single day in the same way that Sassy did. He was missing from small moments in all 24 hours of the day, and the texture and rhythm of life were forever changed by losing him. We were ceaselessly blessed by his presence in a way that we can never recover.

There is comfort in the fact that I was always aware of this, and I have always made a point to try to appreciate the blessings, great and small, in my life so that I never look back and say, “If only I had appreciated what I had.” I did, and we all did, with Sassy. We constantly commented on how much we loved him, how lucky we were to have him, and how uniquely he brightened our lives. Our favorite thing was how, any time the whole family came together at the house, he always had to be there with us, sitting silently but happily in our midst. Especially at Christmas, when he was so pleased to have a tree indoors. He would sit under it, exuding his trademark calm contentment, from the day it went up until the day it came down again. And Christmas day was perhaps his favorite day of the year, when he had the special joy of sitting under the tree while simultaneously being surrounded by his whole family.

Christmas day never feels quite as bright or beautiful now that he has gone from among us. Yet we always remember him and send him our love.

His loss hit me hard. It would dawn on me again out of nowhere, as I was trying to fall asleep, with full force: I would never hear his tiny meow again, never be greeted by his eager, friendly face at the top of the stairs when I came home. His presence had been so grounding, so quietly self-assured. And he had loved life every moment of every day, soaking in the things he loved even at the end, when cancer was wasting him away. He would sit on the back porch, sleeping curled in a corner, basking in Dad’s presence as he read in a chair, or go stalking energetically through the grass, hunting for something. Even when he could no longer eat or drink, and it was clear that he was in and out of mind-numbing pain, he occasionally found the familiar energy he’d had throughout his life, the appetite to love what he had. He had always been this way. He was a true master of living in the moment. I’ve never met anyone else who was so happy.

But because he was so beloved, losing him filled me with a terror I’d never had before: what if death really is the end, and I really never see him again, not even when it’s all over for me? My belief in the afterlife had fluctuated over time, sometimes a deep conviction, at others a scientific impossibility. Sometimes the doubt bothered me, upset me, or simply made me uncomfortable. Other times, it didn’t seem to matter that much. So what if this is all we get? Would that really be so bad?

Suddenly, yes, that would be more horrible than anything else. To never meet someone you love ever again, to be parted from them eternally and irrevocably. Could there be anything more terrible than that? More tragic?

It was probably because of this dread that, when I was watching the Marvel show WandaVision, a line stood out to me so significantly: “What is grief, if not love persevering?” It seemed like a comically incongruent place to find wisdom at a time like this, but that line has been ringing in my head ever since.

It has made me contemplate the love, and grief, that I feel when I think about Sassy in a very different way. When I remember him and miss him so bitterly, I certainly am grieving. But instead of framing it that way now, I am more focused on the good feelings I still have—will always have—that make the grief so deep and acute. I miss him and grieve him because he was so important to me, and because I love him so much. I loved him then, and I still love him now. I always will. Nothing can change that or take it away. And that is always something to celebrate. I was lucky enough to have that gorgeous, wise creature in my life so pivotally, for such a long time, and not only to love him, but to be loved by him in return.

When I consider it in this way, it also feels different. It feels like that powerful, abiding love is a sort of tether or connection between us, and when I think about him, wherever he is now, receiving the love I’m still sending to him, it’s as if I can feel him on the other end of the line, active and present. It doesn’t feel like I’m broadcasting that love uselessly out into the spiritual stratosphere, into the void, to echo eternally across the emptiness; it feels like I’m speaking into a cup connected by taut string to another cup, out of sight but not so far away, where someone is listening, receiving, and transmitting back. And that feeling, more than anything I’ve ever felt before, convinces me that he is still out there, just around the corner, perhaps in the other room, ceaselessly loving us back.

the loss of a pet and the afterlife
In loving memory of Sassy.


Bethany Sullivan is a writer and traveler from Vermont. She has been writing since 5th grade and traveling all her life. Visit her beer and travel blog at


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