Dealing with the grief of losing a beloved feline furriend is something we’ve all either gone through or will at some point. We lost our beautiful black panfur Indy (photo below) in June of 2017 – he was 18 and it was devastating to say goodbye. Still miss him every day! >^..^<
It’s a difficult subject which is why we were so pleased to hear about a project from writer Sarah Chauncey called P.S. I Love You More Than Tuna. It will be the first illustrated gift book for adults grieving a companion cat.
It will help readers through their pain without being saccharine, heal through laughter as well as tears, and offer empathy without minimizing the reader’s pain or needing to “fix” it. Such a wonderful idea so we caught up with Sarah and did the usual deep dive … here’s what she shared with us:
Q: How did the idea for a gift book come about?
A few days after my 20-year-old cat, Hedda, died in December 2016, my friend Francis—a professional illustrator—sent me a drawing of Hedda, and a note “from” her that ended, “p.s. I love you more than tuna.” [below photo: the inspiring note and Sarah].
I cried and cried, and then a writerly part of my brain kicked in, and I thought, “That would be a great book title.”
At the same time, I was going through a period of wishing that Hedda could tell me that I gave her a good life, and that it was okay that I made the decision to end her life rather than having her suffer. And of course, that wasn’t going to happen.
So I wrote what I needed to hear. It came very much from the heart. My brain wasn’t fully functional at the time; it was less than a week after Hedda’s death, and I was in a fog. I showed the draft to a few people, and then life happened, Francis had a lot of other projects, and I thought maybe it wasn’t a good idea after all, so I put it on the back burner. But a few months later, a friend and fellow rescue volunteer, Barbra, talked me into fostering a feral mama she’d been caring for, along with one of her kittens.
Barbra has a large Instagram following (@fosterkittendiary) and her followers were really invested in Monet, so suddenly, I had 1500 new cat-loving Instagram followers. That’s when I realized that looking at foster kitten accounts on Instagram is a super-common way for people to cope after their cat has died. There are so many things that we all feel and go through after a cat dies, but because we usually go through that grief in isolation, we often don’t realize that others have felt the same way, too. I began to see the power of community in helping each other heal—not necessarily “get over” because I don’t think that happens. But we can come to terms with the loss.
I asked for volunteers to read the manuscript and tell me which lines resonated the most with them—they were really key in this process—and I fine-tuned it based on their feedback.
Above and following feline photos are all of sweet Hedda
Q: Tell us a bit about Francis.
I’ve known him about 10 years (he’s the husband of a good friend of mine – see photo below), and I’ve always been a huge fan of his illustration work. He has this amazing ability to draw from the heart and connect to others’ hearts. He reaches the child in all of us, and he often sees little details that others might miss. His drawings are incredibly emotionally powerful, yet simple. His approach to drawing actually influenced my approach to writing Tuna.
Q: Were you a cat writer before this?
Not at all! I always say that I wasn’t a cat lady; I was a Hedda lady. I wasn’t even really aware that there was a “cat community” online.
I’ve been a professional writer and editor for 25 years. My passion is writing creative nonfiction, but to make a living, I’ve written about all sorts of things—from entertainment to aerospace engineering and cybersecurity, sustainability and mindfulness—but with the exception of mentioning Hedda in personal essays, cats had never even crossed my mind as a topic.
Q: Who is the audience for Tuna?
My vision is that people will buy this book for their friends and family who are grieving. When Francis sent me that drawing, I felt seen, and I felt like my grief and relationship with Hedda were honored. I want others to have that same experience.
The text is funny and sweet and poignant—and the drawings are adorable—but I made an effort not to be sappy. I believe that both laughter and tears are healing.
On the other side of the coin, it’s painful (in a different way) to witness someone grieving their animal friend. Our culture doesn’t have any rituals around it, and it’s hard to know how to offer comfort. So gifting this book is a tangible way that friends and family can say to their grieving loved ones, “I see you.” And in the end, I think that’s the essence of what we really miss about animals. They see us.
We also intend for a portion of the proceeds to go to an animal charity. I’m working on that now, but I can’t talk about the specifics yet.
Q: Why a gift book for adults?
Grieving an animal as an adult is different. Children don’t yet fully grasp death, and usually they’re not the ones who make the decision that it’s time to humanely end the pet’s life. When cats live with us as adults, they witness our most vulnerable moments—romances and breakups, job losses and gains, emotional challenges, etc.
Yet when we’re grieving, it really does make us feel like a child again. It brings out something primal in us.
Q: When will the book be published?
Good question! I have an agent who is helping us find the right publisher.
Publishers are essentially investors, so at the moment, I’m trying to build up a business case. Publishers want to know that there is an audience ready and eager to buy a given book. Although the statistics are pretty compelling—in the United States alone, on average, 15,000 domestic cats die every day—they want a “platform,” social media numbers.
Q: What has surprised you the most, now that you’re part of the online cat community?
I knew the statistics, but it’s very different to be interacting with people every single day who are grieving. I’m not a grief counsellor, so it’s a very intense and sometimes overwhelming experience for me. Yet grief (of all kinds) is a universal phenomenon.
There are followers who I know I don’t agree with politically, and those whose background or daily experience is very different from mine…yet we share the universal human experience of losing a being that we loved.
If we can look at our commonalities, not just our differences, then we can see each other as fellow humans. In a world that’s deeply divided right now, our love for cats—and our grief at their passing—is something that we all have in common.
Q: What is #tunatributes?
Soon after I started the @morethantuna Instagram account, I realized that it would be great if people who were grieving had a way to receive support from others who had gone through the same experience.
I used to be part of a photography community on Instagram, and in order to participate in daily challenges, you had to leave insightful comments on others’ photos. Over time (this was back around 2012), this built a really supportive community. So I took that concept (post and comment) and adapted it.
People can use the hashtag #tunatributes when they’re grieving and want to receive support.
Credit: Photos provided by Sarah Chauncey