Conscious Cat

December 1, 2013 30 Comments

Conscious Cat Sunday: Finding Holiday Joy When You’re Grieving

Posted by Ingrid

holiday_joy_grief

Five years ago, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, I had to say good bye to my precious little Buckley. Even though I still miss her every day, after five years, the sadness is tempered by appreciation and gratitude for the amazing changes she has brought to my life, and, through her book, to the lives of so many others.

I had never lost a cat during the holidays, and that first holiday season without her was very difficult for me. I love the holidays, and my cats have always been an integral part of the celebrations. The year Buckley died, all I wanted to do was hole up in my house, and pretend that the holiday season wasn’t happening all around me. Thankfully, I had put up my Christmas tree the day before she died. I already knew then that she wouldn’t be with me at Christmas that year, and I needed to see her with the tree one last time. Otherwise, there probably wouldn’t have been a tree that year.

Even if your cat didn’t die around the holidays, the first holiday season without a beloved pet is always difficult. The holidays are stressful at the best of times. Add in the stress of grieving a loss, or even just the sadness of missing a beloved family member, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Even though it may seem impossible, the holidays can also be a time of healing, even in the middle of grieving. It is possible to feel grief and joy at the same time if you allow yourself to open your heart and experience the fullness of life. Perhaps the following suggestions can help you navigate the holiday season with a little less pan, and a little more joy.

Accept the sadness

It’s unrealistic to expect that you’re going to be happy all the time. Sadness is a natural consequence of lost love. Grief can deepen your ability to love if you let it. There is no way to get through grief except to let yourself feel it. Leaning into your grief will actually allow it to pass more quickly than avoiding it.

Make new traditions

Holiday traditions are important, but they can also make things more difficult if the lost loved one was an important part of those traditions. This may be the time to make new traditions. Reach out to new people, celebrate the holidays in a different location, or even just change where you’re going to place the Christmas tree this year. Be creative, and do what feels right for you.

Don’t be a perfectionist

If the thought of going all out for the holidays is too overwhelming, work on letting go. Rather than turning every holiday moment into a Norman Rockwell painting, try to do only the  things that are truly meaningful for you. The world will not come to an end if you don’t send out Christmas cards this year, or if you don’t make your special cookies.

Incorporate the lost pet into the holidays

Place a candle next to a photo of your pet in a special place in your home and light it during significant times during the holidays to symbolize the love you shared.  Get a living Christmas tree and plant it in your yard in memory of your pet after the holidays. Hang photo frame ornaments with your pet’s picture on your tree. The year Buckley died, I put the box that held her ashes, along with a photo of her, under my Christmas tree. It made her part of the celebrations in a way that was meaningful to me.

Take care of yourself

Enjoy the special treats of the holiday season, but also remember to eat wholesome, healthy foods, and get at least some exercise each day.  Allow yourself to say no to requests for social gatherings if you simply don’t feel up to it. If being out among holiday shoppers seems overwhelming to you this year, do your shopping online.

Give yourself permission to feel joy

Don’t deny yourself small moments of relief even while you’re grieving. Enjoy small pleasures, such as a delicious cookie, a beautiful piece of music, or the company of a friend. In those moments, you’re outside of your grief, and it’s okay. I remember going to a holiday concert three weeks after Buckley died. When the concert ended, I realized that I hadn’t been thinking about her for a full two hours. I immediately felt guilty, but it really was okay to allow myself that brief respite from grieving.

Accept that the first holiday season without a beloved family member will be difficult. However, if you find it impossible to function or think of the holidays as anything but an unbearable ordeal, you may be severely depressed, and you should seek help from a professional grief counselor.

What has helped you cope with grief during the holidays?

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30 Responses to “Conscious Cat Sunday: Finding Holiday Joy When You’re Grieving”

  1. Bernie says:

    I found that “coping with terrible loss” is individual to each person. The most important thing I learned is to let others into my heart, and those are the ones that truly knew the pains. Grieving may never end for me. I have reached the stage that I will now say things “Please don’t not talk about my son< Eric". He was a great part of my life. I have found that as the time went by people did not bring his name up for fear of upsetting me. Now I want those friends to talk and ask question of me about this precious son. I can now handle it. Even more importantly I want all to remember he lived and he loved and I loved him with all my heart. So now talking about him helps. I know I have been thru many stages of grief. Steeler's passing broke me. But then I picked up the phone and a very special friend stayed on the other end of that phone until I had literally cried myself out. So now I truly feel, I am coping with these terrible losses. I say please we can talk about Eric. I truly want to.

    • Ingrid says:

      I think you bring up an important point, Bernie. So often, people don’t know what to say to someone who is grieving, and they just assume that talking about the lost person or animal is going to upset, but sometimes, not talking about the person makes it even worse. I’m glad you can now handle talking about Eric.

    • Marg says:

      Bernie, I’m so glad you have arrived at the point where you want to talk about Eric … Eric’s memory will be with you forever and talking about him will help you remember ALL the special times you shared.

    • Kathy says:

      I’m sorry for your loss. I said a prayer for you. Take care.

  2. Such an important post, Ingrid. Thank you for sharing this critical information.

    With warm wishes,
    Heather

  3. viki worden says:

    This story is very nice Ingrid. I love your suggestions too. My one kitty Licorice died a couple months before Christmas, about 10years ago. I had him for 13 years. My daughter was attached to him as much as i was. I found a beany baby kitty that looked like him so i decided to get it for her for as a Christmas present. Well, she decided tk get me the same one without me knowing. When we both opened that gift we laughed. I have that kitty on my computer desk at home still. I also had a picture of licorice blown up and put into a frame for her that year, however she said he was more my cat so she wanted me to keep it. It hangs on my livingroom wall.

  4. Dorothy Williams says:

    I lost my Malcolm a month before Christmas a number of years ago! I decided he was irreplaceable, of course, and gave myself time to grieve! A friend shared her two cats with me through Christmas. She was travelling so I visited her beauties twice daily, cuddled, fed and cared for them as I adjusted to the loss of Malcolm. Then, in late January I decided to foster cats until I was ready again! Well, during two plus years of fostering I fell in love and adopted 5 of my fosters! My home is full of feline friskiness and fun! Fostering is a wonderful way to give back while adjusting to the loss of a beloved pet! These cats provide distraction and empathy and unconditional love.

  5. I hope you know how much your insight helps me….most every day!
    Thank you Ingrid…from the bottom of my heart!

  6. Marg says:

    Ingrid, what a great post. I lost my Dad on Christmas Eve 11 years ago, and for a long time I dreaded the holiday season. For a few years, it was just something that I had to get through, not really enjoy, but get through. Now I find that I am looking forward to the holidays and remembering the special times that I spent with my Dad, both at Christmas and at other times. Everybody grieves differently, but I agree completely about talking about the person or pet that has been lost. This is the best way to keep their memories alive. It’s also a great time to remember all that our pets (past and present) give us – their unconditional love, trust and for the most part joy. Wishing everybody peace this Christmas, Marg.

  7. We are so lucky to have other pet bloggers in our group of friends. We cry for their losses and in doing so, we shed tears for our own losses. It never gets easier but the bonds of friendship become more solid and get us through.
    Your post is so beautiful and calming.

  8. Bernadette says:

    Thanks for reminding people of this, Ingrid. Losses come at any time, but the expectations of the holidays complicate grief.

    I lost my Sophie a month before Christmas in 2006, neither she nor I were prepared though we knew she was ill. I was pushing memories aside because I felt some guilt, and keeping all that bottled up made me cry at unexpected times. I remember preparing Christmas dinner and just having tears run down my face. It was that long before Cookie and I could get it together after Sophie, but we did.

    I actually indulge in memories after a loss, take my time with them and enjoy them even if they make me sad at first–pick up a decoration or look at the weather or a garment and remember something, and stay with it, running it through my memory, each little detail of each moment, until I’ve gone through tears or smiles and I’m ready to put it aside. It’s easy to push the memory aside right away for fear of the pain of remembering a happier time, but get past that hurdle and sometimes you remember wonderful things you’d forgotten.

    • Ingrid says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Bernadette. It is so important to not “run” from grief, and as you said, sometimes, consciously remembering despite the pain and sadness can lead to long forgotten memories being uncovered.

  9. Lenda Askren says:

    Thank you for this, we had to put our 2 year old tortie to sleep today and it is really hard for my family and I. This helps and gives me ways to help my twin boys (Calvin & Cody) to whom she was named after CalCo to grive. Again thank you, you could not have picked a better day to post this.

  10. Texas says:

    It must indeed be all the more difficult to lose a furry friend around the holiday season.

    I remember when we lost Grouik – and it was not during the holiday season – everything my human was doing related to us kitties reminded her that Grouik wasn’t with us anymore. Once, a couple of weeks after Grouik went to the Bridge, I received some new Fancy Feast cans that I had won and my human burst into tears realizing that Grouik would not try them. It may sound a little silly to some but it’s because we hold such an impawtant part in our humans’ lives.

    I think we other kitties also played a role in helping the humans cope with the loss of Grouik. They were happy to have us and spoil us still (like they would have spoiled Grouik too!). Grouik remained in our hearts though, and like you mentioned, remembering is a bit less about sadness, and more about gratitude to have shared his life!

    (((purrs)))

    • Ingrid says:

      I can totally relate to your human crying over the Fancy Feast, Texas. I remember falling apart over small things fare more frequently than over the big things when I was grieving. Maybe it’s because we anticipate that we’re going to be sad on anniversaries or holidays and we brace ourselves to some extent, but it’s the unexpected reminders that hit us hard.

  11. Sue Brandes says:

    Thank you for this post Ingrid. With losing Squeaky this year it brings back memories of BearBear a year ago I lost around the same time. I have been trying to think of the happy times as I did have 20+ years with both kitties. And that really is amazing. And I do have 4 others whom keep me going.

  12. Andrea says:

    Thanks for this Ingrid. I was already bracing myself for the holidays because I’d lost Question and Mewdy Blue earlier in the year but now that Lady Butterfly also passed on Thanksgiving morning, well, it is going to be really tough. All three of those cats were such a huge part of my life, sometimes I think they WERE my life I don’t know where I go from here. I’ll try to remember your advice though.

    • Viki Worden says:

      Hi Andrea,

      I have to say your message touched me so much. I am reading it at work and trying to stop the tears. I am so sorry for your loss of Lady Butterfly on Thanksgiving. Also, for Question and Mewdy Blue. I know how hard it is. I have four kitties right now and two of them are up there in age. They both have health problems and I know their time will be coming. I had one baby, Licorice, who died at age 13 due to kidney disease. The night before I knew it was time and I even prayed to God to take me instead. My kitties are my life too. I want to let you know you are not alone. They will always remain a part of you, in your heart. I think of the kitties I have lost over the years still today. When I lost Licorice it took me a few months before I knew I was ready to get a new one. I missed seeing a kitty rubbing my legs and walking by me, etc. That was when I got Meeko. He had health problems from the start. He is 10 now and everyday I wonder how much longer. Hang in there, you will get through this. If you want to talk I am here. I am on Facebook too if you want to friend me.

    • Ingrid says:

      Oh Andrea, I’m so sorry about Lady Butterfly. This is going to be a difficult holiday season for you. My heart goes out to you. Please, be gentle with yourself during this difficult time. You WILL get through this.

    • Sue Brandes says:

      Andrea I am sorry for the loss of all your beautiful kitties. Hugs and purrs.

      • Andrea says:

        Thanks for all of your kind words. It is really rough. I’m afraid my other cats don’t understand why things aren’t the same with me. I have a hard time giving them the attention they’re used to. This is how we pay for the benefit of having their love.

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