Coping with Pet Loss and Grief During the Holidays

pet-loss-holidays

Losing a pet, and the devastating grief that follows, is hard any time of the year, but it can be especially difficult this time of year.  For those who have lost a loved one, the contrast between the rest of the world, which seems to be focused on making merry and celebrating the season, and the bereaved’s private pain and grief can be a glaring reminder that the holidays won’t be the same this year.

Additionally, if the loss happened during past holidays, there may always be some sadness associated with this particular time of year.  This can also be a difficult time for those whose loss occurred during the year and who are now facing the first holiday season without the beloved pet.

Grief is cumulative.  We don’t move through the predetermined stages of grief in order, and emerge on the other side.  Grief is a very individual experience.  While there are some commonalities, every loss is different, and every journey through grief is a unique experience.  And frequently, a new loss will bring back memories of past losses and may trigger unresolved feelings the grieving person may not even have been aware of.

It’s important for the bereaved to find ways to take care of themselves at any time of the year, but it’s especially important this time of the year.  If you’ve recently lost a pet, or are perhaps facing the loss of a pet, and if you’re having a hard time with this holiday season, the following suggestions may help you cope.

  • Expect to feel some sadness and pain.   Allow yourself to feel these feelings and don’t try to cover them up with busyness and fake merriment.   Don’t be afraid to cry – tears are an important part of the healing process.
  • Plan ahead how you will spend the holidays.  You may need to redefine your expectations around the holidays.  Try to find a balance between spending time with friends and family who are supportive and understand that you’re grieving, and spending quiet time alone.  Don’t accept every invitation or bury yourself in work in an effort to keep busy and avoid thinking about your loss – this will only make things more difficult for you.
  • 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.
  • Find a way to incorporate your 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 with your pet.  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.
  • Share memories of your pet with family members and friends who knew your pet during holiday gatherings.  This may bring tears, but it may also bring laughter, and it will make your lost pet a part of the celebrations.
  • Make a donation in your pet’s memory to a charity that is meaningful to you.  Maybe it could be the shelter or rescue group your pet came from.  Maybe there’s a group that does research into the illness that took your pet’s life.

Remember that sometimes, the anticipation of how awful the holidays are going to be without your loved one can be harder than the actual holidays.  And as much as the bereaved dread the holidays, sometimes, the aftermath of the holidays can bring even more sadness than the actual holidays themselves, so be aware and prepare yourself for this.

This article was originally published in November 2010 and has been updated.

48 Comments on Coping with Pet Loss and Grief During the Holidays

  1. Stephanie
    December 23, 2017 at 2:17 pm (2 months ago)

    I understand all too well. We had to put one of our cats down the day after Christmas years back and now facing the same dilemma with my oldest now which would make 2 cats in one year. Alas, it’s not right to see them suffer and their quality of life is lacking. The good memories, pictures and video is always there to keep you company.

    Reply
  2. Alice O.
    December 10, 2017 at 4:27 pm (3 months ago)

    My brother and I each lost a cat friend last year, although he still has one little princess left. His favorite boo-boo, as he liked to call him, had to be put down the day after Christmas. I accompanied him as no one should have to go through that alone. My cat, almost 21, passed in August. Not a good Christmas. We just memorialized both deceased kitties with an online donation to the Winn Feline Foundation in hope that they can find cures and treatments for the many diseases and illnesses with which cats are afflicted.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 11, 2017 at 5:59 am (3 months ago)

      This is going to be a difficult Christmas for both of you – I’m so sorry for your losses, Alice.

      Reply
  3. Sue Brandes
    November 28, 2017 at 9:02 am (3 months ago)

    Thank you for the post. There are many losses at the rescue I follow lately. Haven’t met them but; I still cry for each one.

    Reply
  4. Melissa & Mudpie
    November 27, 2017 at 7:42 pm (3 months ago)

    The last two Christmases since Truffles has been gone I’ve decorated the table where her ashes are kept. It contains a painting of her, her paw print, and various other special decorations that I change each year. It’s a way of keeping her with me as I celebrate the season.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 28, 2017 at 6:17 am (3 months ago)

      What a lovely way to remember Truffles and make her a part of your holiday traditions, Melissa.

      Reply
  5. Eastside Cats
    November 27, 2017 at 4:16 pm (3 months ago)

    Not only did we loss Chuck right before Thanksgiving, it was also our wedding anniversary. But showing him our love by ending his suffering was more important than all of that. It’s weird how the sadness sneaks up and jumps me when I least expect it!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 27, 2017 at 4:28 pm (3 months ago)

      Oh, that makes is extra hard when it’s too significant “holidays,” Vicky. I’m so sorry.

      Reply
  6. Janine
    November 27, 2017 at 8:41 am (3 months ago)

    I still hang the Christmas stocking that I made for Nani even though she’s been gone for 5 years. I still miss her like crazy.

    Reply
  7. Gail
    November 27, 2017 at 8:35 am (3 months ago)

    Thank you for this timely article. 2017 has been tough – deaths of my pets and animals at sanctuary I volunteer at.

    Reply
  8. Sandra Golas
    December 16, 2014 at 3:02 pm (3 years ago)

    Ingrid, I understand your pain. Just before I retired a stray showed up and I became a first time cat mommy for Mac. About a year later, I acquired another cat that I named Rusti. Last July, Mac became terribly sick and stopped eating. He was diagnosed as having FeLV, a disease for which he had tested negatively twice before. After he was euthanized, I put the carved box with his ashes, his collar and his picture in the corner of the garden window where he loved to sit. For the next month, I cried frequently and Rusti spent most of her time under my bed. About two months later, I went to Animal Control to get her required license. Before I left, I wandered into the cat room. There were so many cats in cages that it disconcerting. As I viewed the cats, I found a wonderful gentle giant named Chance that I added to my family. Having him has helped me get over my depression and has brought Rusti out of her shell. In Mac’s remembrance, for the holidays, I placed a small poinsettia near his remains.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 16, 2014 at 3:16 pm (3 years ago)

      Thank you for your kind words, Sandra. I’m so glad Chance helped heal your heart and Rusti’s, Sandra.

      Reply
  9. Heidi Christensen
    November 14, 2013 at 7:11 pm (4 years ago)

    I lost my Precious Prince Charming Panther – my silky satiny black kitty boy a few months ago and I just can’t see celebrating Christmas without him. I am so sad all I do is cry. I was told I should honor his memory so I am putting up the tree in another room and hanging up all my bridge babies stockings. They can’t use anything I give them but I WILL put something in their stockings anyway.

    MY other 2 do not care about Christmas but I will give them a gift and stuff their stockings anyway – just so we can honor our Precious boy!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 14, 2013 at 7:25 pm (4 years ago)

      I’m so sorry about your Precious, Heidi. I like your ideas on how you’re going to honor his memory this holiday season. Be gentle with yourself.

      Reply
  10. Emily
    November 11, 2013 at 12:55 pm (4 years ago)

    Thanks for a great article.

    Reply
  11. Chiitra
    November 23, 2012 at 11:58 am (5 years ago)

    Hi, I lost my lovely Kelly 2 years ago on the 2nd day of Christmas. She had been very sick suffering from cancer and very sudden she couldn’t walk anymore. It was a devastating experience to loose my cuttlemate and especially because it happened during Christmas. Since that moment I haven’t had any luck at all in my life, just strange things keep happening to me and now also my health is a big issue. I’m really not looking forward to Christmas at all this year and so I miss her more than ever….I’m just keeping up appearances for the rest of my family…

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 23, 2012 at 1:32 pm (5 years ago)

      I’m sorry about your Kelly, Chiitra. My heart goes out to you. I hope that maybe one of the suggestions in this post might help heal your heart, even just a little.

      Reply
  12. Jody Vernay
    December 23, 2011 at 8:11 pm (6 years ago)

    Ingrid,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings, and to all the others who are missing precious furbabies this Christmas. I miss my Hobo terribly, but am so grateful for the 15 years we shared together. The joy they bring us certainly outweighs the loss, but the emptiness is the last thing we have. It helps so much to know others truly understand. Thank you and blessings and hugs to you for Christmas.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 23, 2011 at 9:10 pm (6 years ago)

      Hugs to you, too, Jody. It helps to focus on the memories.

      Reply
  13. Deborah
    December 23, 2011 at 4:31 pm (6 years ago)

    Thank you so much for this heart felt message and acknowledgment of those of us who have lost our cherished furry children! I lost Missy on November 9! I had her since she was 7 weeks old and she passed at 16 1/2 years old. It was always Missy and Me! She was my little baby. I feel her love and her gratefulness that I was her Mommy but I’d really much rather her be here with me. Your words were very healing and I appreciate your sentiment! Thank you and Missy thanks you too.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 23, 2011 at 5:03 pm (6 years ago)

      I’m glad this post provided some healing for you, Deborah. I can’t imagine how much you must miss Missy. 16 1/2 years is a long time, but it’s just never long enough.

      Reply
  14. Connie
    December 23, 2011 at 2:51 pm (6 years ago)

    this is my first year with out Ollie, who despite his Ebenezer ways loved Christmas.. It was hard putting up the tree knowing Ollie’s body would not be under it, but I know his spirit is still enjoying the holiday, and that helps.

    Great post.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 23, 2011 at 5:02 pm (6 years ago)

      I’m sorry about Ollie, Connie. I know he’ll be with you in spirit this Christmas.

      Reply
  15. Sandy Gambone
    December 23, 2011 at 11:17 am (6 years ago)

    Thank-you for this post, Ingrid. I wish you peace this season. I am glad you have the unconditional love of Allegra and Ruby at this time of year.

    My church is honoring the memories of everyone’s pets who have passed on Jan. 8th. It will be my first time at this annual service and I have enjoyed taking out old photos of my former cats to bring to display there and remembering their unique personalities.

    Blessings, Sandy

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 23, 2011 at 12:35 pm (6 years ago)

      Thanks, Sandy.

      I love what your church is doing – such a wonderful idea.

      Reply
  16. Tammy J. Banks
    December 23, 2011 at 11:14 am (6 years ago)

    Still a powerful piece, Ingrid — even more so now.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 23, 2011 at 12:34 pm (6 years ago)

      Thanks, Tammy. I know this is a difficult holiday season for you – you’re in my thoughts.

      Reply
  17. Alicia
    December 23, 2011 at 11:05 am (6 years ago)

    My heart goes out to all those who have lost beloved pets. We have lost several animals just before Christmas (Our dog Katie in Dec 2009) and Tiger (our cat in Dec 2010) as well as Midnight (July 2009) so December and Christmas always brings some sad memories as well as the joys of Christmas. We have pulled out our pictures of Christmases past to help remember the good times. We just adopted Wilcox (“Willie”) one week ago – a four month feisty tabby kitten. So this December will have some additional memories! Now if we can just keep Willie, Oreo and Angie (the cats) and Susie and Jasmine (the dogs) from destroying the various decorations this year.

    Reply
  18. Ronnie
    November 1, 2011 at 9:33 am (6 years ago)

    Dear Ingrid, I am so grateful I found your website. Actually, the day my Kitty was euthanized, August, 19, 2011. Kitty was 23 years-old with a good quality of life. Being an aged cat, for many years I always thought, “Will she make it to this Holiday Season.” And when she did, “Will she make it to the next?” Christmas Eve is the most special night of the year for me. Magical, mystical, spiritual. In the past few days it hit me, Kitty will not be with me this year. I always chose to spend this Eve with My Kitty. To share together. Gratitude. LOVE. And it is said, Christmas Eve is the night the animals talk! And my Kitty was the most wonderful talker 🙂 I am grieving her severely, every day, but a great sorrow hit me realizing Kitty will not be here on earth for Christmas…and this summer, for once, I felt she would be with me more years, as she was doing so well. So, I will need to think of something very special to do in her memory and honor. One will be a donation to animal welfare. I advocate *legislatively, big time, for horses: anti-slaughter and save our wild horses from extinction. However, at Christmas, I will donate to SAVE a horse’s actual LIFE. I will also put more food and toys into my library’s kitty rescue basket. And maybe, just maybe, I will adopt a kitty from a shelter. Maybe. Its only been 2 1/2 months now, and at Christmas, it will be 4 1/2 months since Kitty died. When Kitty passed over I felt I needed a lot of time before getting another animal. My grieving is intense. It would be a “betrayal” to my Kitty. I needed to honor her and her memory. Or maybe no animal ever again, as the pain of loss is so great. Then I thought how selfish this is. There are so many cats needing homes and I can provide a Forever Home and so much LOVE. Then I thought a kitty and/or kitties might come into my life by serendipity. Or a kitty would choose me. Then last week an animal rescue adoption site popped-up on my computer as I was reading articles on pet loss. So I took a look. On the 1st page, last in the list, a 7 year-old, female, brown w/black stripe, white breasted tabby jumped out at me and took a hold. The look in her eyes, direct, at “me.” 🙂 I took note and proceeded to browse more cat photos and bios. None felt so in touch as this tabby. But my heart went out to so many. So many. So maybe a Christmas kitty…but only if I feel the time is right. And I do trust this. I knew my Kitty was for me, the time was right. I knew when to help my Kitty with 4 serious illnesses to wellness. Then I knew the time was right to give her the final gift of release. The final battle could not be won. Well Ingrid, this “comment” is long enough. Thank you with all my heart for your websites and writings. For your care and love. And my thoughts are with you at this coming Holiday Season. For it is a time when the past, present, future, come into one’s thoughts.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 1, 2011 at 11:17 am (6 years ago)

      I’m so sorry for your loss, Ronnie. 23 years is a wonderful long life for a kitty, but of course, it’s never long enough. Those “firsts” without our loved ones are always hard, and I think Christmas is the most difficult holiday to get through after a loss.

      There is no right time to get a new cat. There is nothing selfish about waiting until you feel ready. Everybody griefs differently and needs to do so at their own pace. I know you’ll find a special way to honor Kitty’s memory this holiday season. You’re in my thoughts.

      Reply
  19. Anna
    December 22, 2010 at 8:44 am (7 years ago)

    Thank you so much Ingrid, you are so right: the miracle of life is that grief and joy can co-exist. We can leave our heart’s door open for joy and love even when we are missing someone terribly. Thank you for reminding me! Lots of love to you and Allegra! (I’m Italian and I love her name – “cheerful”!)

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 22, 2010 at 9:28 am (7 years ago)

      Thanks, Anna! Allegra came with her name, and it fits her personality perfectly! Happy Holidays to you and yours from Allegra and me.

      Reply
  20. Anna
    December 21, 2010 at 7:59 pm (7 years ago)

    Thank you so much for a WONDERFUL post, Ingrid!!! I must admit that when I first read the title of your post it took me some time to get over the FEAR it would bring out and uncover pain and grief… But I’m so glad I found the courage to read it and I really thank you for the great and so insightful tips!! I lost two much beloved girls last winter (they were both 18 years old), and this time of the year brings back sadness and grief. We will never forget all our little angels we have lost in the course of time, they are alive in our hearts and in our love. I have candles burning right now. For all of our little beloved ones who are now free to run with no pain and looking at us, smiling.
    THANK YOU and have a merry Christmas with Allegra! (I have my beloved Zoe with me, and my mom’s sweet Lilli, Tommi and Theo!)

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 21, 2010 at 9:55 pm (7 years ago)

      Anna, I’m so glad that my post was helpful. I’m sorry about your two girls and the sadness and grief this time of year brings, but I’m glad you have Zoe and Lilli, Tommi and Theo to help you make the holiday season brighter. One of the things I learned through my various losses is that grief and joy can co-exist, and this is never more apparent than during this time of the year.

      Reply
  21. Mason Canyon
    December 21, 2010 at 12:46 am (7 years ago)

    I’ll be thinking of you and Allegra this holiday season and wishing you a very Merry Christmas. I know it will be a difficult time, but as you said there will also be some wonderful new memories made.

    Mason
    Thoughts in Progress

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 21, 2010 at 7:18 am (7 years ago)

      Thanks, Mason. Having Allegra to share the holiday season with makes such a difference.

      Reply
  22. Layla Morgan Wilde AKA Boomer Muse
    December 20, 2010 at 5:21 pm (7 years ago)

    Thoughtful and insightful suggestions. The holidays are big triggers at the best of times, and I send lots of love and light for an easy passage. Happy Solstice and all the good things it will manifest in 2011.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 20, 2010 at 9:31 pm (7 years ago)

      Thanks, Layla. Happy Solstice to you, too. I think we’ll both have a lot to look forward to in 2011.

      Reply
  23. Debbie
    December 20, 2010 at 3:33 pm (7 years ago)

    A very well-written and timely post. The holidays celebrate togetherness, and when you are missing a beloved one, it just does not seem right. We lost “Gus”, our beloved Dachshund to seizures last New Year’s Day. He was a senior when I pulled him from the shelter as a rescue–already white-faced and walked like a truck driver–4 years before, but he walked into our lives and our hearts like he’d been with us from puppyhood. How I miss our boy. He is memorialized on a plaque at the shelter where I found him, where he looks over all the new adoptions.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 20, 2010 at 5:01 pm (7 years ago)

      Thanks, Debbie. I’m so sorry about Gus. I love how you memorialized him with a plaque at the shelter – what a lovely thing to do.

      Reply
  24. Teri and the cats of Furrydance
    December 20, 2010 at 1:34 pm (7 years ago)

    Very good post and good thoughts on how to ‘get through it’, too. This is the first Christmas I have decorated my house since my husband passed away in 2007 and part of the pleasure I am getting now, is to see the cats ‘enjoying’ the decorations, too…

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 20, 2010 at 2:54 pm (7 years ago)

      Thanks, Terri. I’m so glad you felt ready to decorate again this year. You’ll be in my thoughts.

      Reply
  25. Tammy
    December 20, 2010 at 12:33 pm (7 years ago)

    Sending some good holiday wishes your way!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 20, 2010 at 2:54 pm (7 years ago)

      Thanks, Tammy – wishing you a wonderful holiday season!

      Reply
  26. animalartist
    December 20, 2010 at 10:13 am (7 years ago)

    I’m thinking of you and Amber this holiday season. I remember reading about your holiday traditions with Amber and also Buckley in “Buckley’s Story”.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 20, 2010 at 2:53 pm (7 years ago)

      Thanks, Bernadette. Allegra and I will be making new traditions this holiday season.

      Reply
  27. Linda Francese
    December 20, 2010 at 8:06 am (7 years ago)

    Oh Ingrid, I am so sorry. I know how hard it is. We lost our beloved Beta almost 6 years ago and it hardly seems possible that he’s been gone that long. I don’t think we ever get over it, we just become more used to it. Even though there are other furry little ones in the house, they don’t place his place in our hearts. Sweet Amber will always be with you, an angel on your shoulder. Many years ago, when I was 18, I ordered a personalized food mat for my Rocky. He died unexpectedly before it arrived. The pain was too much when that box arrived. I have never ordered a personalized item for a pet again. God bless you and please know that Amber is in a good place over the Rainbows Bridge and in your heart. Making a donation in your pets name is an awesome idea. A friend did that for us when Beta died, it meant so much to us.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 20, 2010 at 2:53 pm (7 years ago)

      Thanks, Linda. Thank goodness they all live on in our hearts: Beta, Rocky, Amber and all the others.

      Reply

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