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.