Next Friday will make the first anniversary of Ruby’s passing. This is not the first time I’ve experienced grief during the holidays: Buckley died the day after Thanksgiving 2008. As a result, this holiday season has been difficult, complicated as it is by so little about this season being even remotely normal. Last year, I canceled almost all holiday related activities because I knew Ruby didn’t have much time left, and I wanted to spend every minute I could with her. I figured I’d make up for it this year. Never in my wildest dreams would I have expected to spend this holiday season essentially hunkered down at home with Allegra, with very little outside contact except for an occasional walk or get together with a friend around a fire pit.
The holidays complicate grief
Losing a cat, 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.
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.
Every loss is different, and every journey through grief is a unique experience.
Grief is cumulative. We don’t move through the 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 unique. 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.
Self-care is important
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 cat, or are facing impending loss, 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. Accept that you may be by yourself this year since being with family may just not be possible. Connect with family and friends who are supportive and understand that you’re grieving virtually, but don’t use the distraction of online interactions to avoid thinking about your loss. Quiet time spent alone can help you work through your grief.
- 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.
- Find a way to incorporate your lost cat into the holidays. Place a candle next to a photo of your cat 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 after the holidays in memory of your cat. Hang photo frame ornaments with your cat’s picture on your tree.
- Share memories of your cat with family members and friends who knew your cat. This may bring tears, but it may also bring laughter, and it will make your lost cat a part of the season.
- Make a donation in your cat’s memory to a charity that is meaningful to you. Maybe it could be the shelter or rescue group your cat came from. Maybe there’s an organization that does research into the illness that took your cat’s life.
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 possibility.
This article was originally published in November 2010 and has been updated.