Facing the holiday season for the first time following the loss of your beloved companion animal can be extremely challenging. The holidays represent a time for joy and reflection, but when you have lost your pet, you might feel unable to celebrate, because your lap or the space next to you is empty. Participating in traditional family activities is an ongoing reminder of what is missing from your life.
The following recommendations serve as a guide to help you through the holidays, while taking into consideration, grief is a unique and individual experience:
Acknowledge the Pain
Grieving the loss of a pet is agonizing at any time of the year and the holidays tend to intensify feelings of loneliness and sorrow. You may feel pressured to mask your true feelings, but pretending you are not brokenhearted will only hurt in the long run. Ultimately, embracing the sadness will lead you out of the pain. Grief comes as a result of love and is a tribute to the remarkable relationship you shared with your companion animal.
Treasure the Memories
While your pet’s physical presence is gone, the love, memories, and lessons learned will always be with you. Do not be afraid to remember favorable times with your pet, as this can be a source of comfort while experiencing extreme heartache. Reflecting upon and taking inventory of the gifts received from your faithful companion animal sparks the healing process. One way to honor the relationship between you and your pet is to acknowledge how your life has been changed for the better.
Revise Holiday Traditions
For many, pets are a vital part of the holiday celebrations and it is almost impossible to comprehend the fact they will not be here this year. Although people have individual needs, try to resist the impulse to avoid the holidays altogether. The goal is to make the holidays work for you in less than ideal circumstances. If you typically entertain guests or host family festivities, you may want to consider going out to dinner with family and friends.
The holidays are difficult for children, because they are experiencing sadness due to the loss, but at the same time feel the excitement of the impending celebration. Communicate with children to let know it is okay to have fun without feeling guilty. With regard to modifying holiday traditions, keep in mind children depend on the familiarity of annual rituals, since it provides them with a sense of security. Before finalizing the holiday plans, listen to what is important to your children and try to incorporate their hopes and wishes into the celebration.
Establish a New Ritual
When a daily routine was centered on the relationship with a pet, the death can also be profoundly disruptive to one’s sense of home, safety, purpose, and identity. Find a way to incorporate your pet into a new holiday tradition by keeping their memory alive during the holiday season and beyond. In the matter of developing a new ritual, consider lighting a remembrance candle during the holiday dinner, decorating a tree ornament with your pet’s picture, creating a picture book or video, and sharing notable stories about your companion animal with family and friends. Remember the love that you shared and make a difference in your pet’s honor by giving back, in terms of volunteering or donating at a local animal shelter.
Engage in Social Support
The need for support may be the greatest in the midst of the holiday season. Be honest with how you are truly feeling with the people you love and give them the opportunity to be there for you. After the loss of a pet, reaching out to family and friends can be a daunting task. If you know someone who is grieving over the loss of a pet, do not wait for an invitation for help, but show up and lend support by being present. Reassure your loved one that the sadness may fade, but the relationship will never end.
Practice Self Care
Grieving is an exhausting process and the pain invades all parts of your life, which is why you must allow your mind and body to take a break from dealing with the complicated thoughts and emotions. Plan an activity that brings a moment of comfort and joy that will allow you to take a well-needed breath. Schedule the holiday around supportive family and friends, but balance it with quiet time as well. Try to streamline your life as much as possible in relation to the holiday preparations. Most importantly, be kind to yourself and recognize your pain is entirely appropriate.
My wish for you this holiday season is that you find peace in your heart and hope in new beginnings.
Jennifer Durn is a welcome addition to the Hope Team and she is heading up our Support Services Program. The program has been incorporated into the framework of Hope Veterinary Specialists and offers a unique advantage to clients who might find a sounding board beneficial during challenging circumstances. The Hope team acknowledges the incredible relationship between the clients and their ever-faithful companion animals and is dedicated to reinforcing the bond through our high standard of care and service. The Support Services Program at Hope VS is free of charge and is coordinated by Jennifer Durn, MSW, LSW. Support is provided in person, over the phone, and through email.