The holiday season is oftentimes filled with bittersweet emotions for those who are grieving the loss of a beloved pet. You may look around and see others who are joyful or you may feel the societal expectations to be happy or in a celebratory mood. For many, there can be a façade put up in order to “just get through it”. I am here to offer reassurance and validation of your experience as well as tips to help you navigate and honor your grief process throughout the holidays.
If this is your first holiday season without your beloved pet, you may be wondering…how do I do this? You may wonder if others will understand what you are going through or be supportive to you. Or, you may be concerned that by not feeling festive, you may disappoint your family and friends. If you are further along in your grief process, you may have found some key coping strategies or traditions to help you during this time of year. Or, perhaps you are feeling a resurgence of grief and are seeking out a few different ways to cope.
Here are some tips to help you navigate the holidays:
1. Make a plan. Plan ahead and be honest with yourself. Communicate with others about what you want to do and what you do not want to do. It is absolutely okay to say “no”.
2. Be prepared. Have a Plan A, Plan B, and even a Plan C . This can be especially helpful if you find you are having a difficult time and need or want an alternative.
3. Skip holiday events if you are in holiday overload.
4. Decide which traditions to keep, change, or let go of.
5. Ask for help and say “yes” to help or support from family and friends. Ask others to help with holiday cooking, shopping, decorating. Tell others what you need and what is most helpful for you.
6. Prioritize and don’t over commit.
7. Skip it. Yes, it is okay to skip your holiday traditions altogether this year and do something completely different.
8. Seek out a grief counselor or pet loss support group.
9. Practice self-care. Self-care in grief is incredibly important. This can be especially true during the holiday season, anniversaries, or special events. Self-care can be smaller things such as enjoying a cup of hot cocoa, going for a walk, and watching your favorite movies. Or, self-care can be treating yourself to a needed get-away, vacation to a desired destination, or doing a spa day.
10. Get good sleep, regular exercise, and eat nutritious food. Watch your alcohol intake and indulgence in "comfort food". While tempting to partake in, excessive use of alcohol and eating rich foods can result in making you feel worse.
11. Embrace joy and gratitude. It is absolutely okay to laugh, be happy, and feel love and joy. Don’t feel guilty if you have these feelings. Feeling joyful or having fun does not diminish how much you miss and love your pet. Embrace these opportunities as they serve as a gift for you to feel gratitude and reflect on cherished memories of your pet.
12. Create a new tradition or ritual in honor of your beloved pet.
13. Memorialize your loss. Memorialization and ritual is so instrumental in the healing process. There are many ways you can celebrate your beloved pet and include his or her memory into the holidays. It can be very therapeutic for you to include your special bond as part of your holiday festivities. Some examples include:
- Make a donation to a charity of your choice in honor of your pet.
- Volunteer at a local shelter or with an animal rescue group. Participate in a animal-related cause or event.
- Light a candle for your animal and speak to him or her.
- Write a letter to your pet, or read a poem aloud.
- Spend quiet time reflecting on an activity he or she enjoyed, or revisit favorite spots that you and your pet shared together. (for example: going to a favorite park or walking trail, cooking his or her favorite snack or food). Journal about these reflections and memories.
- Create or integrate something special that is in honor of your animal, such as....
Make a personalized glass ornament of your pet
Create a special framed picture of your pet as a gift for you, or for someone else
Decorate a wreath that represents your pet with pictures, his or her items, favorite toys and treats
Hang up your pet's stocking ~ fill it with written memories, poems, pictures, mementos
If you celebrate Chanukah, for each of the eight nights that you light the Menorah, reflect upon and share a memory of your pet
Light a special candle and do a toast in honor of your pet
Create and illuminate your own memorial gratitude jar
Remember....take good care of yourself and be kind, compassionate, and patient with your grief process. Invite and embrace gratitude for all the wonderful and meaningful memories you and your pet shared together. These memories are a gift and will continue to live on in your heart through the holiday season and beyond.
Take good care ~
Rachel Wright, MSW, LSWAIC, CDP
Veterinary Social Worker