As so many of us know, it is incredibly hard to say goodbye to a pet we have loved either through natural passing or through euthanasia. The grief that we experience is vast, deep, and different with every loss that we experience. No matter how much time we have had with them, or what caused us to need to part with our pet, it is never easy. Losing a pet around the holiday season has its own unique aspects to it that we may not always consider. Some of these may make our grief harder to process, and some may make it easier. Understanding some of these special circumstances can help us process our grief and find the support we all need when confronting the loss of a pet.
For many of us, the holidays are a time of family, events, sometimes travel, and almost always a time of memories. If we lose a pet during the holidays, we may fear that we’ll always associate the holiday time with their loss. We may carry lots of beautiful memories involving the pet and the holidays that seem particularly raw and difficult to think about. My kitty Buttercup would climb up into the Christmas tree when we were little – just like he was one of the ornaments – and drink water out of the tree stand. Some people travel with their pet during the holidays, and the loss may settle over the entirety of the annual trip. When we are ready, hopefully we can carry those good memories with us along with the grief of losing a pet. It is in that way that we can keep them as part of our holiday memories and share those memories with others.
Many of us have traditions surrounding the holidays, and as pet lovers we of course have included our pets in those traditions. When we lose a pet during any part of the year, but especially around those holidays, those traditions we had can feel excruciatingly painful. We want to continue the tradition because of how important it was and how happy it made us and our pets, but we also feel like it’s impossible to continue a tradition that reminds us of our loss. Each of us has to decide how best to honor our pet when it comes to the holiday traditions we shared with them. There is no right or wrong way to go about this.
If your dog always had a Christmas stocking, you may be at a loss about what to do. One idea could be to fill that stocking with treats and toys, acknowledging that they were and are still part of your family, but then perhaps donate those stocking items to a local shelter or rescue in memory of your pet. This may be something you do just one year, or for many years to come as your traditions around the holidays shift and change.
The holidays are also a time that we are often with family- both the one we are born into and the one we create over time through connecting with others. This increased time with family can be both helpful and challenging when we’ve just recently lost a loved one. Often being around others and being swept into the hustle and bustle of holiday events can provide a distraction from grief. However, there may be people who don’t know about the loss who ask questions, there may be people who try to offer advice or guidance, and there may be people who simply can’t relate to your loss. In all of those cases, it may be helpful to try and pre-plan how you might respond at a gathering. There is no right answer, but being prepared may help you navigate your grief and loss when around others.
I also recommend seeking out those friends and family members that will “hold space” for you to grieve by utilizing the power of being present and listening. If you do not feel you have anyone in your life that can provide that, please reach out to our local Pet Loss Resource Center. The holidays can feel isolating for many of us, and if you are feeling this way in addition to losing a beloved pet, the PLRC has support groups and additional resources. It can be helpful to know that others are also enduring the loss of a pet around the holiday season, and those others may share some of the same sadness and same difficulties. Our support system may also help us see the holiday season as a time of gratitude and remembrance- two important feelings to keep close to our hearts when grieving the loss of a pet. By preparing for the challenges and embracing the silver linings of this time of year, we are all better able to commemorate the pet we have lost and the bond that we have shared.