Pet Connections

Surviving the Holiday Season After Losing a Beloved Pet

As we all know, the holiday season is one of the busiest times of the year. The to-do lists are extensive, with cooking or baking, multiple family gatherings, shopping, and decorating being just a few items found on peoples’ lists. But what if the holiday season is challenging for you to get through? Whether it be from feeling stressed or overwhelmed by the holiday hustle and bustle, or perhaps the tragic loss of a family member or close friend. What about the loss of a beloved pet?

Pet loss is beginning to become more widely acknowledged; however, we still have a long way to go before it’s where it needs to be. Pet loss in general is hard, but pet loss around the holiday season is even tougher. Why, may you ask? Trying to grieve around the holidays while experiencing other usual stressors brought upon by the season, can make one’s grief complicated. Some people may feel that they are too busy to cry, or show emotion surrounding the loss, or that they just simply don’t have time. While others may not be able to function at all because their grief is just so debilitating. It’s important to remember that everyone grieves differently and that there is no “correct way” to grieve the loss of a beloved pet. The bonds that we have with our pets are unlike any other bond we have in our lives. They see us when we are at our lowest, most vulnerable points, through our successes and greatest victories, they love us unconditionally, and they rely on us. Most of us don’t step back to think about just how significant our bonds with our beloved pets are, and that for the most part, they’re more than just pets…they’re family. These are all factors that play into the significance of the grief and the emotion that we feel when they cross the Rainbow Bridge.

The holiday season is a busy one for most, and a lot of people feel that they must have “perfect” celebrations for the holidays to be considered successful. When you are grieving the loss of a beloved pet, it’s important to understand that grief is unforgiving and will hit at any time. Unfortunately, grief doesn’t take vacations or sick days. Pet owners who are grieving should be reminded that it’s okay to not be okay, especially around the holidays. When the emotional roller coaster hits, let yourself feel it. Give yourself time to break down or reflect when you need to. There is nothing wrong with doing this. It is actually very beneficial in helping to process the emotion behind the grief. Some may feel that by doing this, they’re taking steps backwards in moving on, but processing that deep emotion allows for more progress to be made in the long run.

Another thing to keep in mind is to remember to be patient and kind to yourself. You are going through a significant loss, and you don’t have to always have it all together. It’s okay if you don’t bake all those cookies or attend every single event you’re invited too. It may be helpful to some, but others may find that taking it easy is what’s best for them. Whatever works for you, and whatever makes you most comfortable, is what you should do. When you start feeling like the dam is about to break, carve out some you-time. Do something for yourself, whether it be some deep breathing exercises, gratitude practices, reading your favorite book or watching your favorite movie or TV show. Taking this time to give yourself that space to not be okay will help with alleviating some of that emotion so that it doesn’t build and build until it’s overwhelming and pouring out of you in other avenues.

There are many self-care activities that the bereaved could do to help them through a very emotional time of year, such as the holiday season. A big self-care tip would be to plan ahead for what festivities you would like to participate in, and which ones you feel you need to pass on this year. Remember to do what you feel will be best for you, and what makes you the most comfortable. With that being said, it’s still important to stay connected somehow throughout the holidays. Even a card, or a simple phone call can help with eliminating the risk of isolation in these times.

It may also be helpful to honor your beloved pet(s) by trying to incorporate them into some of the celebrations that you partake in. For example, lighting a candle by their picture(s) during special times over the season can help bring a sense of peace and connection to the beloved pet(s).

Another way to incorporate their memory into your celebrations can be to hang photo ornaments on your tree, or have other customizable knick-knacks made to place around your home for decorations. These can serve as gratitude triggers that can help you reflect on special memories you’ve created in those moments or with the faces you see.

It’s easy for the bereaved to dread the holiday season, especially if the loss just happened. However, it’s extremely important to check in on them and offer love and support. If you or a loved one is struggling, sometimes an empathic listener and a familiar presence could make all the difference. So, reach out this holiday season, and let them know that they are not alone and that someone out there loves and cares about them and what they’re going through.

Take care of yourself this holiday season.

Amanda Dugan- Veterinary Social Worker

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