Pet Connections

Losing a Pet, Grieving a Loss or Palliative Care During the Holidays

The holiday season, from Thanksgiving through the New Year, with all the extra social time and expectations can be a jumble of tears and anger if you are anticipating a loss or grieving a loss.

Caretaking is often sad and difficult work. Palliative care for a critically ill or terminally ill pet can be a lonely endeavor, made all the more difficult by a time of year when we are more social than usual, outside of our usual circle of friends, some of whom may not understand or accept, or even object to, your devotion. The expectation to spend more time away, or having to either cancel an obligation or leave your pet can tear you apart.

Grieving a loss, even if the loss is not recent, even if the loss was years ago whether or not it happened during the holidays, this time of family, friends, socializing, choosing special gifts and making memories is a marker in our year. It’s natural to remember all the previous holidays as you decorate, prepare food, shop, and visit, and if a beloved part of those memories isn’t with you any more you just can’t get away from it. This is even worse if you lost a pet during the holiday season and memories of their decline and death are mixed with memories of the holiday time.

On top of the fact that your memories of previous years clearly remind you of the loss, the extra socializing can be a nightmare as you try to manage your grief when you don’t really feel like going to the office party or the grab bag gift exchange. You stand a greater chance of encountering people who don’t understand your grief at losing a pet, and even if they do understand you may find yourself explaining over and over about the loss and that can be overwhelming.

Five things you can do to help yourself

  • Allow yourself to feel pain or sadness. Don’t hide from your sadness at your pet’s condition or your grief. Don’t push the feeling away, but recognize it, understand it, go ahead and cry, and let it pass on its own. Holding it off, holding it in, denying it, telling yourself you shouldn’t feel that way will only stress you and you may instead feel resentful, irritable or angry and hurt someone else or yourself, and it will sometimes come out in tears or anger at unexpected times.
  • Plan your holiday time, especially social time, and prepare yourself for meeting the public and participating in social activities. If people knew your pet or know that you are giving palliative care, plan what you’ll tell them about your loss if they ask, and whether or not you might want to bring it up yourself. And, as you do at other times, avoid people who don’t understand your caretaking or grief at the loss of a pet. But it’s good to give yourself a break with friends who understand during caretaking and during grieving at any time of the year.
  • Include your pet in your holidays. Your pet may not be well enough to meet guests but if they are, let them, or take those who are interested and loving see your pet. Share your caretaking. If you’re grieving a loss you probably feel your pet’s loss constantly but it may seem they’ll just get lost in the shuffle of activities and be forgotten, and there is no more desolate feeling. Find ways to keep your pet present, for you and others who know you and remember your pet. Include decorations that were part of your relationship with your pet, like a stocking with their name on it, or a personalized ornament. Do something extra to add their presence, like frame your favorite photo of your pet and feature it prominently in your holiday display, or have a gift made for yourself with their photo, like a throw or a pillow that you’ll see and use. When friends or family come over bring up a memory of your pet from earlier holidays and point out the special things you’ve added in their memory.
  • Be kind to yourself, as you always should be while grieving. Make sure you really want to be part of social gatherings and limit your time if you feel you need to. Don’t overindulge but find some comfort foods and activities that make you feel happy.
  • Make a memorial to your pet. Get a live tree that you can plant outside and then decorate each year. Make a holiday donation in your pet’s name at an animal shelter or rescue, or sponsor an adoption so that another pet will be sure to have a chance to know a life with a person like your pet had with you.

Be aware of how you feel, and accommodate where you are. Remember the good moments with your pet, and make sure you allow yourself some smiles and even laughs at your memories. Most of all, share the caretaking and the loss with others so that you don’t feel isolated, and that your experience and your pet’s will not be forgotten.

 

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