During the holiday season, we are encouraged to be thankful, joyous, and giving. For those experiencing the loss of a beloved animal companion, these holiday expectations can be overwhelming. It is common to feel disconnected from the merriment of others and experience sorrow at the loss of your family member, anger towards those who don’t understand, guilt over decisions made or not made as well as having moments of cheer, or feeling completely numb and unable to connect. All of these feelings are completely normal after the loss of a pet. In addition, this has been a challenging year which can compound and heighten our grief experience.
Here are a few tips that may help make the holidays a bit easier.
One of the most important things you can do is show yourself compassion, acknowledge that you’re grieving, and give yourself permission to feel how you feel. Altered sleeping and eating patterns are also normal when experiencing a recent loss. Do what you can to address your basic self-care needs including sleep, healthy foods, and some exercise to enhance your overall well-being.
It can be challenging to go through deep loss alone. Consider sharing your experience with a trusted friend or family member. You can also find comfort and understanding by joining your local pet loss support group or an online pet loss chat room. Sharing stories and pictures of your beloved companion can help you honor the bond you shared and help on your healing journey.
“The holidays just don’t feel the same.”
Holidays are a time of traditions. You may want to explore the traditions in your family, determine which are important to continue, which ones need to change, or perhaps start a new tradition to honor the past and recognize how the present is forever changed. One new tradition could be a holiday-specific memorial such as a special picture of your pet on the mantle, lighting a candle at dinner, or a new decoration for the holiday. You may also want to connect with your spiritual beliefs and allow them to be your guide.
Healing Through Giving
For some, the act of giving or a symbolic gesture is healing after loss. Check out animal-related and non-animal-related volunteer opportunities in your neighborhood or give a gift to a local animal shelter in loving memory of your pet. Remember that the holiday season will soon pass. Spend time with people who give you energy, engage in activities that are meaningful to you, and know that you are not alone. It can feel challenging to connect while observing social distance guidelines; remember you can connect through online platforms, social media, phone and mail to engage your support systems and find new ones.
We wish you and your family comfort this holiday season as you grieve. Some days might be more difficult than others, but our hope is that with time, the pain and sorrow you feel now will be replaced with happy, cherished memories of your beloved pet. If you believe the time is right and that the support of others will help, we ask you to consider joining Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota’s next Pet Loss Support Group meeting. For more information, click here.
Amanda Shaller, our former social work intern, also contributed to this blog.