The holidays are always more fun with a curious, wide-eyed pet underfoot, and pet owners embrace the opportunity to create lasting memories with their best friends. For many, however, the holidays bring up painful reminders that their loving companion is no longer attempting to knock down the tree, eat the holiday feast, or pouncing at the bright lights.
Losing a pet is agonizing, but the grief associated with pet loss is possibly the worst during the most celebratory times of the year.
The First Year Is Especially Difficult
If this is your first holiday season without your pet or you lost your pet during this time of year, it might feel impossible to focus on smiling and having fun. Your pain might not easily translate to all the joy and happiness those around you. It might feel like you’re all alone, but we assure you that you’re not.
There Is No “Right” Or "Wrong"
Pet loss affects every owner differently. Your experience may involve intense sorrow, guilt, denial, or even anger. Try not to judge, minimize, or ignore your own feelings. The holidays compel us to feel happy, but when grieving, you’re anything but merry. Don’t become mad at yourself for any bah humbug thoughts; they’re normal.
Understanding the stages and principles of grief can sometimes help keep you from feeling "out of control."
Seven Principles of Grief
- Principle One: You cannot fix or cure grief.
- Principle Two: There is no one right way to grieve.
- Principle Three: There is no universal timetable for the grief journey.
- Principle Four: Every loss is a multiple loss.
- Principle Five: Change=Loss=Grief.
- Principle Six: We grieve old loss while grieving new loss.
- Principle Seven: We grieve when a loss has occurred or is threatened.
I Feel Scatter-Brained, Out Of Control. Is That Normal, Too?
Yup. Many people (especially ones without pets) may not understand that pet lovers experience real, strong grief when they lose their best friend. They may give their condolences upon first hearing of your loss, but may not realize that you continue to be in pain as time passes. Some owners may not even realize they're still still grieving: Some common symptoms of grief are:
- Responding sluggishly to questions
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of interest in usual activities—work, sports, games, collecting, social clubs,
- Loss of pleasure--entertainment, food, and social events
- General numbness—shutdown of reactions to social stimuli, no pain, and no joy
- Intrusive thoughts about the loss—constant barrage of thoughts
- Confusion and disorientation—difficulty with time sequences, location
- A sense of futility about life—”What’s the use?” and “Why bother?”
- A sense of helplessness—”Can’t do anything to help myself”
- Uncertainty about identity—”Who am I now?” and “How do I present myself to others now?”
- So-called “crazy” thoughts—hearing or seeing the lost loved one; feeling like they can communicate with them
- Mental fatigue—too tired to figure things out, mind just won’t work
Coping With Pet Loss
There are ways to get through the holidays without your beloved pet, and we hope you find meaningful avenues to that end. We recommend the following methods that not only boost your ability to heal, but also honor your pet’s memory in a profound way:
- Plant an evergreen tree in your pet’s name.
- Print photographs of your pet and hang them inside collectible ornament frames.
- Donate food or other items to your local animal shelter (perhaps the one where you adopted your pet?).
- Find a way to empathize with or support another animal that’s ill or injured; this may make you feel closer to your late pet.
- Try to recall the ways in which you’re lucky or fortunate, as this can help you realize a sense of gratitude for the years your pet gave you.
It’s Hard Asking For Help, But Do It Anyway
Reach out to those you know or understand your situation. While it’s hard to ask for help, try to allow others in. Share your favorite memories of your pet’s life with those who care for you, and you may even find comfort in laughing and crying together. This is a great way to bring your pet’s memory into focus during the holidays.
It’s critical to note that grieving individuals often forget to take good care of themselves. This might be explained by a sense of guilt or shame that one couldn’t continue caring for a beloved animal. Honor your friend by treating yourself nicely and compassionately.
You're Not Alone
With the coming holidays, we hope you’re able to find solace in your pet’s memory. The holidays are an especially difficult time to find meaning or connection when you’re grieving. Chestnut Street is here to support you through all the various stages of grief and pet loss
- The ASPCA’s Pet Loss Support Hotline; 1-877-GRIEF-10.
- Tufts Cummings School Of Veterinary Medicine’s Pet Loss Support Hotline 508-839-7966
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Pet Loss Support Hotline 607-253-3932
- The “Virtual Pet Cemetery” has grown to become one of the largest online burial grounds in the world to honor your pet