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Pet Loss and the Holidays

by Liz Pollack, Certified Pet Loss Grief Counselor

Last year one of my best friends lost her 13 year old dog right before Thanksgiving. She made it through that holiday by filling her days with work and social activities. She said yes to every holiday party and even threw one of her own. She was starting to look forward to Christmas, the meaning, decorations, food and once again seeing friends and family. Then she was blindsided. She opened a box of Christmas ornaments and sitting on top was her dog’s stocking. It was the one she had hung up for him every year since he was a puppy. Seeing the stocking unleashed a torrent of sadness and grief.

Like my friend, many people find themselves going through the motions during the holidays. They fill their time, keep busy and get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of it all. Yet, underneath is the realization that the holiday will never be the same without their beloved pet. Often pets are an integral part of our holiday celebrations and it is almost impossible to wrap our minds around the fact that they won’t be with us anymore. Rather than just filling up our time, it is important to take time to take care of ourselves; not just physically but mentally as well. If you’ve recently lost or are facing the loss of a pet, here are some suggestions to help you through the holidays.

  • Expect to feel some sadness and pain.   Allow yourself to feel these feelings and don’t try to cover them up. Let yourself cry – tears are an important part of the healing process.
  • Plan your holidays ahead. Plan time around supportive friends and family but balance it with quiet time alone.
  • Learn to say “No thank you”. Allow yourself to say no to requests for social gatherings if you simply don’t feel up to it.
  • Simplify whenever possible. Do your holiday shopping online if being among holiday shoppers seem overwhelming to you this year. Send fewer Christmas cards or limit decorations.
  • Find a way to include your lost pet into the holidays. Place a candle next to a photo of your pet in a special place in your home and light it during significant times to symbolize the love you feel for your pet. Get a living Christmas tree and plant it in your yard in memory of your pet. Hang photo frame ornaments with your pet’s picture on your tree.
  • Share memories of your pet with supportive family members and friends during holiday gatherings. This may bring tears, but it may also bring laughter, and it will make your lost pet a part of the celebrations.
  • Make a donation in your pet’s memory to a charity that is meaningful to you such as a shelter or rescue group.

The important thing is to make conscious choices to balance your grief, activities and eliminate as much stress as you can.


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