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  • Nicole Vykoukal, LCSW

Surviving the Holidays When Your Beloved Pet Has Died

Updated: Jan 1, 2020

The holidays can be a time of cheer, sharing gifts, and gathering with family and friends. However, for many people the holidays bring sadness, loneliness, and reflection of lost loved ones, including pets who were family members. On long, winter, holiday evenings it is common to struggle with loneliness and miss your deceased furry companion.

Here are 3 tips for surviving the holidays after the loss of your pet.

1. Compassionately allow space for feelings, thoughts, and questions that arise.

When you lose a loved one, the grief often comes in waves and you experience a wide range of feelings, behaviors, and thoughts. Have compassion for yourself, try not to panic when sadness, loneliness and grief come your way, and truly allow yourself to feel the grief.

You may have learned that you need to immediately snap yourself out of negative emotions and thoughts. The message that we should not allow ourselves to feel distress or pain, is an unreasonable and false message.The truth is all humans experience difficult emotions, loss, and suffering.

During the holidays when you experience distressing feelings and thoughts associated with the death of your animal, comfort yourself with a warm blanket or a warm beverage. Then, gently breathe (as though you are breathing into or through the pain) while honoring that you are experiencing this pain because of how profound and deep your connection with your animal was. If leaning into difficult emotions alone feels too scary, connect with a supportive friend or even a professional counselor. The goal here is to allow space for emotions in a non-judgmental and compassionate manner.

2. Honor your companion through tradition and ritual.

According to grief experts, honoring and connecting to lost loved ones through storytelling, traditions, pictures, memorabilia, and rituals can be helpful. This year consider creating a holiday ritual or tradition in honor of your pet.

This may include a special holiday decoration in your pet’s honor, a seasonal donation to animals in need, saying a prayer on their behalf, lighting a candle in your beloved pet’s memory, or anything else that feels right and special to you. Traditions and rituals can be a way to incorporate your lost loved ones into the holiday, honor their impact on your life, and carry them with you into the present moment.

3. Connect with others.

For many the death of a best furry, feathered, or scaled friend is traumatic. Especially if you were deeply connected to your animal. Additional holiday stress can trigger emotions and symptoms associated with grief and trauma, and to cope you may find yourself desiring more time alone. Although it’s important to honor your desire for alone time, experts in trauma and loss recommend avoiding too much isolation and trying to connect with others or to a sense of community.

We all have different levels of comfort and desire for connection so it is important to find an activity that allows you to connect with others at a pace that feels right. Schedule one-on-one time with a supportive friend or family member and choose an activity that feels nourishing to you. This could include watching a movie with a friend, spending time in nature with a friend, or meeting for lunch or coffee.

Additional ways to connect to a sense of community during the holidays include volunteering for a day, attending a spiritual service or gathering, going to a group yoga class, visiting a busy park or playground, or smiling at someone.

If these suggestions seem too overwhelming, consider joining an online support community, working with a grief and loss counselor, or attending a support group. The key here is connecting to others. Too much isolation can recreate the sense of loneliness and abandonment that often accompanies loss and trauma. Often, when we connect with others and see we are not alone in our trials and tribulations, we feel a little better.

Know that you are not alone and many people struggle with painful emotions during the holidays. Be mindful of how you treat yourself and try to be compassionate and loving towards yourself because grief and loss is one of the most difficult experiences humankind faces.

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