For most people, the holidays are a time spent with our loved ones, celebrating our relationships and togetherness. When you have lost a family member, including a beloved pet, the holidays can magnify your sense of grief and loss as you realize that your loved one can no longer celebrate with you. Grief associated with the loss of an animal is often described as “disenfranchised grief”, meaning it is not entirely understood, supported, or accepted by our human companions or communities. This makes the strenuous grieving process over the loss of a beloved animal an even more daunting process than it already is. Allowing the grief we feel some time and attention is an important gift to give ourselves, our families, and our animals during this time of year.
Take time to grieve
Grieving is a formidable task, and it is normal to want to avoid the pain of it. In general people do this by keeping busy, which is easy to do during the holidays. Remember that you don’t have to attend every celebration or accomplish every task on your holiday to do list. The simplest way to remember your pet is to simply take a moment from the speed of life, sit quietly, remember your time together, and give yourself permission to grieve. Often what happens from taking that time out is that your imagination and creativity bring ideas for how to remember your pet in other ways, or how to include others in this process. Here are a few ideas:
Telling the Story
Invite friends and family members to share their stories of the pet you all loved. Our lives with animals are filled with routines. Often there is a well-worn path where you went for walks with your dog or a favorite radiator or window sill where your cat loved to nap. Revisiting these places provides an opportunity to recall and verbalize memories of your animal. Remember that crying is a natural outlet of grief and that tears are okay. Telling our stories and revisiting our best memories can be healing.
Make an Offering
It is traditional to create a special place to make an offering in memory of a deceased loved one. Our family has Christmas stockings for our animals which we put up with the rest of the family’s. Sadly, our beloved Tex died several years ago. That Christmas it seemed natural to put her stocking up. What surprised us was when family and friends gathered on Christmas day, folks spontaneously used the stocking to make offerings of treats, toys (a small wadded up ball of tin foil and the twist off cap of a bottle of sparkling water… both Tex favorites), and even small notes. The stocking provided a focus for people to privately sift through personal memories and then choose an object that represented their relationship with Tex.
One could take that idea in a variety of directions. It could be as simple as looking through photographs and choosing one to display and lighting a votive candle next to it in remembrance or collecting some craft materials in a place where family members could make a memorial ornament.
Give to a local charity
A traditional gesture is to make a holiday donation to an animal charity organization in your pet’s name. Perhaps your pet’s veterinarian has a companion animal fund that was established to help less financially fortunate families afford veterinary care for an ailing pet. Of course, your local animal shelter will always put your donation to good use. Or you could create a small cozy quilt to donate to a shelter for use in keeping animals without homes comfortable.
Grief and Children
Children are highly sensitive people. They can sense when something is amiss, and they know when you are sad. It is important for children to be included in memorializing pets. Children do very well with simple, honest language about death. Frequently children have lingering and mistaken impressions of death, especially if language like “put down” or “put to sleep” were used to describe a death or euthanasia. Memorialization sometimes brings up these misconceptions and it can be an opportunity to bring more clarity to the subject.
As daunting as it may feel to allow the process of grieving into our holiday, doing so is a gift to yourself and your family members. Always remember that you are not alone, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re struggling with grief during this time of year. Our counselors at MN Pets are available if you need someone to talk to and can be reached at 612-354-8500. There is no right or wrong way to spend the holidays after losing a beloved pet; give yourself space to grieve and celebrate the unconditional love our pets give us.