Grieving a Pet
Grief can be really painful and difficult to manage at any time. Throw in the holiday stress, obligations, and traditions, that grief can become overwhelming.
It’s completely normal to grieve the loss of a pet, and even to continue to feel the pain of that loss long after the death. When a pet passes away, it is not “just an animal” that has been lost; pets provide us with unconditional love. That source of non-judgmental love is no longer embodied in the home in the same way that it once was, and that loss is real.
This holiday season, allow yourself to grieve with whichever of these steps is helpful for you and your situation:
1. Give yourself permission to actively grieve.
Grieving is important. The painful feelings that come with a loss show how important that life was for us. It is good to acknowledge those feelings and work through them intentionally.
2. Memorialize your pet with an ornament or decoration.
If this is your first holiday without your pet, you may find this time of year especially painful and difficult. Demonstrate your care by making or buying an ornament that reminds you of your pet, create a piece of art, or put up your pet’s photo.
3. Get enough rest, good nutrition and exercise.
This is really difficult with parties, planning, family, and junk food. But taking care of our bodies is really important! Our emotions and our grief are more likely to become overwhelming if we shock our body with tremendous amounts of caffeine and sugar, late nights, and sedentary days.
4. Connect honestly with people who understand your loss.
It is so helpful to share your thoughts and feelings with someone trustworthy. Whether or not that person has experienced the loss of a pet, what matters most is that you will be respected and honored for your vulnerability rather than criticized or dismissed for it.
6. Accept the feelings that come with grief. It may be helpful to express them with art, music, writing, and talking about them.
The holiday season is rife with expectations around joy, happiness, and frivolity. That might not be how you feel right now, and that is ok. You might need to move through the feelings of loss before you can experience relief and gratitude. Creative pursuits may be helpful in facilitating this process.
7. Indulge yourself in small pleasures.
This part of grief and recovery is perhaps the only one that is easier during the holidays. We are often surrounded with chocolates, new gadgets, jewelry, or other small pleasures. Treat your self!
8. Be patient with yourself – and ask others to be patient with you, too.
The grieving process moves more slowly for some than others. You’re ok, even if it takes a while. It’s ok to let people know that the reason you’re not as jolly as others might expect is because you are grieving the loss of your pet.
9. Forgive yourself when it gets hard.
Recovery from any kind of trauma or loss is not a straight line. There are good days and bad days, or good weeks and bad weeks. This may especially be true when holidays or other events bring up old memories. It does not mean you are broken or that there is something wrong with you.
10. Don’t be afraid to get help.
Mental health professionals are trained and equipped to help people embrace the difficult changes in our lives. This is really helpful for many, many people.