by Kitty Walker, LMSW-
Several years ago my canine soul mate, Kito, escaped peacefully from his prison of congestive heart failure. It was late September, the same time of year I had brought him home as a tiny Sheltie furball 10 years earlier. I was devastated. I had no idea I could hurt so deeply and still be alive. That winter was a blur of bereavement. Just as I thought I was starting to feel better, the season of holidays arrived with its usual tempo of frenetic activity and enforced merriment. I was clearly out of step and decidedly depressed.
Normally I was right in the middle of things, shopping, baking, spending time with friends .... always with Kito by my side. An enthusiastic tree trimmer, carol singer, turkey taster, and gift un-
There is no time of year when it's easy to mourn a beloved pet. But as is the case with all kinds of losses, the winter holiday season can be especially brutal to those in bereavement.
A traditionally family time, it reminds us of whom-
The following recommendations are meant as guides to surviving pet loss through the holidays, keeping in mind that every pet owner's grief process is individual.
1. Acknowledge that you are grieving, and that you might have some emotional difficulty during the holiday season. This sounds obvious, but cannot be overlooked. It usually doesn't work to pretend to be happy for days on end while a significant grieving period is going on.
2. Let yourself grieve. You might be surrounded by people trying to get you to feel anything else, especially those who have not gone through a loss of this kind. It is important to your emotional health to be true to your feelings as they arise. Don't worry about crying in front of others...it is not a time to please everyone else at the expense of yourself.
3. Share your feelings with someone you trust. It is a phenomenal burden to go through the grief process alone, or to seek support from someone who does not comprehend the pain of pet loss. If there is no one to turn to in your immediate family or circle of friends, consider consulting with a pet loss counselor or support group, in your community or on-
4. Cherish your memories. Retelling the story of her yellow lab stealing and devouring a fully stuffed turkey on the day of her mother's funeral helped a friend of mine get through her first Thanksgiving without him. Do not be afraid to remember happier times with your pet...this can be a source of comfort during a time of longing and sadness. Likewise, displaying a picture of your pet taken during a past holiday might bring a sense of solace, as well as a source of positive memories.
5. Do something symbolic. A gift to an animal shelter or other organization in honor of your pet is a tangible way to show respect. Other rituals people have shared with me include lighting a special candle, hanging a stocking or an ornament with the pet's name on it, and writing a special poem or story to post on an Internet site designed for that purpose (like "Virtual Pet Cemetery").
6. Give yourself the gift of caring. The basics of self-
7. Help someone else. This is a great opportunity to volunteer your time and energy to those in need. My community shelter has a pet food drive this time each year, with lots of options for volunteering. Non-
8. Rely on your spiritual belief system. If you have a belief in a higher power, an afterlife, a divine order in nature, or other beliefs regarding life and death, it's a good time to reconnect with those beliefs and/or explore new ones.
9. Resist the temptation to get a new pet prematurely to fill the void left by the previous one. The holidays might be a very tempting time to do just that, but remember that a special relationship-
10. Remember that the holidays are temporary. The first holiday season after a pet dies is usually the most difficult. After that you will have a sense of who and what helped you get through it. Affirm your survival a day at a time.
My best to all who are carrying pain through this season. Remember you can write to me anytime you wish to reach out.