Getting past grief during the holidays

When you’ve lost a pet, the holidays can be a difficult time. Here’s how to work through your grief and enjoy the season to the best of your ability.

All of us with animal companions look forward to celebrating the holidays with them. Whether you buy your pet a present or give them special holiday treats and attention, their presence is part of the joy and happiness of the season. But what happens if you’re dealing with some grief this year because your pet has passed on? Your dog is no longer there to celebrate with you and your family. Your cat won’t be knocking the balls off the tree or running through the wrapping paper.

Maybe the loss is recent; maybe it happened years ago. But holidays and other special occasions carry with them the sharp pain of memories and the weight of sadness, making them very bittersweet. They trigger what we call “grief bursts” – sudden, overpowering feelings of loss and loneliness.

What can we do?

First, give yourself permission to excuse yourself from the festivities without lengthy explanations. “I need some alone time” should be enough. During this private time, let yourself cry and remember. Don’t try to bat your feelings away. Name your pain, and allow yourself to feel it. If it helps, talk to your animal companion about all that you’re feeling.

If gift giving is part of your holiday season, consider buying a small gift for your departed pet. You don’t have to open it if it doesn’t feel right – it’s just the act of “giving” it that matters. This can be especially helpful for those who have recently lost an animal.

Take “grief breaks” – time in which you deliberately do something else to take your mind off your sadness such as watch a funny movie, help with the dishes or take a walk. It can help tremendously if you share these breaks with people you love and trust.

If you have the impulse, share your story with a close friend or family member. Let them know how difficult this time is, and how much you miss having your animal companion with you.

You might decide to skip part of the day completely, allowing yourself a few hours to volunteer at a shelter. Let your heart be touched by the animals who don’t have a home during the holiday season. Doing good has an amazing, healing quality, and being around others animals can be very therapeutic.

Take good care of yourself. Stay hydrated, eat well and get plenty of rest. Grief bursts are exhausting and deplete the body.

Allow yourself to feel grateful; to be aware of all the things that are good and comforting in your life, or that make you happy. Write them down if it helps.

If you journal, add to it, and look back at past entries. Has your grief changed? Do you feel your pain has lessened? Say so, and be thankful for that gift.

Do something special for yourself. Get a massage, take a friend to lunch, make a donation or buy something that you want, whether you need it or not.

The holidays remind us keenly of all that we have lost, but also all that we have. Notice whatever feelings come up during this time, and make peace with them. It’s all part of your journey.

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Rev. Kaleel Sakakeeny is an ordained animal chaplain and credentialed pet bereavement counselor living and working in Massachusetts. With a mission to help those grieving the loss of their beloved pets and to educate on the animal-human bond, Sakakeeny is becoming a prominent voice on this front. He was recently featured in publications People, Catster and Boston Magazine, and in a segment on the news TV program “Chronicle” on WCVB-TV-Boston. His advice is well sought after and he is often a featured speaker at live events as well as a source and spokesperson in articles on the subject. For more information, Rev. Sakakeeny can be reached at Website: