Pet loss & support: Grief & coping with the first Christmas after losing a pet

Christmas mourning: How to cope with your first holiday season after losing a pet

Christmas mourning: How to cope with your first holiday season after losing a pet

I'm forcing myself to be festive this year. I've had times in my life when I skipped Christmas altogether. "I'm not Christmasing this year," I'd say when people asked me standard holiday questions like "Do you have your tree up yet?" This year I'm forcing myself to be festive for the sake of my mental health. One small reason is the COVID-19 pandemic has sucked so much happiness out of 2020 that I'm trying to infuse some of the obligatory Christmas joy into what's left of the year. The biggest reason for my forced festivities is Keira. More specifically the loss of Keira I suffered earlier this year.

My dog Keira, a sweet and smart Saint Bernese known for her immediate lovability and Houdini-like escape tactics, passed away after 13 years of life. More than 8 of those years were spent being loved by me. Not to mention her sister Hazel, a sassy and silly Saint Bernese known for her bottomless pit of a stomach and asymmetry, who loved her just as much. Keira was a once in a lifetime dog and losing her is something I silently struggle with every day. 

How to cope: The first Christmas after losing a pet

Forcing myself to celebrate Christmas is a coping mechanism. I've had so many Christmases with Keira that I can't imagine one without her. It's one of the many things I'm doing to try and make it through the first holiday season without my old lady dog. I'm sure I'm not the only one coping with my first Christmas after losing a pet, so I thought I'd share the things I'm doing to celebrate her life rather than mourn her loss over the holidays. This is how I'm coping with my first Christmas after losing my pet. I hope you find something in here that may help you, or at least know you are not alone.

Don't erase her memory, as tempting as it may be at times. Instead, celebrate it

It can be tempting to just forget sometimes, to try to block out memories, or not mention her. It's like a numbing ointment that helps dull the pain. But it's only a bandaid. So when the time comes when I feel like not mentioning how sad losing her makes me feel or pushing thoughts about her deep down, I force myself not to do it. Instead, I think about something she loved or something she did that made me laugh. 

Include her in my gift-giving

This Christmas I've found ways to include Keira in Christmas gifts. She may be gone, but she's still a part of the family.

Pet loss & support: Grief & the first Christmas after losing a pet

Memorialize her in holiday fashion

I plan to put up Keira's decorations and stocking this year. These things are important- it was how I showed my love for her. I still love her, and plan to carry on those traditions without her.

Be prepared for it to hurt, and allow myself to grieve

I know it is going to hurt a lot- especially on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. These moments of sadness are natural and acceptable, and I'm going to allow myself to grieve those moments. The firsts are always the worst after a family member dies.

Pet loss & support: Grief & the first Christmas after losing a pet

Spend time in the snow

Keira loved the snow. The day I brought her home I took her for a walk in the snow and when I threw the ball for her, she bounced in the white powder like a playful baby deer. I call it snow-bouncing. Snow reminds me of Keira. I'm not a big fan of snow, but I absolutely hated it before Keira. Keira made me appreciate so many things, and snow was one of them. I found a new appreciation for the snow. I loved the long winter walks we would take, hiking, snowshoeing, and bouncing through the snow. Hazel and I are taking long walks in the snow to remember Keira.

Lean on family- and Hazel

I'll need the love and support of my family this year. When we are hurting, one of the best things we can do to heal is lean on the ones we love. I will especially need Hazel's love, luckily she has a lot of love to give. 

Pet loss & support: Grief & the first Christmas after losing a pet

Look at photos of her and share memories

I'm finding that looking at old photos of Keira is helping a lot. Looking at her photos makes me sad, but it also makes me feel happy and grateful to have had her in my life. Facebook memories shows me photos of Keira every day. Sharing her photos and memories in any way I can helps me celebrate her life. It also reminds me of how many other people loved her. She was so easy to love. 

Embrace that things will be different, but know she would want me to carry on traditions without her

Things will be very different this year and accepting that will allow me to move forward. I'm going to continue the family traditions I created with Keira. Like walking at night and looking at Christmas lights. My dogs are my family; they're my life. We created our own canine Christmas traditions. Hazel and I will carry on, remembering Keira's kind and curious spirit as we do. 

Pet loss & support: Grief & the first Christmas after losing a pet

Talk about her

Sharing stories of winters and Christmases past that I spent with Keira makes me feel good. She was sweet, happy, and enthusiastic about winter. Mountain Dogs get really excited about the snow. It makes me feel good to share and laugh stories about my bouncy girl. 

Talk to her (yes, I do this)

Full disclosure- I still talk to Keira. I talk to her urn and her paw print. I actually tell her I love her every time I dust her urn. I talk to the photos of her I have in my front hallway. I don't know if she can hear me, but it makes me feel connected to her.

Pet loss & support: Grief & the first Christmas after losing a pet

Embrace Christmas to brighten the mood

I'm diving headfirst into Christmas! I'm going to overdose on cheesy holiday movies, hot chocolate, glitter, and Christmas crafts! It's difficult to feel bad during the holidays, so I'm going to let the Christmas spirit boost me up. Everyone needs to feel good right now.

Make a donation in her name

Every year I make a small donation to a charity, non-profit, or organization that supports animal welfare or wildlife. This year I'll do that in Keira's name. 

Pet loss & support: Grief & the first Christmas after losing a pet

Writing in my journal

Writing about Keira on my blog helps, but sometimes my feelings are more difficult or complex to work through. Journaling is a really great way to process grief. I have The Wild Unknown Journal by Kim Krans. It's a journal with words that are used as prompts, and each page has a design or artwork to incorporate into your writing. It plays into my creativity and I'm finding it very helpful. 

Practice self-care

This is a big one. Exercise. Work-life balance. Sufficient sleep. Healthy food. Pamper myself. Spend time outdoors. Put my physical and mental health first. Clean the house. Communication with the outside world. Say no when I need to say no. Say yes to things that are good for me. It's important that we don't forget to put our health and wellness first, especially when we've suffered a loss. 

Pet loss & support: Grief & the first Christmas after losing a pet

Don't be afraid to get help if it comes to that

If my grief becomes so unbearable that I can't take it anymore, become depressed, or constantly negative, I will seek help. That help may be in the form of counseling or medication- whichever option my doctor thinks is right for me. Your 'mind' is technically your brain, and your brain is just another body part. Body parts can get hurt or broken and when they do, they need to be repaired. I will never be ashamed to ask for help. If you are suffering from grief, anxiety, or depression please reach out to your physician. There is no shame in it and we all feel this way sometimes. If you think there's something wrong with you just know that the person standing beside you right now (6 feet away from you I hope!) has had the same dark feelings at some point in their life. We are not all in the same boat, but we are cruising the same ocean- so don't jump ship! 

The first Christmas after the loss of a pet feels empty. The following is something I have said to my clients during devastating euthanasia appointments when I've supported them while they go through the most difficult experience of their pet-owning life. I try to remind myself of this on hard days. 

Pet loss & support: Grief & the first Christmas after losing a pet

A pet's only reason for existing is to provide us with unconditional love. It's literally what they do- it's their only job. Keira would wait all day for me to get home just so she could love me. It is such a huge sacrifice they make for us; to live just to love. That's why they are only on this Earth for a short time. Our job as their owners is to be there at the beginning and the end. To be there to make them feel safe as they take their final breaths. It's difficult to do, but it's the sacrifice we make in order to experience their love. Nothing that loves so big, so hard, and so purely- so unconditionally- could possibly live forever. 

How to cope: The first Christmas after losing a pet

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2 Comentarios

  1. Good article and good way to work through your own grief.

  2. Good article and good way to work through your grief.