Why is Pet Grief and the Holidays So Overwhelming?

Anyone who has lost a pet knows that it is like losing a member of the family. Yet, they may not understand why certain times of the year can be harder on someone who is grieving the loss of a pet. It’s natural to feel grief when a beloved pet is no longer a part of our life, but it seems like grief around the holidays intensifies. Here we’ll discuss how grief and the holidays correlate, as well as provide some actionable advice on how to deal with it.

A Time for Family

Oddly enough, the most obvious reason for an increase in grief is family. The holidays are traditionally a time to get together with loved ones to share memories. Whenever a family member has passed, there is always the feeling that the family is not quite complete. The team at Flemish Giant Rabbit points out that people have a need for support that is strongest during the holidays. These times are meant to be spent with those you love. If some family is not present, then that can make the holidays much harder to bear. There is already a lot of stress around this time — grief around the holidays may add to that. 

The Hole left by the Loss

Grieving the loss of a pet leaves a hole in your holiday experience. If a family member is not present, their absence can be felt by those who were closest to them. But feelings of grief and the holidays are multifaceted. There is also the feeling of nostalgia, or a longing for past days, and it can’t quite be satisfied without that missing family member.

Perhaps you have pleasant memories of what you did during the holidays with your pet. It is normal to feel like something is missing when you engage in those same activities without the pet. You may even feel like avoiding those activities altogether.

Acknowledge Your Grief

It can help to identify that you are experiencing grief around the holidays. You may be told to have a “Happy Holidays” or to just try to put on a smile for your family, but it’s possible you won’t feel like doing so. When grieving the loss of a pet, you don’t have to be happy for anyone else’s sake. If you do, you are unlikely to process your grief naturally and completely.

Grief and the holidays may be complex — you should recognize your state of grieving and try to get time to deal with it. You may need time away from family members or the hectic nature of the holidays to do that. Plan for some personal time to help you work through your grief around the holidays . Intentional time alone may make this time more bearable. 

It’s normal to want personal time when you are feeling sad. While the holidays don’t always allow that, you can carve out that time and be better off for it.

Golden retriever sniffing holiday wreath.

Sharing Grief Around the Holidays. 

Another reason why grieving the loss of a pet is so difficult to handle during the holidays is because everyone expects everyone else to be happy and cheerful. They don’t expect people to share their grief, and the holidays go on as usual.

While it may not be socially acceptable, your friends will understand if you want to talk about your feelings and your loss. The team at grief.com advises that:

 “This can help you to cope, and it can help them to better understand where you are emotionally. It may not be the most pleasant thing to do during the holidays, but sharing your grief around the holidays will help you to get on the other side of it to some degree and maybe have time to get some joy out of the holidays afterward.”

You’ll want to be appropriate with where and how you share your feelings. There are suitable moments for sharing your experience while grieving the loss of a pet. You must know when it is the right time to talk about your feelings. 

 Everyone responds to grief and the holidays differently — some cannot handle these conversations. It’s best to take the time to share when it is just you and another friend alone or a small circle of friends together. Your grief sharing will be most effective at these times as well.

Final Thoughts on Grief and the Holidays 

If you notice that you are struggling with grief around the holidays, then you’ll want to get some outside help or some time alone to deal with the emotions. Grieving the loss of a pet is a genuinely complex experience. Your feelings about your pet are authentic, and you should treat them as such. 

- Melissa Kauffman, Catster & Dogster magazine editor

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