Holidays and Grief

cat christmas.jpg

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
 - Leonard Cohen

Well-intentioned friends exclaim, “Happy Holidays!” Andy Williams repeatedly croons through retail sound systems, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” For those whose companion animals have died and will not be home for Christmas or Hanukkah, it can, instead, be one of the most painful times of the year.

Whether this is the first holiday season you’ve experienced without your beloved companion animal, or the season has come and gone several times since her death, it can be particularly difficult.

This year, consider giving yourself a gift. Gift yourself with permission, quiet time and sacred space. Allow yourself to remember your companion animal and be fully present without judgment to all the emotions such remembering evokes. Sadness and tears, anger and pangs of guilt, joy and laughter.

Here are just a few “gift” ideas[1].

Light a Candle

Treat yourself to a beautiful candle. Find a meaningful place in your home to place it during the season, perhaps next to a favorite photograph of your companion animal. Set aside daily time - even five or ten minutes - to light it, allowing yourself to be enveloped by its warmth.  Reflect upon your time together, focusing on your gratitude for and the lessons learned from your companion’s life being part of your journey.

Have a Heartfelt Talk

During your candlelit moments, if the spirit moves you, have a conversation. Out loud. Or journal. Share with your companion animal whatever is on your mind. You may have feelings bottled up inside that have never been spoken. Perhaps the circumstances of your companion animal’s death continue to haunt you. Perhaps you’re considering or struggling with adopting another animal. Perhaps the loss triggers unresolved grief from earlier losses.

Share Your Companion Animal’s Items

Items that belonged to your companion animal - a toy with which she played, a blanket in which she snuggled, clothing with her scent, like a ThunderShirt, are often all that’s physically left behind and can be very difficult to part with. If you’re ready, the giving season may be the right time to share some or all of them.  

Make a Dedication

Volunteer your service or make a donation to a shelter or other animal-related organization in your companion animal’s name. For many years, I have made donations to Wings of Wonder, a raptor rehabilitation organization, as memorial gifts. The group sends a picture of the screech owl who will be released into the wild, soaring on her own wings, to the grieving family.

Create a Scrapbook

If you haven’t already done so, create a scrapbook of or fill a box with favorite photos, writings and other memorabilia that remind you of your companion animal.

Visit a Special Place

Visit a special place - a dog park, a walking trail - that was special for you and your companion animal. Gently care for the space while there. Before returning home, you may want to leave something behind as a tribute - a flower or a favorite treat for the lucky animal who happens upon it first. Such acts are powerful healing tools. There were so many items left at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial site in Washington D.C., the National Park Service eventually hired people to collect and catalogue them, and later opened the Museum Resource Center, a climate-controlled warehouse, to store them.

Attend a Blue Christmas Service

Many Christian churches, especially in West Michigan, now have special services in early December designed especially for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one.

Continue to Live and Love

While grieving plays an important role in healing, our companion animals, I believe, would want us to continue living and loving. Decorate your home. Hang your companion’s stocking and fill it with items to be given to a shelter or other animal advocacy organization. Most importantly, surround yourself with the love of others - other companion animals and people who respect your love for and loss of your companion animal.

[1] Adapted from Meaningful Remembrances for Holiday Grief by Nancy Copeland-Payton

Ginny Mikata