While the holiday season is meant to be a time of joy and celebration, for those of us who are dealing with a loss – either recent or historical – this time of year can be especially challenging in many ways. The pressures and expectations of society and of friends and family, even if they’re well-intended or completely unintentional, can add stress and pain to a situation already heavy with memory and pain, and it’s incredibly important, in the middle of these challenges, to take care of ourselves and be aware of our own emotional health.
People facing loss and grief during the holidays are often drawn in two completely contradictory directions. There’s pressure from society and our culture to celebrate, rejoice, and generally be filled with a spirit of love and good cheer that may not feel appropriate to someone mourning a recent loss or facing an imminent loss. This may be even more acutely felt by those who have lost pets, as often many people may not regard that loss as being as valid or emotionally challenging as the loss of a human family member, or may pressure them to get a new pet as a holiday gift.
At the same time, at the other end of the spectrum, people facing loss can also be pressured to show their mourning in ways that outsiders feel appropriate – to grieve publicly and to abstain from any displays of happiness or celebration. They may be told that it’s inappropriate to celebrate under these circumstances, or they may feel guilty for being happy when propriety tells them they should still be sad – it can feel like a betrayal of the individual lost to find happiness so soon after, or so close to their passing.
There is no right or wrong way to feel. There is no one true way to grieve, and whatever you are feeling around your pet’s loss (or any other loss you may be facing) is right for *you.* While it’s important to find support from the people you love and who love you, it’s also important to set boundaries, and to make it clear to them that your emotional path is your own, just as theirs is. If it feels appropriate to grieve, to abstain from celebration, and to be present with your sorrow, then do so. If it feels right to celebrate – to share tales of joy from a life together, to rejoice in the loved ones still present, to give your happiness as a gift to the world that gave you such a loving companion for as long as it was able, then do so.
You do not owe anyone either your sorrow or your happiness. Not society, not your family, not the loved one who has passed on. You have gifted them with your time, your energy, and so many other things, but your grief and your process through loss are yours to travel in your own way, at your own pace.
That doesn’t mean you need to walk it alone, though. As I said, please reach out. In this dark, chill, challenging time we can all feel lonely, especially if a beloved companion has passed or is facing terminal illness. Please take advantage of the resources in your area. Friends, family, veterinary staff, religious support groups, pet loss hotlines or online communities – whatever support you need to make it through this period. Help is here.
Best wishes for hope, healing, happiness, and a bright new year.