Celebrating the Holidays Without Your Animal Companion

Posted: Oct 22, 2018
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As the holidays are approaching, Enid Traisman, MSW, CT, and Director of the DoveLewis Pet Loss Support Program, reviews ways that you can honor your pet during the holiday season. These tips can also be shared with clients who may have recently lost a pet.


“Happy holidays!” That’s the greeting we hear often during this time of year. But if you are grieving the loss of your pet, you may be feeling some apprehension. After all, how does one celebrate the holidays when a loved one is so sorely missed?

Normal questions you may be asking yourself include: How can I make it through all the events of the holidays while missing so desperately the one I love? Would I be better off to ignore the holidays this year? Should I act as if everything is normal? Should I make major changes in my holiday rituals?

As explored in a Pet Talk article on OregonLive, there are many different ways to approach coping with loss (read the full article here). Here are a few tips to help you navigate this holiday season without your beloved pet:

  • First, slow down. Don’t expect yourself or others to have the “perfect Thanksgiving or Christmas.”
  • Set aside time to think about your beloved companion. Allow your grief to surface and give it expression.
  • Create a new and special holiday ritual to honor your loved one.
  • Embrace your memories and find comfort in them. This is the bittersweet part, as our memories often bring us to both tears and laughter (but they are what sustain us through the years).
  • Do not feel guilty if you find you are enjoying yourself around the holidays. It is not disrespectful to the memory of your loved one if you have a good time; your loved one would be happy to know you are enjoying yourself.

Creating new rituals and new traditions that pay tribute to the memory of your beloved pet is one way to survive, and perhaps even embrace, the holidays this year. Here are some suggestions of what you can do:

  • Decorate a wreath with pictures, toys and items that belonged to the animal who died, and display the wreath in your home.
  • Wrap a framed picture of your pet, and give it as a gift to another grieving family member.
  • Create a special ornament with your pet’s photo, name and year, and hang it on the tree.
  • Decorate a candle and light it in memory of your pet. If you celebrate Chanukah, recall a memory of your pet on each of the eight nights that you light the Menorah.
  • Make a book of pictures about your pet to give or simply to share with one another. This is a good activity for children as well.
  • Make a donation to your favorite charity in honor of your pet.
  • Mention your pet’s name in the blessing over the food at the holiday dinner, or propose a toast to your pet’s memory.
  • Share anecdotes and favorite stories about the pet who died. Sometimes others need permission to talk about a lost pet. Let them know you would rather keep the memory of your beloved pet alive than pretend nothing has changed.

Once you’ve remembered your cherished pet, make sure you remember yourself. Take care of yourself. Get enough sleep, nourishment and regular exercise. Build relaxation time into your schedule. Give yourself permission to cry, feel sad and acknowledge how much you miss your sweet companion animal.