A few months after my dad died in 2002, my mom and I were invited to our church for a program called “Tinsel and Tears” for people who had lost loved ones during the year and were now facing the Christmas holidays without them.
Aside from the fact that we were all still grieving our loss, they pointed out that carrying out our normal activities and traditions at this time of year can be even more painful because of the absence of that person.
They suggested things such as, if you normally have a sit-down dinner, try a buffet so that the empty spot at the table won’t be so obvious and glaring. Good idea, huh?
Last month, I attended a presentation by the local chapter of Lap of Love, a veterinary hospice and in-home euthanasia practice. I got to thinking about those holiday memories involving our pets, like the presents we buy for them, Christmas morning walks with the dog, cats playing with ornaments on the tree, etc., and about the deep grief we feel when those cherished four-legged family members are gone.
One of the nicest things about Tinsel and Tears was the recognition of our grief and the sharing among those who understood. In recent years, grief over the loss of a pet has become more validated by our society and that is so important.
In the counseling profession, we call it “disenfranchised grief” when some type of loss is cast off or dismissed by others as not important or silly. That mindset makes a person’s grief even more painful than it is to begin with.
Ann Beyke was at the Lap of Love presentation. A therapist who specializes in pet loss, Ann trained with the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, a non-profit that trains counselors and offers online chat rooms for those who’ve lost or are anticipating the loss of a pet.
Ann began her specialty 11 years ago when Goldie, her beloved Golden Retriever, was dying. Aware of her own grief, she wondered about others who might need help.
Ann facilitates groups around Albuquerque in addition to private sessions and says she typically receives more calls around the Holidays. (petlosscounselor.com; 265-3087.)
So here’s our advice for those grieving a loss this Christmas:
• First, validate your own grief. Don’t try to cover it up, that only makes it worse.
• Do what you need to do or not do to get through this season.
• Set up a little altar in honor of your pet, hang a special ornament on the tree, make a donation to an organization on behalf of your pet (there are tons of options, here from local to national).
For friends and family:
• Be there for your loved ones, let them know you care, send a card, flowers, or make a donation yourself.
When my cat Tokala died, our vet had a tree planted in his honor through Arbor Day! Ann says rather than asking your friends what they need, tell them you’ll be bringing over their favorite food or taking them out for a hike.
• And “be there with a shoulder to cry on because chances are they’ve done the same thing for you.”
Whatever your loss, remember that we grieve because we have loved. Celebrate that love, even as you move through your sadness.
Happy Holidays everyone.