The holiday season can be bittersweet for people who’ve lost – or are getting ready to say goodbye – to a loyal companion animal. Coping with pet loss grief during a season that’s purportedly “jolly” can be especially challenging.
“Pet loss grief is especially difficult during the holidays because it’s “disenfranchised grief” – grief that cannot be easily publicly mourned – and households generally become busier with holiday prep stress and guests. At the same time, people often face making the difficult euthanasia decision during the holidays because they’re home to see the decline in their pet’s quality of life,” said Dr. Laurie Brush, founder of Heaven at Home Pet Hospice.
If you have a pet with a life-limiting disease or who is in rapid decline, there are things you can do in preparation for euthanasia to promote healthy grief and healing.
“We encourage pet parents to spoil their babies in days prior, and to create a comfortable setting for a peaceful goodbye with the pet’s favorite things in a favorite place,” Brush said. “Often, we find it also helps the pets that are left behind grieve and understand if they are present during the euthanasia.”
The Heaven at Home team works closely with the West Michigan Pet Loss Grief Support Group, led by Ginny Mikita, Facilitator. In addition to community and self-care, she promotes the power of memorializing as a healthy way to work through your grief, such as:
- Commission memorial jewelry or glass sculpture artwork from cremains. (see examples here)
- Create a photo album, scrapbook, or video
- Take cremains to a special place such as a dog park or trail (be sure to secure permission.)
- Plant a tree, donate a park bench, or make a donation in memory of your pet. (Heaven at Home’s Herkemer Fund accepts donations to provide pet care assistance for those on fixed incomes.)
- Host an intentional ceremony or ritual to formally acknowledge your loss, or simply to share stories of your pet’s life.
Whether your grief is new or lingering during the holidays, you can take the time to celebrate your pet’s life story with family activities, a ritual, or commemorative gifts. As the saying goes, grief is love, looking for a home.