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The Art of Surviving the Holidays

Show Notes

Facing the holidays while grieving the loss of your pet can be an emotionally challenging experience.

Our companion animals hold a special place in our hearts, serving as best friends, the most important member of our support network and a huge source of unconditional love.

During the holiday season, traditions and celebrations may trigger memories of shared moments with our pets, intensifying the sense of loss.

Their absence can create a profound void, making it difficult to fully engage in festive activities. The holiday spirit, typically associated with joy and togetherness, can feel tinged with sadness.

The holidays can also amplify feelings of loneliness and isolation. The companionship and comfort our pets provide are irreplaceable, and the void left by their absence can be acutely felt during a time when the emphasis is on connection and togetherness.

We’re releasing this episode a couple of days early in case you need to hear it on Thanksgiving morning.

Our host and pet loss grief educator Angela Schneider shares 10 strategies you might want to try to get survive these next few weeks.

What to listen for

00:43 Angela’s struggles with the holidays
3:13 10 strategies for coping with the holidays
5:11 Where to look for support\
7:53 Why it’s OK to cry during the holidays

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Transcript

Welcome to One Last Network and The Art of Surviving the Holidays.

Every Christmas, I would pull this raggedy set of reindeer horns out and make Shep post for a cellphone photo. You could see in his eyes that he did it begrudgingly.

That first Christmas without him, I pulled out those horns and collapsed in a heap of sobs on the floor.

I tried to put them on Bella. She wouldn’t have it. She flashed me her “eff off” eyes and walked away.

Worse even than that was hearing “happy holidays” wherever I went.

That became even more true in 2022, my first Christmas without my mom.

Why is anyone telling me happy holidays?

What the hell does anyone know about how my holidays are going?

The idea of celebrating anything left me feeling empty, no matter how hard I tried to find the Christmas spirit.

You may be feeling the same way.

The holiday season is branded by joy, laughter, togetherness. Friends and family come together to celebrate whichever holiday their faith dictates. Don’t for a second think this time doesn’t affect those of us with no faith in a deity either. The impact of grief at a time of joy and celebration strikes hard.

And loss, especially that of a soul dog from whom we have gained support, comfort, companionship and — above all things — love, brings a unique set of challenges and emotions.

A shadow looms over our search for joy, knowing that as soon as we leave our family’s Thanksgiving dinner or that office Christmas party, we are going home to a house or apartment that is empty.

No tick-tick of nails on the ceramic floor.

No rattling of the empty dinner bowl.

No wild barking at the UPS truck.

And if it’s your first holiday without your best fur friend, you look at those traditions — the reindeer horns, that walk in the first fresh-fallen snow, the tree decoration you had made of your boo — are reminders that they are no longer with you.

These reminders can activate waves of grief, pounding you with sorrow and pain.

I’ve put together 10 strategies for you to keep in mind as you navigate these next few weeks.

ONE. Honor the unbreakable bond you have … not had. Have. It’s OK to tell your pet that you love him and you miss him. Even if you don’t believe in an afterlife, his energy remains here with you and you will never forget that love you shared. Express it.

TWO. Acknowledge your grief. This is a powerful and complex time in your life, and the holidays can intensify it. Validate your feelings and understand that the pain of your loss doesn’t adhere to a schedule. Allow yourself to feel all the feelings and accept the reality of today.

THREE. Create a new tradition. You have traditions that revolve around a shared experience with your soul pet. Embrace this opportunity to try something new or adapt your tradition to honor the memory of your pet. Say her name when you light a candle or donate to a shelter or rescue in his name.

FOUR. Do an act of remembrance. Hang that ornament you had made and say your cat’s name out loud. Hold her in your heart and remember her. These moments can provide solace and keep your connection alive during a season that can feel awfully isolating when you’re missing someone.

FIVE. Seek support. When your emotions are particularly elevated, reach out to talk to someone. If your friends and family are uninterested in or dismissive of your pain, those are not your people in this moment. Find someone who will acknowledge the love you shared with your dog. Send me an email at angela@onelastnetwork.com. Contact my dear friend Beth Bigler at honoringouranimals.com or seek out a pet loss grief support group in your community.

SIX. Embrace the change. Oh look, I know how hard this one is. Everything is different. Your routine has changed … no walkies, no dinner time, no snuggles on the couch. Recognize, though, that your healing is gradual. There is no timeline, there is no deadline for you to heal from this pain. There is, however, a new normal to which you must adapt. That doesn’t mean you move on. You move forward while preserving those memories of your best fur friend.

SEVEN. Connect spiritually. Your bond transcends the physical realm. It did when your cat was physically next to you. You knew there was more to your relationship than just a human and an animal hanging out together. You found each other because you needed to. Explore the spiritual aspect of that through meditation or prayer, whichever works for you. Walk in the woods, that’s the my healing space and time to connect spiritually with Shep, Bella, the world and Mother Nature … and, of course, my mom. Because when I was a kid, our walks together in the woods were a most special time.

EIGHT. Channel your energy into positive action. Can you volunteer with a rescue or shelter in your area? Give back in the name of your soul pet by walking shelter dogs or playing with the cats.

NINE. Navigate those triggers. Understand that the sights, sounds and traditions of the season can evoke powerful memories and emotions. They will often come from out of the blue but you can be ready for them. Give yourself a moment to appreciate that memory, feel that emotion  and process why it happened. Look for peace amid this storm of grief and feel the love of your dog’s spirit.

TEN. Honor the journey. This is a time of healing and growth for you. One that help you build resilience and find new meaning and purpose in your life. The transformation that could happen if you open yourself to it will pay tribute to the impact your pet had on your life.

Bonus tip? Cry. Cry your friggin’ eyes out. Let those waves of grief move through you and let all the tears come out. If you have 10,000 tears to cry, don’t stop at 9,999. Your tears are not a sign of weakness but a testament to the profound bond you share with your pet.

And for all the good in the world, be patient with yourself. This is a process. It isn’t going to happen quickly. There will be good days and bad days. The office Christmas party might be easy but waking up Christmas morning may break you.

Don’t rush this or conform to anyone else’s timeline for you.

With time, these sharp edges may soften and the memories will bring you more joy than pain.

Shep’s absence will always leave a void in my life. He was my first big-girl dog and he taught me all the things I needed to learn about myself, transforming me as a person, not just as a dog guardian.

He is forever a part of my heart and my life.

I eventually bought a new set of horns for Bella.

She still won’t have it.

She still flashes me those eyes and walks away from me. Her defiance makes me love her so much more every day.

And she makes me smile through the tears of missing Shep — even today, nine years after saying goodbye, I cry for missing him and the way he catered to my every whim.

I wouldn’t change it for the world.

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