Animal companions have increasingly become an important part of American families. In an ever more virtual world, they offer a tactile, present, bonding experience, an acceptance and ability to love and be love which is sometimes absent from modern life. Yet such losses are often relegated to a kind of "disenfranchised grief", and the mourner has difficulty communicating the significance of the loss to those whose support he or she needs.
For many, animal companions are their "children" and losing them can precipitate devastating grief and depression.
With the merriment of the holiday season well underway, those struggling with the loss of a beloved animal companion may feel removed and disconnected from the festivities. Mourning is hard work, and unrelenting in its early stages. Trying to solider on and participate in social gatherings after such loss can intensify grief.
Has the world forgotten about the life of your precious friend?
You have not.
You may feel that you’d rather stay home then celebrate anything, it may even somehow feel disloyal to continue normal traditions when your companion no longer lives. You may still be struggling with the feelings of trauma, guilt, remorse and loneliness that often follow animal companion loss. Depression may lurk as your feelings of separateness from those around you creates barriers to even the closest friendships. Loved ones may encourage you to move on and this feels invalidating when loss is new.
In the world of human grief, we are “allowed” a year to mourn each anniversary, each holiday, each milestone that occurred throughout life with our dear friend. To expect that you would recover more quickly is unrealistic, but of course depends on the quality, duration and significance of the loss.
Dickens, the Golden Retriever whose life inspired my work with the human animal bond (and www.petlosshelp.org ) was born on Christmas Eve and died on Yom Kippur. Those annual hallmarks never pass without reflection, commemoration and gratitude for his life. Even those of us in the very early stages of mourning feel the major contributions our four footed, two footed, two winged, one tailed, or multiple finned creature brought to our lives. Even for the newly bereaved, gratitude for this special friendship and unique bond is not hard to feel.
As all life - however brief or enduring - is worthy of celebration, you can take time to honor your much loved friend privately - or with a close circle of friends who understand - through a spiritual celebration created by you. This could be holiday cards with your companion's picture, private writings, candles, a special meal or food, published accounts, donations in the name of your pet, involvement in advocacy activities and other forums which honor animal life on planet earth. Ultimately, their presence in our life is an enriching gift that even their departure cannot diminish.
Wishing you healing holidays and tender memories; meanwhile, visit www.petlosshelp.org/whenyouareready.html . The video there will bring hope.