Surviving the Holiday Season After Pet Loss
Love never ends. Those are the words etched on a locket given to me by my wife the year our Cocker Spaniel died. And for as long as I have a dog in my life, I will grieve time and time and time again. It is especially hard when certain times the year roll around. Thanksgiving is upon us and I know that deep angst that hides in the recesses of my heart will rear itself once more. The pain never goes away, it has become a fiber of who I am: A large fiber.
Surviving the holiday season after pet loss is indescribable.
“Are you still going to call yourself a dog mom?”
I will never forget those words uttered to me by someone whose name escapes but but whose words cut deep, even today as I type them. Of course, I will remain a dog mom. If you have loved and lost a pet, just like if you have loved and lost a human being, your role in their life on earth does not change. Some words cut so very deep, and so I choose to honor my belated dog and not let naysayers get to me. If you are trying to get through the holidays and whether you just lost your pet or your pet died many years ago, there are things you can do to honor their memory. For me, allowing love to fill my heart and not anger because she is gone is key. There are others who feel this way, and I met Lisa Brambilla at a pet industry conference this summer.
Lisa is lovely, humorous, smart, and witty: Qualities which lend themselves well considering that she founded a company that deals with loss. Lisa, a pet lover and cancer survivor herself, noticed that her mantle of urns containing belated pets and relatives was growing. When her father-in-law passed in 2013, he wished for his remains to be divided into 8 small handmade boxes, each for a family member. Lisa treasured this wish but also realized others must be facing a similar situation. If you are a pet lover and your pet is cremated, those remains generally stay with you.
A defining moment came over Lisa, and she created a product called BioUrn® as a green solution for a generation of earth conscious consumers who are looking for a way to pay tribute to their loved ones while being kind to our planet.
If you have followed this blog for any period of time, you know that my heart beats dog® so much that I trademarked it. My previous Cocker Spaniel, Brandy Noel, taught me so much about living and yet I was completely unprepared for the devastation her loss would bring to my life. The anatomy of a grieving dog mom is not a pretty picture. I wish I knew Lisa back then because she is incredibly comforting and totally “gets it:” That takes-your-breath-away and curse the daylight feeling that swallows whole the soul of a grieving pet mom or dad.
If you are grieving a pet, there are things you can do during this holiday season (and year round) to bring a sense of peace to your life. We never ever get over it, and if anyone says you get “over” the loss of someone or that “time heals all wounds,” they are full of crap. Time simple etches the reality of loss even harder into those left behind. We learn to deal with it, carry the grief with us, hold onto it, and it becomes a part of who we are. In that way, love never ends. Want proof? Here I am over 7 years since the passing of my previous Cocker Spaniel and I am writing about her and you are learning about her. She isn’t gone, she’s just moved to another location. And in my belief system, I’ll be reunited with her again.
Until that time, here are ways to survive the holidays and honor your belated pet(s):
(1) Plant a Tree from BioUrn
BioUrn is a handmade, biodegradable cremation urn that holds a pet’s ashes along with soil and a tree seed which, when planted, grows a memorial tree. I am not in the habit of promoting products that deal with pet loss unless I truly would use the product and feel it honors a pet’s life and legacy. BioUrn4Pets offers a “circle of life” lesson, while creating a memorial tree to pay tribute to a beloved family member, who has crossed to the Rainbow Bridge. Each BioUrn kit comes with everything needed to honor your pet: The handmade BioUrn, a cotton drawstring bag for the pet’s ashes, special nutrient enriched planting soil, a “seedbead”, a stainless steel marker and step by step planting instructions. Each BioUrn kit comes standard with 3 different tree seeds, covered in a nutrient based clay material, which they call a “seedbead®” The seedbeads that they enclose in the kit are: Evergreen (like Blue Spruce); Flowering tree: (like Crape Myrtle); Flowering shrub (like: Azalea/Butterfly Bush/Hydrangea). Each BioUrn kit also comes with a “seedbead” certificate which allows a pet parent to visit online and choose their own tree from the wide variety offered in our tree gallery.
We are so very moved by this product that we are giving one pet parent the opportunity to plant a tree in their pet’s memory later in this article.
(2) Give to a Rescue Group in Your Pet’s Name
The reason I founded Wigglebutt Warriors®, the fundraising arm of this blog, is because of my Brandy Noel. She was a puppy mill rescue dog. Whether you grieve a cat, a dog from the show ring, a pup rescued from a shelter, or a ferret who needed a new home: Giving to a pet who is amongst the living allows your pet’s legacy to live on through them. I love to see my dog’s name online or in a newsletter stating “Donation in memory of Brandy Noel.” Somewhere, someone typed her name and then others will read it. In this way, her love and her life never truly ends.
(3) Find Ways to Include The Loved One You Lost
The first Christmas without our dog, we did not put up a tree. I am born on Christmas Day and I gave my dog my middle name, Noel. How in the hell was I supposed to embrace this holiday of joy when my entire insides felt pulverized? Well-intending friends sent us a real tree, and it sat there, not getting watered and just wilting. We had a new puppy in our lives, and we embraced him so very much. I used to think I could never love again in the way I loved Brandy Noel. I realized with her death that I could never not love this way again. Being a dog mom is as much a part of my DNA as breathing. I inhale oxygen, I inhale a love of dogs.
Reshape traditions. Did you have a special spot that you and your belated pets would visit for the holidays? If it is too painful, don’t go. I would walk the path at the cemetery where my wife’s parents are buried every Christmas Eve. I cannot begin to tell you how many tears fell the first Christmas Eve I did that with my Cocker, Dexter. My wife got me through and each little pawprint in the snow on Christmas Eve of my new puppy pushed me further. It felt like hell, seriously, but I have now walked that path hundreds of times with my family, dog included. And I would not trade it for the world. I owe it to my present dog to be present and loving. And I love him as much as I love my previous dog. There is no shame in that. Each pet is different. A pet lover’s heart, I have grown to learn, is so very very large.
Do things that include the ones you have lost like keeping their stocking up: I still do that. I have a friend who, the first year her dog died, signed it “Angel Fido.” (Fido not her real dog’s name). Whatever makes you happy to get through it and keeping the love alive: Do more of that. And if celebrating isn’t your thing, then don’t. There is no written rule that you must behave as all other human beings do.
(4) Create Traditions That Blend the Past with the Present
Did your pet like to open presents? Don’t deny your new pet the same pleasure if he or she likes to do that. Put your tree up in a different room. If it is too painful to be home on Christmas Day, go somewhere. Many movies debut on Christmas Day: Go to something to take your mind off of the grief, even if for 2 hours. Did your dog love to raid the kitchen table and turkey was her favorite? Skip the turkey.
Hang an ornament on the tree celebrating your pet’s life. It took me several years to do this, but it’s there now. And it will always be there. If you love the holidays but loss has completely removed the joy of them, allow yourself the grief. Don’t deny yourself the happiness, too: Your pet lived in the moment. Dogs never worry about what just happened or what tomorrow brings. Had you told me that 7 years ago, I’d likely whollop you with a bag of coal. In this moment, and carrying my grief with me, I know that my deceased dog would want me to live happy. All the anger, sorrow, and grief will not bring her back. Celebrating her and carrying her life in me and with me keeps her in the present.
(5) Know If and When It’s Time for Another Pet
Everyone walks their own path of grief. If you are never going to get a pet again, then that is your decision and yours alone. I never ever thought I could have a pet get so close to me. I was angry: How dare she capture my heart and then leave me with it in a zillion pieces all over the floor? You never replace a pet, just as you never replace a human being.
Often times, a pet will find you: I know this to be true from personal experience. “They pick you, Carol, you don’t pick them,” a wise soul once told me. Sometimes getting a pet too soon can backfire and cause you upset or anger.
(6) Gift Yourself
The holidays are temporary and fleeting, but that’s the way of life in general. Gift yourself something: Extra sleep; a spa day; a new book; a weekend out of the area to visit a friend. Let yourself grieve no matter how long your pet has been gone. Share your feelings with someone you understand who comprehends the pain of loss.
If you do consider planting a tree from BioUrn in your pet’s memory, the holidays are a beautiful time to do so. You can make it an intimate experience or gather your loved ones around and do so with those who loved your pet as much as you do. Click here to purchase a BioUrn and enter below for an opportunity to gift one to yourself or a loved one.
The giveaway is over and the winner is Kimberly Dickerson. Thanks to all who entered.
Note: We were not compensated for this; Fidose of Reality believes in sharing products and tips to pet parents that ourselves use/believe in.
This is such a great post! My mom had a cat named Annabel who she got when she was in 5th grade and after 18 years it was in her best interest to put her down due to failing health. We have her ashes in our closet.
This is a great post. Losing a loved one (pet or human) is so hard and you never completely get over it. I like these suggestions on coping with the loss during the holidays. One of the dogs from my childhood lived to be 17. I missed her so much that first Christmas and I realized how much a part of my life and family traditions she had been a part of. My husband drew a lovely portrait of her and our other two dogs for my Christmas gift and it is one of the best gifts I have ever received. The biourn seems like a wonderful way to remember a life that was too short but happily shared!
With my Chico being almost 14 and having CHF for the past three years, i pray he makes it to every next birthday, every next holiday..and every next day. I think about how different life will be without him…and when he is gone, what would be the best way to keep his ashes in a deserving tribute to him and the love we share…The BioUrn is unique and beautiful, just like him…and would be a beautiful way to honor any beloved pet who has left this world before us. And yes…after he is gone…i will still be a dog mom…a mother’s love is forever.
We just lost our 4 year old Mini Schnauzer a month ago and miss him so much!! I would LOVE to plant a tree in our precious Brimley’s name/honor!
Omg.. I lost my 11yr old schnauzer in October and it’s been the hardest Xmas ever.. 4 years is such a shame…xx
Having been a dog mom for my entire life I’ve had many who have touched my heart over the years…. One of my most special ever was my old girl Anna whom I lost this past January. I purchased Anna as a young adult because she was the sister to my other “heart dog” who I ended up losing six years ago…. Anna was there when I lost her sister and Anna was there through so much more….she was my very best friend and my constant shadow. Even when she went deaf in her older years she would wag her tail when I whispered I love you in her ear. Though she could no longer hear the words, she knew the action as I’d told her I love you in her ear for years and wagged her tail to let me know she understood. She was an incredibly special girl. Luckily I still have her niece who is very much like her. Also I am dog mom to several other old dogs, one whom is 16.5 and several others in their teens. While I am thankful for every single day, at their ages each day is even more precious. And though I have a houseful of doggies and probably will never be without dogs in my life, even if I didn’t have a single dog, like you, I’d always be a dog mom…. Though a very sad subject I enjoyed your post and learning about this product and love the concept of it…. I have planted memorial plants for lost pets and I have an ever growing dog urn collection as well. Though I hope I don’t have the need for one of these anytime soon, it would be a nice thing to have when I do to remember one of my sweet babies.
Love the tree idea! Would love the butterfly bush as I have 3 Crepe Myrtles already and loads pf spruce and cedar trees. I will never forget my Little Bit even after 8 years. I can look at his picture and tears fall.
I love and adore Holly and Bruno, but Little Bit stole a piece of my heart I have yet to recover.
The Bio Urn sounds like a lovely way to memorialize a beloved pet who has passed on. My first extreme grief stricken pet loss was losing my childhood dog, Ginny. I got her when I was about 7 and she passed when I was in my early twenties. I literally grew up with her and life without Ginny was a foreign concept. Several years later a co-worker lost her precious dog and asked me “Do you think you could ever love another dog?” I honestly didn’t think I could – and I didn’t for 20 years. I had cats but no dog. Now I have two amazing dogs who fill my heart with joy. I still tear up thinking of Ginny but the pain did become bearable after about 10 years. It took so long to open my heart to another dog, my Siberian Husky, Isis. Isis is a therapy dog, we volunteer as a Pet Partners Therapy Dog team. Our volunteer work is done through the shelter we adopted Ginny from when I was 7 years old! Together we honor Ginny’s memory when we volunteer, it’s a beautiful thing. Great post Carol.
Love & Biscuits,
Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them
i currently have 3 4 legged girls, the oldest is Evie, who is 14 and has had lots of health issues. Tressa is 6 and Harley is 5. i also had another mini schnauzer when i was in college, however, my parents took her when i had to do a college internship and refused to give her back after 3 mos. she was the love of their lives and is now buried b/t them. i also had a show pony when i was in grade school. i had t sell him b/c i got to big for him but i made sure he went to a very good home. my parents got mad b/c i could have gotten more money for him but i wanted him to go to a good home and he did. he eventually ended up with the blacksmith who shod him for me for his grandchildren and they spoiled him rotten. he was a beautiful half hackney/saddlebread pony. Real Gusto…i regretted selling him but i could not keep him b/c i could not ride or show him anymore b/c i was too big for him. all of my 4 girls and 1 boy are special to me. i have pictures of all of them all over my house. my current 3 gals are my very best friends and i love them beyond….to the moon and back.
I have only ever lost one pet, but it was after Christmas, so I was ok by the time the next one rolled around.
This post brings back so many memories of when my fur-babies crossed over the rainbow bridge.
It doesn’t hurt so much when I remember them now but, that first christmas without them was hard.
I love all of these ideas. It’s hard around the holidays!
BioUrn sounds so wonderful to have a memorial for your pet. It is hard to pick because I have 2 dogs and their ashes. Sasha my dalmatian and Murphy my Vizsla. Both of my dogs as an adult were very special to me.
These are great tips. We miss our dogs every day, and the holidays can definitely be an especially hard time.
Oh, it’s so sad! Our dog died a few years ago in September. For Christmas, I had a special husky ornament painted for my husband, and I also bought a husky ornament with angel wings and a halo. When my childhood dog had died, I had gotten my mom a special angel Samoyed ornament.
Carol: You may remember that I lost my dog Maximus, unexpectedly, on New Year’s Day of this year. As January approaches, I can feel the pit in my stomach growing. The only thing that eases the pain is the love from our puppy Teddy and our 4 cats. I cremated my 2 cats that passed away 2 years ago and I’ve been pondering where to sprinkle their ashes. I think a BioUrn is in order. Thank you for putting your heart, soul, and tears into this thoughtful post. Hugs, K
I haven’t been through this yet but I can only imagine how hard it must be. I think a lot of people have trouble with #4 but it does sound like a good way to move forward while remembering the past.
Such a difficult subject, but one that needs discussion. I love the idea of the bio urns. What a beautiful, meaningful way to remember a loved one.
This is a touching story. Lisa is such an amazing , inspiring and strong person. She has gone through so much loss and still looks so full of life in the photos
Losing a pet is just like losing another family member. The grief can be debilitating. I really love the idea of Plant a Tree from BioUrn!
Adama and Oisin are so very different, but they both have touched my life deeply. They’re only about 6 years old, so God willing we have many years together still. A BioUrn would be a wonderful way to keep them with me.
We lost our dog last year 2 days before Christmas it was so hard. I was in the hospital with my daughter with RSV it was horrible. I didnt even get to say goodbye to him.
I love all of the things you have mentioned as ways to remember our furbabies who are waiting at The Rainbow Bridge.Riley has been gone for 2 1/2 years now and even though I have another Cocker boy that we love very much,Beauregard can never replace Riley,he is an additional member of the family..
My Siamese cat chong she was my best friend for 16 years. i miss her everyday.My kids found her in an alley and she was so small you could hold her in the palm of your hand
I have had several our my fur-babies that have crossed over that Rainbow Bridge. I still miss my fist doggy Snoopy. Harley, Bubba Max, Smoky, O’Malley. Lil Snoopy and Akiria also a big part of our family. And I miss them all everyday. RIP sweet fur-babies. You are always in my heart.
I lost my sweet Cody in May of this year. I miss him everyday. Christmas was always his favorite time of year. He loved to open his presents. We would have to hide them because he would actually steal them from under the tree and open them early. This will be my first Christmas in 14 years without my baby. I will miss him dearly.
what a great idea. Pets are part of the family so any loss is difficult.
I had a dog named Friday that I loved so much when I was a kid. I know a blogger who just lost her long-time pet. If I win, I’ll give this to her. What a nice giveaway.
The BioUrn is an awesome way to honor your pet. I will have to do this someday
My dog is only 8 but I dread the day that I lose her.
We just lost our Little Bit that we had the pleasure to have for almost 13 years. Our hearts are broken. I can’t tell you the tears I’ve shed.
Have a fabulous day. ☺
Those are really all great tips. We lost our Gizmo a few months ago and I think planting something in his remembrance might be something I will do when the weather gets nicer.
This holiday season will be the first without our “Ray” of sunshine and we love this idea!
I’ve had 4 dogs and 5 cats in my life. The one that still has a very special place in my heart is Praline, my heart kitty. She’s been gone 4 1/2 years, but I still miss her.
Thank you for your wise words. Our Nosey passed away just over a month ago and I can barely breathe, it hurts so much. One step forward….two steps back….two steps forward…one step back…. Taking it day by day. Again, thank you. I needed this boost.
My heart breaks for you. That’s the one thing I have learned about loving a dog…they leave us way to soon. But they never truly are far away. It’s the physical presence we are devastated by, Marsie. I am very sorry for your loss. Saying a prayer of peace for Nosey.
Thank you so much! xoxo