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Surviving the Hollow Days


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Surviving the Hollow Days After a Pet Has Died

by Kitty Walker, LMSW-ACP


Several years ago my canine soul mate, Kito, escaped peacefully from his prison of congestive heart failure. It was late September, the same time of year I had brought him home as a tiny Sheltie furball 10 years earlier. I was devastated. I had no idea I could hurt so deeply and still be alive. That winter was a blur of bereavement. Just as I thought I was starting to feel better, the season of holidays arrived with its usual tempo of frenetic activity and enforced merriment. I was clearly out of step and decidedly depressed.

Normally I was right in the middle of things, shopping, baking, spending time with friends .... always with Kito by my side. An enthusiastic tree trimmer, carol singer, turkey taster, and gift un-wrapper, he adored this time of year and all of its rituals. Without him I felt empty inside, wishing only to be transported to a place in time beyond the "hollow days" of that first season without him.

There is no time of year when it's easy to mourn a beloved pet. But as is the case with all kinds of losses, the winter holiday season can be especially brutal to those in bereavement.

A traditionally family time, it reminds us of whom--and what--we are missing. Our pets, who became treasured members of our families, have left behind a silent void. At a time when we're flooded with well-meaning encouragement to Feel Good, to have a Merry Christmas or a Happy Hanukkah, a Thankful Thanksgiving, and a Prosperous New Year, the contrast felt by those of us grieving a pet can sometimes be overwhelming.

The following recommendations are meant as guides to surviving pet loss through the holidays, keeping in mind that every pet owner's grief process is individual.

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