There will always be difficult days when you’re mourning the loss of your beloved pet. Most people agree that coping with anniversaries and special days can be particularly tough.
Your pet’s birthday, Christmas, the anniversary of when you got them or when they passed away all tend to be challenging.
While these days will be etched firmly in your mind, many of these occasions will be personal to you and your family while people outside of your inner circle may be completely oblivious to their significance.
This can lead you to feel sad and angry that the world is moving on without your beloved companion.
You’re not alone if you find yourself struggling through a significant anniversary while feeling like no-one around you understands your feelings.
The anniversary of your pet’s passing
Many people say that the first anniversary of losing their pet is the most difficult. In fact, the ‘first’ anything after a bereavement can feel almost impossible to endure.
As the date draws near, it’s not unusual to find that your thoughts return to the weeks, days and hours leading up to the anniversary or occasion. This can be especially upsetting when you find yourself reliving your bereavement.
You may find that your thoughts are on a loop and that your grief feels more intense. This can be scary and confusing if you had previously felt like you were moving forward with your grief.
It isn’t always the first anniversary that’s tough though. Often we’re prepared to feel awful at this time and our friends and family may rally round to offer support. Sometimes, it can be a random number of years later that the anniversary knocks you sideways.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to predict how you will feel. You may just need to hang on when a fresh wave of grief hits you unexpectedly.
Coping with ‘happy’ occasions
It is also hard to cope with usually happy occasions such as Christmas when you’re grieving for a pet.
People often feel like there’s pressure to be cheerful and put on a ‘brave face’ because it’s the expectation of the time of year.
Naturally, you may be worried about ruining the day for your friends and family, or cross if people close to you seem swept up in the annual Christmas cheer.
As with all aspects of grief, there’s no right or wrong to how you feel (or don’t feel). If possible, try to talk to the people around you about your thoughts and feelings so that they can understand more about your perspective.
Please don’t feel guilty if you decide to throw yourself into the Christmas spirit – that’s a normal reaction too.
Aftershocks and what triggers them
It helps to know that anniversaries and other special days often prompt bursts of grief known as ‘aftershocks’. This is when it feels as though you’re being confronted with your loved one’s death for the first time all over again.
Equally, a specific song, place, smell or time of year can unexpectedly catapult you back to the moment of your loss.
Try to remember that aftershocks are usually temporary. They’re also a natural part of the grieving process.
A very modern issue is suddenly experiencing an aftershock in response to a Facebook memory. You may have happily shared pictures and moments with your pet throughout their life but it can be quite a shock to have a memory pop up in your timeline without warning.
You may expect memories to appear on anniversaries and special days but this can still rub salt in your already painful wound.
For some people, Facebook memories eventually take on a comforting reminder of all the good times they shared with their pet.
If you’re finding the regular pictures of happier times too hard to bear at the moment though, there are a number of things you can do to ‘mute’ Facebook memories for the time being.
Anniversaries play an important role in managing grief
It is completely ‘normal’ (if such a thing exists!) to find anniversaries and special occasions difficult.
Each one marks a significant step in finding your way into your new every day without your pet. It’s a natural instinct to look back at what we had before we are able to let go. It’s also natural to take a few steps backwards to revisit what you’ve lost.
In turn, it’s understandable that you might feel angry, disloyal or guilty about hitting another milestone without your animal friend. If only we could turn back time!
Letting go is not about forgetting
One of the most crucial realisations you can make is that letting go isn’t the same thing as forgetting.
You will never forget your pet. You will always love them and carry that love with you for the rest of your life.
Believe it or not but, with time, anniversaries and special days may become positive milestones that give testimony to the fact that your pet lived and mattered. You may find that you’re able to remember your pet’s birthday or your Christmas traditions with a smile. Anniversaries may become waypoints to mark out the journey through part of your life that you shared with your pet.
Whatever your feelings, try to take care of yourself and remember that there is no right or wrong way to approach anniversaries.
Look at ways you can celebrate your pet’s life and carry forward your memories.
Ask your friends and family for support, if you can. If not, reach out to people in The Ralph Site’s closed Facebook group as there’s bound to be someone who understands how you feel.
Just know that you’re not alone.
Until next time,
Very best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support