It's been almost ten months since I put my beloved pup, Bella, to rest. Every day, every month, it gets easier to deal with the loss (perhaps that old "time heals all wounds" saying really has some truth in it), but the holiday season seems to freshen the hurt, mostly because she loved it so much. I can still see her tearing through the wrapping, so thrilled with every gift (even those not for her!). I can still see her dancing on her back paws, reaching her nose up toward her stocking, knowing it was filled with treats just for her. I can still see her tangled in ribbon and bows, enjoying Christmas morning more than any other day of the year. (It sounds silly, but she really did love gifts!)
I miss her every single day and I probably always will, but I know I can't let my sadness get in the way of having a positive holiday season this year. I know that's not what my sweet little pup would have wanted, and I know it's not fair to my new pup, Barkley, who'll be celebrating her first Christmas in just a couple weeks. Dwelling on the past gets in the way of the present, I know, but it's hard not to find myself lost in the memories of Bella, of the Christmases I spent with her. Here are some of the ways I'm going to do my best to make the most of the holiday season—even during the moments it seems almost impossible. If you're coping with a loss this holiday season, I hope these tips will help you too.
SPEND TIME WITH POSITIVE PEOPLE.
The more time spent with positive, uplifting people, the easier it is to stay positive and focus on the present. Positivity is contagious and the more it's around you, the more you start to see the good in the world, taking your mind away from dwelling on your loss and reminding you of all that you still have to be thankful for.
ALLOW YOURSELF TO FEEL SAD.
Pushing your grief away isn't a good way to deal with it. (It always comes back, usually at the worst times!) The best way to cope with loss is to face it, to recognize the sadness and understand that it's okay to feel sad. The trick is to give yourself a set amount of time to spend with your sadness so it doesn't turn into a place where you dwell in sorrow.
REMEMBER THE GOOD TIMES.
It's also a good idea not to shy away from remembering the good times. Recalling the happy memories might seem like it would be more painful than helpful, but it's actually a great way to celebrate the life of the one you've lost. When you find yourself wishing s/he was here, remind yourself of all the good times you had when s/he was with you.
FIND WAYS TO STAY BUSY.
While avoiding sadness is never a good plan, keeping yourself from dwelling in it is essential for making the most of a difficult time of year. One of the best ways to do this is to stay busy by doing things you love. Whatever your favorite activities are—holiday-themed or otherwise—make time for them. And try to say yes to invitations too.
MAKE NEW MEMORIES + TRADITIONS.
Sometimes it can feel wrong to create new memories—as if you're negating the traditions of the past—but making new memories and traditions can help you move forward instead of staying stuck in the past. This doesn't mean you have to let go of old traditions, but creating new ones can provide you with a fresh perspective on the season.
TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOURSELF.
Getting lots of rest, eating right, and staying active can really help when dealing with a tough time. When you're tired or cranky, any negative emotion you might be feeling can be amplified, seeming much worse that it is. To make you emotional state more manageable, it's important to take care of yourself—not just emotionally, but physically as well.
KNOW THAT YOU'RE NOT ALONE.
Sadly, there are many people struggling with loss during the holiday season. While it might seem counter-intuitive to think of all the loss in the world, it can actually be helpful to remind yourself that you're not the only one struggling to feel festive this year. If you think it might be helpful to connect with others feeling as you, look online for local or online grieving groups.
SPEND TIME WITH THOSE LESS FORTUNATE.
Volunteering your time with those who are less fortunate than you—at a homeless shelter, for exmple—can help remind you of all that you have to be thankful for. You might also see how those who have lost a great deal still manage to move forward, reminding you how strong and resourceful we humans can be. If you don't have lots time, consider buying and wrapping a gift for a child in need.
GIVE YOURSELF A GIFT OF JOY.
It's hard, when a loved one is missing from the holiday fun, to allow yourself to feel joyful. It's tempting to feel guilty about enjoying the holiday season, but consider the joy you experience this year as a gift to yourself. You've been through something difficult and you deserve a time of love, joy, and happiness. Remind yourself that your loved would have wanted you to enjoy the holidays.
I know that this first Christmas will probably be one of the most difficult, and I know that each Christmas season without Bella will probably get easier, but it's still a constant struggle to stay positive, to redirect my mind to the present. Just thinking about her, my eyes fill with tears and I miss her so much that my heart physically hurts, but I keep reminding myself of how much she loved Christmas and how much she hated to see me cry. She would never want me to be unhappy and so, for her (and for myself!), I'm going to do my best to take my own advice, follow these nine tips, and make this season merry.