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The Christmas Survival Guide- Part 4- Bereavement

Christmas can evoke all kinds of emotions but you might struggle with difficult feelings if you are missing a loved one, including pets or have been bereaved. It is never easy to adjust and deal with losing someone and your feelings of grief might be overwhelming and all consuming.

This might be your first Christmas without your loved one or furry friend and you might not feel very festive or cheerful and that is okay. What's more it is totally understandable.

You might feel intense sadness, struggle to sleep and your thoughts might constantly return to the death. Christmas might be the furthest thing from your mind and you might simply not care.

I want to reassure you that this is okay. Grief is a big thing to deal with and to experience. Your feelings might be very intense and overwhelming but you might not be constantly feeling sad or in despair, often grief can come and go, a bit like waves in the ocean.

I hope the following thoughts and ideas might offer you some comfort and support.

Continuing Bonds

Continuing Bonds is an idea that was first developed by Dennis Klass, Phyliss Silverman and Steven Nickman. Continuing Bonds suggests that instead of moving on from a loss, we should focus on maintaining our relationship with our loved one, even when they are no longer physically here (Eleanor Haley, 2018). The bond that you have with your loved one or pet, isn't automatically broken when they die. You don't suddenly stop loving or thinking about them. Your bond continues. Hopefully in time you will be able to remember the happier times you've shared with them and your feelings of grief might become less intense but your grief can be ongoing (Eleanor Haley, 2018) and that's okay.

Many people still think they have to get over a loss but how can you? You learn to live with their physical absence but your bond with your loved one or pet continues and they will still be present in your life, just in a different way. Your grief becomes part of your life (Eleanor Haley, 2018).

Many people hold on to cherished items and you might wish to display photographs of your loved one or pet in your home. Other ideas include making a memory book or box that you can look at when you feel able to or having a memorial in your garden, for example you might wish to plant a tree or flower in your loved one's or pet's memory.


Thinking about Christmas, you might like to think about including your loved one or pet in some way in the festivities. If this isn't your first Christmas without them, you might already have a ritual or something that you do every year, for example including them in a toast, having their photo somewhere close by or visiting the grave.

Many pet cremation services now also offer keepsakes and special Christmas baubles or ornaments that you can hang on your Christmas tree.

Doing these things might feel difficult and upsetting at first but they might also give you some comfort and give you an outlet for your grief rather than feeling like you have to keep it together. Grieving, especially at Christmas and the festive season is difficult. It is okay to acknowledge your loss.

However, if it feels like too much or too overwhelming that's okay too. Do what feels right for you.

Be aware of your needs

If Christmas feels like too much, that's okay. If you don't wish to celebrate this year, that's okay.

Sometimes the kindest thing we can do for ourselves is to acknoweldge our needs in an honest way. Some people might find it comforting to be around family and friends whereas for others it is too overwhelming and exhausting. Again, do what feels right for you.

Take the pressure off

If you do decide to celebrate Christmas, you might want to think about how you can make it a bit easier on yourself and what you might need to help you to cope. For example if cooking traditional Christmas dinner feels like too much, you might want to do something different, whether that's going out for a meal or asking family and friends to contribute dishes. You might wish to have a quiet Christmas with only a few people or closest family. Work out what feels right for you and go with that. Don't be afraid to let your family and friends know what you need or what they can do to support you. It might feel like it but you are not alone!

Be kind to yourself

Grieving for a loved one or pet takes its toll. It's tiring and exhausting and you might feel mentally and emotionally drained.

Try your best to take care of yourself. Self care doesn't have to be all bells and whistles, you can take it back to basics. Make sure you eat and stay hydrated. Wear comfortable clothing and try to maintain your personal hygiene routine.

You might not feel like doing these things but try anyway. It will give you a little bit of structure in your day which can be helpful but self care is important. You are important.

Sometimes it can also be helpful to think about what your loved one would have wanted for you. Would they want you to be happy and healthy? Chances are YES, they would!


Grieving takes time and contrary to popular belief there is no time limit. It takes however long it takes and this is different for everyone.

Grief doesn't suddenly stop, it becomes part of your life. Some things that might impact the intensity of your grief might be the relationship you've had with the person or your pet. You might have had a difficult and complex relationship which might mean that your grief is also complex and you might feel like you have unfinished business with the person.

The way the person or pet died, for example if the death was traumatic or sudden or unexpected, might also impact on how you process your grief.

You might be experiencing complicated grief and you might need professional support. If that's the case don't be afraid to ask for help. There is no shame in struggling or needing extra support. We all grieve differently and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.

Pet Bereavement

Often people don't talk about the loss of their pet. This is because until recently Pet Bereavement wasn't really seen as an important loss. How many times have you heard “it's only a dog, cat, rabbit, ect?” I've been at the receiving end of such comments myself and they are difficult to deal with when you are grieving for your pet.

Recently however there seems to be more awareness that Pet Bereavement is just as painful and devastating but you might still feel worried about being judged or ridiculed.

Pet Bereavement is often a secret and hidden grief.

Please don't dismiss your feelings of grief and pain. They are normal and valid. We love our pets and they are part of our family and losing them is incredibly heartbreaking.

Continuing Bonds also applies to pets and you might wish to have a photo of your pet in your home or a special bauble on your Christmas tree. You might wish to have a memorial corner for them in your living room. I know many pet owners have their pets cremated and place the ashes somewhere close by with a candle and photo.

Do whatever feels right for you but please know that you're not being silly or dramatic because you're grieving for your pet. You've lost a pet that you love. It hurts and that's okay.

If you do wish to talk about your grief and what is going on for you, please do get in touch. Pet Bereavement therapy gives you a safe and non judgemental space to talk and to process the loss of your pet.

I hope the above will offer you some comfort and support. Please bear in mind that not everything works for everyone. Grief is a very individual experience by which I mean that it is different for everyone and each person processes their grief in their own, unique way. I hope that whatever you choose to do at Christmas time, it feels right for you. Take care of yourself.

Help and Support

Cruse Bereavement Support- offers advice, support and a helpline

Helpline- 0808 808 1677

Child Bereavement UK- offers advice and support for when a child grieves or when a child dies

Helpline- 0800 02 888 40

Compassionate Friends- provides support after the death of a child, there is currently a section on how to cope at Christmas time

Helpline- 0345 123 2304

Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide- peer led support for anyone bereaved by suicide, including an online forum and local support groups

National Support Line- 0300 111 5065


Sue Ryder- offers support and advice, including a section on how to cope during the festive season and online Bereavement Support


Blue Cross- offers support with Pet Bereavement

Helpline- 0800 096 6606 available between 8.30am and 8.30pm


Haley, Eleanor (2018). A Grief Concept you should care about: Continuing Bonds, What's your Grief?, accessed on 18.12.2023

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