I’m no stranger to losing cats during the holidays. Fifteen years ago, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, I had to say good bye to my precious little Buckley. She changed my life in ways I never could have imagined. Without her, I might not have become a writer. Buckley’s Story: Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher captures the many lessons she taught me.

I had to let my precious Ruby go a week before Christmas four years ago. Even four  years later, the grief still intensifies this time of year.

I love the holidays, and my cats have always been an integral part of the celebration. The year Buckley died, all I wanted to do was hole up in my house, and pretend that the holiday season wasn’t happening all around me. Thankfully, I had put up my Christmas tree the day before she died. Otherwise, there probably wouldn’t have been a tree that year.

Since Ruby was so sick for the weeks leading up to her passing, I didn’t partake in many of my usual holiday activities. I didn’t want to spend time away from her since I knew we didn’t have much time left.

But even in the middle of grieving Buckley and Ruby, I still tried to carve out little pieces of joy in a season that means so much to me.

Buckley’s last Christmas with me

The first holiday season after loss

Even if your cat didn’t die around the holidays, the first holiday season without a beloved pet is always difficult. The holidays are stressful at the best of times. Add in the stress of grieving a loss, or even just the sadness of missing a beloved family member, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Even though it may seem impossible, the holidays can also be a time of healing, even in the midst of grief. It is possible to feel grief and joy at the same time if you allow yourself to open your heart and experience the fullness of life. Perhaps the following suggestions can help you navigate the holiday season with a little less pain, and a little more joy.


Accept the sadness

It’s unrealistic to expect that you’re going to be happy all the time. Sadness is a natural consequence of lost love. Grief can deepen your ability to love if you let it. There is no way to get through grief except to let yourself feel it. Leaning into your grief will actually allow it to pass more quickly than avoiding it.

Make new traditions

Holiday traditions are important, but they can also make things more difficult if the lost loved one was an important part of those traditions. This may be the time to make new traditions. Reach out to new people, celebrate the holidays in a different location, or even just change where you’re going to place the Christmas tree this year. Be creative, and do what feels right for you.

Don’t be a perfectionist

If the thought of going all out for the holidays is too overwhelming, work on letting go. Rather than turning every holiday moment into a Norman Rockwell painting, try to do only the  things that are truly meaningful for you. The world will not come to an end if you don’t send out Christmas cards this year, or if you don’t make your special cookies.

Ruby helping me wrap gifts

Incorporate your lost cat into the holidays

Place a candle next to a photo of your cat in a special place in your home and light it during significant times during the holidays to symbolize the love you shared. Get a living Christmas tree and plant it in your yard in memory of your cat after the holidays. Hang photo frame ornaments with your cat’s picture on your tree. The year Buckley died, I put the box that held her ashes, along with a photo of her, under my Christmas tree. It made her part of the celebrations in a way that was meaningful to me.

Take care of yourself

Enjoy the special treats of the holiday season, but also remember to eat wholesome, healthy foods, and get at least some exercise each day.  Allow yourself to say no to requests for social gatherings if you simply don’t feel up to it. If being out among holiday shoppers seems overwhelming to you, do your shopping online.

Give yourself permission to feel joy

Don’t deny yourself small moments of relief even while you’re grieving. Enjoy small pleasures, such as a delicious cookie, a beautiful piece of music, or the company of a friend. In those moments, you’re outside of your grief, and it’s okay. I remember going to a holiday concert three weeks after Buckley died. When the concert ended, I realized that I hadn’t been thinking about her for a full two hours. I immediately felt guilty, but it really was okay to allow myself that brief respite from grieving.

Accept that the first holiday season without a beloved family member will be difficult. However, if you find it impossible to function or think of the holidays as anything but an unbearable ordeal, you may be severely depressed, and you should seek help from a professional grief counselor.

This post was first published in 2013 and has been updated. Image Pixabay.


52 Comments on Finding Holiday Joy When You’re Grieving

  1. Thank you for this article. We just found out that our healthy 18 year old has a tumor and the vet is not recommending cancer treatment. We lost our last cat on December 10th 2007 and this feels all too familiar and heartbreaking. We have been very blessed to have him this long with little health problems. Thinking of everyone who has lost their special kitty and any who have a sick one. We all know how much they love the Christmas decorations and boxes in the house. ❤️❤️❤️

  2. Hello Ingrid, what a good timing this is… I just had to euthanize my Coco Chanel yesterday (after we went three times to the hospital during Thanksgiving weekend). She was 18. I adopted her when she was 14 and we spent 4 wonderful years together. I am completely heartbroken right now. Fortunately, I still have six cats to cheer me up, but Coco Chanel was really super special to me… Even if I know that I did the right thing, it is still very hard to accept that she is gone. So, this blog is really timely and helpful. Thank you so much!

    • I’m so sorry about Coco Chanel. What a wonderful thing to do to adopt a senior kitty and give her for wonderful years in your loving home. I’m glad this post came at the right time.

  3. You just beautifully broke my heart, and I’m grateful for this post. This will be our first holiday season without Anya, our precious little Snowshoe cat, who was with us for 10 years, and even contributed a post on ‘gifting” to “The Conscious Cat”. She was the heart of our home, and your suggestions today are helpful in keeping her a part of the season, despite the pain of her loss. Thank you Ingrid, as always.

    • I know these “firsts” are hard, and I know how special Anya was to you. I’m glad my suggestions will help ease the pain of missing her a little bit.

      • The time around the holidays is not that important to me because I don’t celebrate the Christmas holidays. I get sad around my loved ones birthdays. They are in our lives for such a short time.

  4. It’s going to be hard for us after losing Pele last week. I never really cared about Thanksgiving or spending time with my in-laws, but this year was really hard. I just didn’t feel like talking to anyone. I picked up Pele from the vet this morning. She is back home, but I think I miss her even more now.

  5. I lost my Cesare on 9,7,22. I am totally devastated by his unexpected passing. I’m dreading this holiday season as he was an integral part of all holiday celebrations. My heart is broken in a million pieces but I’ll keep your advice in mind.

  6. Holidays tend to bring up so many memories. When I think of Christmas, I always think of what a stinker Pono was. One year, I had to unwrap and rewrap all of the presents. The were under the tree and Pono found the bows and chewed on them. He also chewed the corners of the packages. I also have a picture of him when he was looking at the tree and when he turned around, his eyes were glowing brighter than the lights on the tree.

  7. Beautifully and sensitively written. I love this bc I see a lot of young people in my workplace. They often feel no one understands their loss and grief during the holidays. A good reminder to remember kindness and love in this season and I like your practical steps too.

  8. DEMISE OF ICONIC CAT MATATA,MASCOT OF THE LARGEST CAT GROUP IN INDIA ” MUMBAI CAT CLUB” AND FORMATION OF CAT CLUBS IN INDIA :- Its with deep sadness that i Rudolph Andrew Furtado announce the death of my 13 year 7 Months old non-human companion “Tomcat Matata” .He expired on Saturday(26/11/2022) at approx 2130 hrs after a short illness of ” KIDNEY FAILURE”. In human terms he was 70 + years old.He died peacefully surrounded by his human family and over his 13 years 7 months + filled my life with “Cat humour” and entertainment a unofficial replica of cartoon CAT ” Garfield:.To quote Lord Alfred Tennyson , quote, “Its better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”.He was buried today along with his favourite playing ball and grooming comb on Sunday(27/11/2022) at iconic “PRABHADEVI BEACH” .Old Prabhadevi Beach is the sea facing graveyard of my previous two dog’s “Blondie” and “Lucky” as well as cat’s “Trixie” and ” Matahari”..Thanks to local Mohan.Temkar for digging the grave which is in the same locale as his Dam Queen Cat Matahari ‘s grave.Yes, the SEA always beckons the living as well as the dead . R.I.P “Tomcat Matata” , my.last non human companion.

  9. Last year I lost three of my senior cats within a week after Christmas so the year started very sadly. Even my vet was upset at the time, all were for different reasons. I am very happy to say that there’s only two weeks left in the year and I am looking forward to a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year with my healthy cats this year. I honor them by putting them as my background on my phone, each getting a turn. Glad to say that I haven’t changed that background since earlier in the year.

  10. Thanks for this Ingrid. I was already bracing myself for the holidays because I’d lost Question and Mewdy Blue earlier in the year but now that Lady Butterfly also passed on Thanksgiving morning, well, it is going to be really tough. All three of those cats were such a huge part of my life, sometimes I think they WERE my life I don’t know where I go from here. I’ll try to remember your advice though.

    • Hi Andrea,

      I have to say your message touched me so much. I am reading it at work and trying to stop the tears. I am so sorry for your loss of Lady Butterfly on Thanksgiving. Also, for Question and Mewdy Blue. I know how hard it is. I have four kitties right now and two of them are up there in age. They both have health problems and I know their time will be coming. I had one baby, Licorice, who died at age 13 due to kidney disease. The night before I knew it was time and I even prayed to God to take me instead. My kitties are my life too. I want to let you know you are not alone. They will always remain a part of you, in your heart. I think of the kitties I have lost over the years still today. When I lost Licorice it took me a few months before I knew I was ready to get a new one. I missed seeing a kitty rubbing my legs and walking by me, etc. That was when I got Meeko. He had health problems from the start. He is 10 now and everyday I wonder how much longer. Hang in there, you will get through this. If you want to talk I am here. I am on Facebook too if you want to friend me.

    • Oh Andrea, I’m so sorry about Lady Butterfly. This is going to be a difficult holiday season for you. My heart goes out to you. Please, be gentle with yourself during this difficult time. You WILL get through this.

      • Thanks for all of your kind words. It is really rough. I’m afraid my other cats don’t understand why things aren’t the same with me. I have a hard time giving them the attention they’re used to. This is how we pay for the benefit of having their love.

  11. Thank you for this post Ingrid. With losing Squeaky this year it brings back memories of BearBear a year ago I lost around the same time. I have been trying to think of the happy times as I did have 20+ years with both kitties. And that really is amazing. And I do have 4 others whom keep me going.

  12. It must indeed be all the more difficult to lose a furry friend around the holiday season.

    I remember when we lost Grouik – and it was not during the holiday season – everything my human was doing related to us kitties reminded her that Grouik wasn’t with us anymore. Once, a couple of weeks after Grouik went to the Bridge, I received some new Fancy Feast cans that I had won and my human burst into tears realizing that Grouik would not try them. It may sound a little silly to some but it’s because we hold such an impawtant part in our humans’ lives.

    I think we other kitties also played a role in helping the humans cope with the loss of Grouik. They were happy to have us and spoil us still (like they would have spoiled Grouik too!). Grouik remained in our hearts though, and like you mentioned, remembering is a bit less about sadness, and more about gratitude to have shared his life!


    • I can totally relate to your human crying over the Fancy Feast, Texas. I remember falling apart over small things fare more frequently than over the big things when I was grieving. Maybe it’s because we anticipate that we’re going to be sad on anniversaries or holidays and we brace ourselves to some extent, but it’s the unexpected reminders that hit us hard.

  13. Thank you for this, we had to put our 2 year old tortie to sleep today and it is really hard for my family and I. This helps and gives me ways to help my twin boys (Calvin & Cody) to whom she was named after CalCo to grive. Again thank you, you could not have picked a better day to post this.

  14. Thanks for reminding people of this, Ingrid. Losses come at any time, but the expectations of the holidays complicate grief.

    I lost my Sophie a month before Christmas in 2006, neither she nor I were prepared though we knew she was ill. I was pushing memories aside because I felt some guilt, and keeping all that bottled up made me cry at unexpected times. I remember preparing Christmas dinner and just having tears run down my face. It was that long before Cookie and I could get it together after Sophie, but we did.

    I actually indulge in memories after a loss, take my time with them and enjoy them even if they make me sad at first–pick up a decoration or look at the weather or a garment and remember something, and stay with it, running it through my memory, each little detail of each moment, until I’ve gone through tears or smiles and I’m ready to put it aside. It’s easy to push the memory aside right away for fear of the pain of remembering a happier time, but get past that hurdle and sometimes you remember wonderful things you’d forgotten.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Bernadette. It is so important to not “run” from grief, and as you said, sometimes, consciously remembering despite the pain and sadness can lead to long forgotten memories being uncovered.

  15. We are so lucky to have other pet bloggers in our group of friends. We cry for their losses and in doing so, we shed tears for our own losses. It never gets easier but the bonds of friendship become more solid and get us through.
    Your post is so beautiful and calming.

  16. Ingrid, what a great post. I lost my Dad on Christmas Eve 11 years ago, and for a long time I dreaded the holiday season. For a few years, it was just something that I had to get through, not really enjoy, but get through. Now I find that I am looking forward to the holidays and remembering the special times that I spent with my Dad, both at Christmas and at other times. Everybody grieves differently, but I agree completely about talking about the person or pet that has been lost. This is the best way to keep their memories alive. It’s also a great time to remember all that our pets (past and present) give us – their unconditional love, trust and for the most part joy. Wishing everybody peace this Christmas, Marg.

  17. I lost my Malcolm a month before Christmas a number of years ago! I decided he was irreplaceable, of course, and gave myself time to grieve! A friend shared her two cats with me through Christmas. She was travelling so I visited her beauties twice daily, cuddled, fed and cared for them as I adjusted to the loss of Malcolm. Then, in late January I decided to foster cats until I was ready again! Well, during two plus years of fostering I fell in love and adopted 5 of my fosters! My home is full of feline friskiness and fun! Fostering is a wonderful way to give back while adjusting to the loss of a beloved pet! These cats provide distraction and empathy and unconditional love.

  18. This story is very nice Ingrid. I love your suggestions too. My one kitty Licorice died a couple months before Christmas, about 10years ago. I had him for 13 years. My daughter was attached to him as much as i was. I found a beany baby kitty that looked like him so i decided to get it for her for as a Christmas present. Well, she decided tk get me the same one without me knowing. When we both opened that gift we laughed. I have that kitty on my computer desk at home still. I also had a picture of licorice blown up and put into a frame for her that year, however she said he was more my cat so she wanted me to keep it. It hangs on my livingroom wall.

  19. I found that “coping with terrible loss” is individual to each person. The most important thing I learned is to let others into my heart, and those are the ones that truly knew the pains. Grieving may never end for me. I have reached the stage that I will now say things “Please don’t not talk about my son< Eric". He was a great part of my life. I have found that as the time went by people did not bring his name up for fear of upsetting me. Now I want those friends to talk and ask question of me about this precious son. I can now handle it. Even more importantly I want all to remember he lived and he loved and I loved him with all my heart. So now talking about him helps. I know I have been thru many stages of grief. Steeler's passing broke me. But then I picked up the phone and a very special friend stayed on the other end of that phone until I had literally cried myself out. So now I truly feel, I am coping with these terrible losses. I say please we can talk about Eric. I truly want to.

    • I think you bring up an important point, Bernie. So often, people don’t know what to say to someone who is grieving, and they just assume that talking about the lost person or animal is going to upset, but sometimes, not talking about the person makes it even worse. I’m glad you can now handle talking about Eric.

    • Bernie, I’m so glad you have arrived at the point where you want to talk about Eric … Eric’s memory will be with you forever and talking about him will help you remember ALL the special times you shared.

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