I have been missing Ranger a lot lately. The staff suggested that it was because Facebook suggested a memory photo of Ranger sitting on Santa’s lap, but I think I missed him before that.

The holidays are hard. There are always empty chairs around the table. Empty beds in the corner. There are Christmas cards that cannot be sent or received. There will be folks that cannot travel or kids with their own, too busy, lives. Past relationships that failed or became toxic bring uncomfortable memories. Or those folks that will never be there to eat again. Or family that is difficult to be around because of times past. Or even Christmases and holidays past that were awful memories.

So, as fun as the holidays are supposed to be, some people would prefer to skip from Thanksgiving eve to Jan 2. Holiday depression is a real thing. Most of us expect too much and stress ourselves by having expectations that are too high. M’Kinzy and I were putting together a Lego gingerbread house last night. She wanted it exactly like the directions. Older and wiser (I hope), I knew that it didn’t really matter if the columns were red, white, green or red, green, white as long as they were 11 pieces high. (Lego houses are easier than gingerbread by the way.) It also doesn’t matter if the tree is perfect. Or up even. It really doesn’t matter if the cards are out on time. I learned this lesson a long time ago. My tree will not be perfect. There may not be decorations on it. It might even be the same one that has been up for four years. Christmas will still come and it will be okay.

Although festive cocktails and holiday parties make drinking easy, alcohol is a depressant. Both the staff party and our holiday party will be pot luck (reduces my stress) and alcohol free. It is much better to go for a natural stimulant. Exercising or taking the dog for a walk will boost endorphins. Music and chocolate boost your mood, but remember not to share the chocolate with the pets. Actually, don’t share the alcohol with pets either. You can teach them to dance to holiday tunes, then post it on Facebook so we all can enjoy.

At our house, when we do decorate the tree, we have ornaments for each of the pets. Some years the memories are too raw and the tree doesn’t get decorated, because I don’t want to see The Box. Other years, I love the dog, cat, ferret, and other ornaments and memories. If the memories are too much for you, make a new memory. Go somewhere new or do something different. Or just be open to a new memory. I would not have set up, wished for, or even desired for Tango to pull the dirty, used cat litter box over into my laundry basket of clean underwear and socks, but since I had skivvies out for the day, it is now a funny story. If you are grieving a pet loss, a new pet might be a good idea.

Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza and other holidays are about giving. But if you don’t take care of yourself, you cannot give. It is okay to say no. Every morning I take a moment to gaze into the deep, dark eyes of the two that love me without questions. Whiskey and Tango love looking up at me and then getting hugged and petted. A few moments in the morning, allow me to get through tough conversations and days.

It is not always possible to avoid the Grinches, but you should try to be around positive people as much as possible. These people (and pets) raise your spirits, encourage and support you. If someone (family?) adds to your aggravation, don’t visit over the holidays. If you must visit, do it at another time. This year I am grateful to have an abundance of positiveness. Four lab puppies in the house mean that there are always shenanigans and fun. It is hard to be upset for long with them around.

I’m not saying that missing Chip, is holiday depression. I mean Ranger. No, I still do miss Chip, the chocolate lab that was killed twenty-five years ago because I was a vet. I miss Ranger and Chip, the unexpected, unfair losses most of all. I am better with Isaac, Maggie, Brandy, Dandy, Peter, Sam, Half, Spooky and Imp, but it is hard. I miss Jack, Blake and Julie and others also. Especially at the holidays. But maybe I don’t really suffer from holiday depression, because I have always had a pet (or more) at the holidays.