We’re at that time of the year where the holiday season looms large. I experience a shift in focus towards completion of projects for the year, an intentional closing of one chapter while holding space for what is yet to be. My social media feed is full of photos of Christmas trees and holiday wreaths, mixed in with the creativity of those who have been burdened by the Elf on the shelf tradition, and beautiful family portraits to round out the year. It would be easy to feel like everyone is on board the holiday train with buckets of festive good cheer, singing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”.

But is it though? As a mental health practitioner, I know that underneath the gloss of holiday spirit, the holiday season is often stressful and painful. Family dynamics and old patterns rear their heads and relationships become strained under the pressure to get everything done in time. Reminders to be intentional with self-care are often dismissed as something that takes up too much time. Every year, I find myself wondering about whose expectations we are all trying to meet. Every year, I come back to the realization that we all need support.

I’m so grateful for the space that we have created at The HERD, and for each and every one of our staff, instructors, and community members. As always, this year has been a wild ride and not without challenges, but we have weathered the storms and come out more seasoned and resilient for whatever comes next. I am so proud of the way that we have supported each other, celebrating our successes and grieving our losses together in community. We have some exciting plans for the year ahead and I’m looking forward to where this adventure will take us. I’m also aware of how precious and precarious this all feels because we can never really predict what is to come.

Last Christmas, our dog groomer gave us the most incredible gift. She made a Christmas bauble with some of the fur that she’d shaved off our pups. It’s a transparent bauble, so I can see the fur inside. This gift came with perfect timing as we lost our beloved pup, Alfie, not long after. Every fiber of my being wants to crack open the bauble so that I can sniff his fur, but I’ve resisted, knowing that it wouldn’t be the same as burying my head in his neck like I used to do. Each time I look at the ornament, I am reminded simultaneously of the joy that Alfie brought us, and the gut-wrenching grief I still feel.

We spent our last Christmas season nursing our old boy. We slowed down and hibernated on the farm, focusing on Alfie’s well-being, and treasuring every moment we had with him. While the world around us bustled and rushed around checking their lists, we sat vigil and took deep breaths. We allowed ourselves to feel our impending loss, navigated the brief relief when he had a few weeks of reprieve from his symptoms, and prepared ourselves for what would be the biggest shift in our family dynamics in almost 14 years. I was grateful for every moment.

Alfie was the reason that I entered the world of animal assisted interventions. He taught me that love is present when we are present, and that presence is the only gift we need. So, this holiday season, I will return to the lesson that he offered up to his very last breath: slow down, breathe, get present, and know that you are loved.

May this season bring you the gift that you need.

With gratitude,

Executive Director