Prolonged Grief & PTSD

Just a short little blog about grief and PTSD.

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is what I understand to be a mental and emotional illness that a person suffers as a result of shock, bereavement, or a deeply distressing experience, sexual assault or injury or sudden disability. Whereas grief is what we experience as a 'normal roller coaster ride’ it is part of a natural healing journey as a result of a loss or bereavement etc.

If grief is prolonged and starts affecting health, cognitive function, lack of interest in things that would normally be of interest, lifestyle and or suicidal thoughts ensue, then PTSD could be diagnosed.

The link between the two can occur when a person is truly struggling over an event (an event being a deeply distressing experience, loss etc). PTSD is not just mental/emotional but can also be a physical illness as in Fibromyalgia and CFS.

To put it simply: -

Grief is the experience of loss. Bereavement is the adaption one needs to make in response to the loss. If the grief is not healed, it will continue to affect people and could linger and cause major disruption in one’s life (PTSD).

PTSD is associated with a sense of fear and powerlessness to the loss/trauma.

The link between Grief and PTSD in terms of animal loss can be defined as an emotional strong bond between pet and pet parent. The stronger the bond and the more sudden the loss, the more the pet parent struggles with acceptance. Also, if the person has lost someone close to them suddenly in the past then the memories of this traumatic loss can return. The person does not fully grieve and cannot cope and feels lost and unable to function day to day. They hold on to their pets’ possessions and cannot let go of the guilt that they feel. It overwhelms them considerably.

During my grieving process (for my previous dog Bailey) I used to sniff and hug his bed. The last journey that we made together was in my car and I could not take the lead out and so I left it there. It was only a year later that I could remove it. The CD that I had in my car at the time I can no longer play and to this day I don’t play it. It has been almost 4 years. I can talk about him and share the happy memories that we made with others now and I feel comfortable doing so and I can share a giggle too.

For me I had so much love to give and I knew the only way that I could cope was to rescue another dog. So, I did. My Shilo has helped me considerably during my grieving process. Some might say it was way too soon, but everyone is different. I feel that without him I would have gone down hill and not have come out the other end. Having Shilo around feels like I still have Bailey with me.

Pet loss can be a devastating and a very difficult and complex experience, as people in general do not understand and it can feel quite lonely. So, it is understandable that pet loss and PTSD and go hand in hand.

Many employers don’t recognise it so people might find themselves lying to their boss and colleagues saying that they have lost a family member (as in human family member) just to save face but deep down inside they are hurting so much and long to talk to someone that will listen and understand their loss and someone that can empathise with them. Some people have not got anyone to help them with their grief and so all they do is think about it and the guilt and the heartache gets more and more negative which in return manifests itself into lower mental health and then PTSD.

I feel that veterinary professionals should be more supporting and knowledgeable with the grief process and have more support available for the loss that us pet parents can suffer.

There needs to be more awareness across the board with employers understanding that losing a pet can be more devastating than losing a human family member.

In summary - grief is the acceptance and healing part of the loss. PTSD is prolonged trauma in which the acceptance and healing does not exist.

This is where pet bereavement support professionals can step in and truly help. Please don’t suffer alone.

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