I don’t know why I lost hope so quickly. Maybe it was the suddenness of the loss. Or perhaps I just succumbed to the grief. The waves of mourning crashed over me. Hard. They washed over my mind in ways I hadn’t experienced since the days following the loss of my 13-year-old son. It was my first experience with grief related PTSD.
This was different.
It didn’t make sense.
This was over a dog.
Penelope came into our lives three months after our lives shattered on an unmarked country road. In early June, we lost our youngest son in a tragic car accident. By Fall, another daughter married and moved away. Somewhere in-between those two events both of our golden retrievers died.
Drake, our 12-year-old Lab and Golden mix couldn’t take the grief that filled our home. He suffered a stroke the night of the accident. Our local veterinarian, and family friend, cared for him while we made funeral arrangements and dealt with the aftershocks of tragedy. One week after we brought him home from the vet, he went out into my flower gardens and laid down and died. Then, our son’s Golden Retriever went into the barn and never came out.
The Healing Power of Animals
The children in my house could never be replaced, but the comfort that a loyal pet brings could. So I went on a mission to find the perfect dog. We raised our children with Golden and Lab mixes, and I was raised with Poodles. Enter Penelope, a Labradoodle. She looked like a teddy bear with a bad perm.
Since the day my husband brought her home to me, she has been my constant companion. In the early days of grief, she would lay at my feet and look up at me. She made me smile when I didn’t want to. She forced me out of my bed in the early morning hours, in spite of the weight of sorrow. It’s amazing what the thought of having to clean up a smelly mess before coffee will do for one’s motivation.
Penelope is now almost 12 years old. Still my constant companion. Still beckoning me out of bed in the early hours, and making me smile a the sheer love in her eyes. The other day, the old girl decided to take a walk without a leash. For 14 hours she wandered lost in the rain.
In those hours, the waves of grief hit me almost as hard as the early days of losing my son.
I realize that makes no sense.
But that’s the point.
What happened, I believe, was a form of PTSD. All of the emotions, the feelings of grief and loss came in like a flood. It hit without warning.
Deep trauma is like being pierced in the heart with a sword. The blade goes through both your physical body and reaches into the heart of who you are–your soul. Unlike the physical body, which is capable of completely healing, the soul is not. Wounds of the flesh seal with a scar. Wounds of the soul never fully heal. They can only be dressed. And they have a tendency to break open.
It’s often said, “You never get over the loss of a child.” No one “gets over” the death of a loved one. But that doesn’t mean we have to be sentenced to a life of pain. Wounds break open. They are simply a part of who we are now. Like any other physical afflictions we carry in this life, once we can recognize it, call it by name we can give it its place in our life– without giving it control.
Have you ever experienced grief related PTSD?