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Grief Triggers

Have you been having a relatively good day after a loss and then, while watching television, see a particular scene and suddenly feel the return of sadness? Or has a newspaper story of the death of a stranger set off sorrowful memories for you? These are moments of “grief triggering,” and are commonly the cause of grieving that can go on for days or longer.

And it doesn’t need to be a sad thing that triggers you. I was once at Zumba, something I love and enjoy, but whilst there saw a daughter (my age) come in with her mum and was so angry that I almost burst into tears. I wanted to be there with MY mum. I thought it was totally unfair and cruel of the world to have deprived me that. Totally unreasonable, I know.

I know what triggers me and what days I will be triggered (my birthday/ her deathiversary, Xmas, her birthday) I now try to better manage my way through them, sometimes even leaning into those feelings.

If I see an ambulance or hearse, I still get a kick in the guts reaction but I can now breathe through it instead of welling up. When I was in hospital, I thought it would be a huge trigger but as I entered the op theatre, I just felt mum with me and focused on that feeling and tried very hard not to think about the times she would have been on an operating table, wishing it all to be over. If I see a mum at Costa having a lovely chat with her daughter and grandchild I can now smile, it is something I wish I could do every day with MY mum but I allow the experience to unfold and the pain in my heart to move through and out of me and in that found strength for next time a trigger like that comes up.

But the latest news did throw me, and I was one of the people who barely watched the coverage of the Queen’s funeral. I have avoided television for most of the past couple weeks. I knew if I tuned in, I would likely be transfixed and not be able to stop watching. When I first heard about her death and started to watch the news coverage, I felt panicky, and experienced immediate feelings of extreme sadness. I am not a royalist (sorry) but I am human -and a massive empath- and couldn’t help but imagine how her family must be feeling. Famous or not, they too lost a mum, a grandma and a great grandma. And yes, she was 96, but nothing prepares you for loss and to have it filmed and your grief be televised to the nation/ the world felt to me kind of wrong. It is such a private moment and there was barely any privacy given to them and it did bring back those feelings of my loss, though it was not MY moment.

Watching someone else grieving for someone can trigger difficult emotions in you that perhaps brought back bad memories, frustrations, anger, sadness, etc.? I know, as a griever, that we should become more attuned to people's needs when they grieve because we become more compassionate, but sometimes it is possible your gut reaction is a negative one because being that "fresh" grief brings back bad memories.

These triggers are not unusual and the more we experience them, the more skilled we become at dealing with them, because we're better able to recognize them for what they are: normal, temporary, and manageable. And when we have a negative reaction to someone else's grief, we've gained enough insight to recognize where our own bad feelings are coming from. This is why, when bereaved individuals express interest in volunteering at a hospice, most agencies require that at least a year has passed since the death of their own family members. The assumption and expectation are that they will have had sufficient time to gain some distance from, and perspective on, their own personal losses. There is nothing magical about a year, and it certainly does not mean that volunteers are expected to be completely "finished" with their own grief before they are capable of supporting someone else. It does mean, however, that when they work with the bereaved and certain feelings come up for them, they know whose grief they're dealing with.

“Here's a guide to what you need to know when something you see, hear, smell or experience brings back the pain of your loss:

1. Know the experience is normal and common. There is nothing wrong with you. You did not cause the event. It is part of the way we store memories. Sometimes it is the result of unresolved traumatic imprints highly emotional events that become imbedded in our psyches and our bodies and may need professional assistance to manage. Both happy and not so happy memories have their triggers. The role of the mind in healing is extremely powerful and at other times extremely limiting. But grief triggers are to be expected. That’s the way memory works.

2. To help defuse the impact of the sudden onset of grief, keep telling yourself that what you are experiencing is normal, normal, normal. Say it to yourself: affirming this belief will expand your ability to continue healing. Deal with it by expressing your emotions and finding support persons who understand the phenomena and your need for their listening skills. Regrettably, you may have to educate some of them at this difficult time. Nevertheless, full disclosure of what is happening within can be very useful. Don’t hide your feelings. You are not weak in sharing your plight.

3. Remember that these grief episodes, like all grief responses, have a physical component. You may get a headache, digestive disturbances, feel ill, or not be able to sleep. Thoughts are always transferred to our cells with corresponding physical manifestations. Of course, from the modern perspective of neurochemistry, this also means that joyful and peaceful thoughts can have highly positive effects on your physiology, especially the immune system.

4. Allow the experience to unfold and the pain in your heart to move through and out of you.

The key words in this observation are: acknowledge everything.

Never forget: what you resist persists.

Let it work through you.

Depending on the circumstances surrounding the death of your loved one, the emotional

investment in the person, and the internal connections made from your precipitating experience a grief trigger for you may be a complete surprise and thus alarming. In any event, accepting the experience and not resisting is the best way to disarm and limit the unnecessary suffering that accompanies this loss-related grief response.”

These triggers are part of the ongoing healing process which may or may not ever truly end, depending on the depth of feeling. These triggers are totally individual to you, welcome them in because I believe each has been sent as a guide to get you through. If there’s one thing I have learnt in 6 years it is this: GRIEF CANNOT BE IGNORED

I hope this blog helped you in some way, especially if you were triggered by recent events.


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