Thinking Out Loud: Tricky Triggers Can Cause A Lot Of Pain!You must beware of triggers! They will occur when you least expect them.So, you are having a relatively good day after months of struggling with the loss of a precious loved one. Suddenly you hear “that song” on the radio, smell a great aroma from someone’s kitchen, see a tender or beautiful scene on the television, read a story in the newspaper, or taste a familiar flavor that you would want to share. Suddenly, an avalanche of emotions comes tumbling down upon you. What set off these grief-stricken memories that you associated with the death of your cherished loved one? These thoughts that seem to come out of the blue triggered very quickly, so unnerving, catching us unaware of what’s happening deep in our hearts and minds. How do you deal with grief triggers long after the death of a wonderful loved one?May I share a few thoughts on what we need to know when these triggers invade our lives through all of our senses (eyes, nose, ears, touch, taste, and life’s experiences) and bring back the pain of our loss? Are you ready to take five quick baby steps in how to deal with these tricky triggers that remind us of so much pain? If the answer is “no,” you need to gently lay this newspaper down and allow these triggers to run rampant in your life and keep doing a bad number upon your heart and mind. If the answer is “yes” keep reading, dear soldier, for victory is within your grasp!
First, you are not abnormal! This experience is normal and ordinary. There is nothing wrong with you. You did not cause this flashback of pain. It is simply how we store our memories, and these memories have triggers. Both happy and not so happy memories have their triggers that can be pulled at any time. The role of our remembrance can be a blessing or a curse. It just depends on how you and I handle those memories that make the difference.Before our loss, these exact same memories would trigger a smile or a quick call to our loved one. We need to expect and prepare for these triggers that cause the grief in our hearts and thoughts to go off because that is the way memory works in our lives at this time, today – not forever, though.The second step is to help defuse the impact of the sudden explosion of the raw emotion of grief by continuously telling ourselves that what we are experiencing is normal, it is normal, it is normal. Now say this out loud or at least in your heart, “I am normal!” Affirming this belief will expand our ability to continue the healing process. We need to deal with these painful memories as they occur by expressing our emotions and by finding sensitive people who understand and possess the ability to listen. Now it is our responsibility, when we find someone like this, to express with full disclosure what is going on in our hearts and thoughts. Let’s not hide our feelings. We are not weak in sharing our dilemma with people who care about us. In the world of academia, it is called being intelligent. In a large city, it’s called being street smart. In the Bible, it’s called wisdom. In the country, it’s called good old common sense.Do the smart things by finding at least one supportive person who can honestly share from their heart these hurtful triggers.The third step is what I call remembering that these grief triggers, like all grief episodes and responses, have a physical component. We can get a headache, upset stomach, lose sleep, and just basically feel sick all the time. Did you know that our thoughts are always transferring to the cellular structure of our bodies with similar physical manifestations? The other side of the coin means that living a life full of real joy and peace have positive effects upon our bodies and especially our immune system.So CHOOSE not allow these grief triggers to have residual ill effects in our lives! Find ways to offset any “adverse effects” that these triggers have sneak in by electing to do things that bring joy, peace, tranquility, and happiness into your life!The fourth step is to allow these experiences to unfold and the pain in our hearts to move through and out of our lives with the smallest amount of damage to our life. Here is what one fellow sufferer wrote: “As to what helped in dealing with the grief trigger experience, I guess the biggest thing was just knowing that what I was experiencing was a grief trigger. Once I had that realization — all I had to do was acknowledge everything that I was feeling, and I just felt it — as opposed to ignoring it or pretending it wasn’t happening — the symptoms would subside, which they did over the course of a day or two.” We Americans are the world’s worst at playing silly games like “Hide & Seek,” “Let’s Make a Deal,”and “Word Games.” We want people to figure out our problems rather than telling them what our issues are and where they can assist us in getting the proper tools to overcome these heartaches, but no one can read our minds.
The key words in the paragraph above are “acknowledge everything.” Once we accept it, we know it is there, and we can move through it. It will not overtake us. Let those on this journey with us know where we are, and they can be with us — even if only in holding our hand.The final step is emphasizing how individualistic these grief triggers can be. The intensity, extent, and frequency of these events vary immensely with each person. Depending on the circumstances surrounding our loss, the emotional investment we had, and the experiences with that particular cherished friend or family member will dictate how often, how intense, and how extensive the grief trigger will happen in our lives. Some will completely catch us off guard and surprise us, while others (like birthdays or other ritual holidays) can be seen coming a mile away. Those events that we can see coming, we can get prepared for, as those events are significant triggers of grief.In any case, accepting the fact that triggers WILL happen, and to not resist or ignore them, are the best ways to disarm these explosive emotions. Acknowledging all that cross our path will limit the unnecessary suffering accompanying this loss-related grief response. A shift in our personal thought process requires us to modify beliefs, focusing on “why do I have to feel this pain?” to “what can I learn from this incident?”Accepting grief triggers as normal, especially when they come months or years after the loss, is controllable and remains an ongoing process throughout our life of healing in a healthy way.Now let me ask you, did these baby steps help you understand about the grief triggers that have happened and those that will be occurring in your life? If not, oops, I have failed! If they have helped, then it’s been worth the effort and expense to get this information into your hands. Remember, we care for you, and want to be a blessing to you and your family.