It’s not uncommon for people to have bad days interspersed by good ones after a loss. Eventually, the scales tip and the good days outweigh the bad. There will come a time when you think that you have gotten over your loss, only to find that you are sitting on the couch crying like the loss occurred yesterday.
Grief triggering is a term that describes the action of hearing a song on the radio, reading a story, or even meeting a stranger and feeling a sudden return to overwhelming sadness. It’s typical for grief to be triggered on the dates of special events and holidays and even by special objects.
Here is how you can cope with these reminders of your loss.
Birthdays and Anniversaries
Birthdays and anniversaries have a way of creeping up on us. We know they are coming, but life gets in the way and we are, thankfully, able to put these dates out of our mind for the time being. When they hit, they can hit hard.
When the birthday of the deceased is approaching, allow yourself to grieve if you need to. Do not try to mask the pain or tell everyone that you are okay. You aren’t, and that is normal. Do your best to be kind to yourself during the days approaching and the day of the birthday or anniversary.
Ask for support if you need it. Ask to be left alone if you need to be. It doesn’t matter whether you lost your loved one last month or 10 years ago. If your grief is triggered by birthdays and anniversaries, you have every right to grieve how you see fit.
Holidays and Other Special Days
It does not have to be a birthday or anniversary that triggers your grief. You may feel down during whichever holidays you suffer or on other days that were special to you and your departed loved one. Know that the intensity with which your grief is triggered can vary. You may find yourself mildly longing for your loved one or so overcome by sadness that you feel as though you cannot function.
One of the best steps in dealing with grief that is triggered by holidays and other special days is to simply accept your feelings. It’s not unusual for people to feel guilty about the return of their grief. You may feel as though you have to apologize to those around you for feeling what you feel. You do not. There is nothing to apologize for; be yourself and allow yourself to navigate the emotions you are experiencing.
Now is the time that you should be looking after yourself. Do not skip meals, drink plenty of water, and get outside for a walk. Go to bed at a regular time and get up at a normal time. Do not allow yourself to languish away in your bed or on the couch. Get yourself up and moving, even if you do not want to.
Special objects can trigger grief that you did not see coming. You may pass something in a store window, or you may clean out your cupboards and find something you had forgotten about. Do not be alarmed if the simple act of picking something up or viewing an object triggers grief that you thought you had gotten over.
Special objects may be something as simple as a movie stub or as important as a piece of jewelry. No matter what the object is, do not hide it away. You may think that this will eschew your grief, but it will still be on your mind. For some people, keeping that object close to them can help to alleviate some of the sadness that they are feeling.
When you find yourself struck by feelings of grief, embrace them. Keep in mind that you got over your initial grief with hard work and time; this bought of grief will pass. While your brain may be aware of that fact, your heart does not understand it. Work to get through this rough patch and you will come out on the other side a stronger person.
Planning Can Help
Holidays and special days are unavoidable. You can choose to pretend they do not exist, or you can make a plan for how you will get through them. Many people find that making a plan for the upcoming dates can help to lessen the grief triggered by those days.
1. Talk About It
As the day draws nearer, confide in a trusted friend or family member about how you are feeling and what you are most anxious about. Putting a voice to your concerns can help lessen them.
2. Scale Back
This is not the time to host a formal dinner or get together. Scale back and try to relax. Avoid doing things or taking part in activities that you know will cause you stress.
3. Stay Simple
You may think that keeping your holidays packed full of activities will lessen the grief that you feel, but you may find the opposite to be true. Keep your plans simple.
You may decide that you want to stick with your family’s traditions, or you may want to establish new traditions. Decide this ahead of time and let your family know which you prefer.
Everyone in your family has been affected by the loss of your loved one. Do not be so staunch in your reserve to get through the holidays or other special days that you are inflexible.
Special occasions can be marked by a deep sadness that you thought you would not experience again. Give yourself permission to grieve and do not apologize for the way that you feel. Grief triggered by special occasions, holidays and objects is normal. You have every right to feel the way that you feel. You made it through your grief the first time; you will do it again.
Updated: October 2, 2014