4 Ways to Take the Stinger Out of Grief Triggers
I grabbed an ear of fresh corn. Hovering over an open garbage can, I began to peel the husks off to reveal the sweet yellow gold inside.
At that moment, my mind flashed to the image of my dad standing beside a little-girl me as we shucked ears of corn in the kitchen of my childhood home.
The pain of having lost my dad to a heart attack wasn’t on my radar that hour until the ambush. That’s what a grief trigger is. An ambush. We do not expect that dagger to come at us from the bushes. Defenseless, we collapse. Especially if the loss is new.
Innocently at a grocery store one afternoon years ago, I spotted a can of Campbell’s bean with bacon soup, one of the few foods Mom would eat in her last days. I felt like I’d been punched. I carried my sadness through the store and into the parking lot that day.
My loss was fresh then. Now it’s been more than a decade since my parents died. I feel the loss, but it’s easier to embrace happy memories triggered by something I hear or see, and I’m in the habit of processing any new pieces of grief that pop up.
After years of slow but progressive work on grieving my parents, I see four ways that helped me move to a happier place, giving me the ability to accept grief as a part of life rather than as an interruption that jumps out at me from the bushes.
Engage Grief. Sound crazy? Our impulses often tell us to deflect grief, not expose ourselves to it, but to really diminish grief’s intensity, we must make appointments with it. Set aside time to grieve. We cannot go around the “valley of the shadow of death.” We can only go through Thank God, he doesn’t ask us to go through it alone.
Pause Grief. Right – we cannot actually force ourselves not to feel loss. I’m not advocating that at all, but if we consistently isolate ourselves and ruminate to no end for months on end, we won’t get the “medicine” to heal. Grief is exhausting. I adopted this pattern: Rest. Return. Rest. Return. Yes, triggers will service, but if we reach in instead of pushing away, they tend to become less frequent.
Embrace Joy. God gives us all sorts of blessings, and one of them was that special person. Even though they are gone, life offers pleasure. It may take time, but eventually we will smile. I am not being disloyal to my parents by inviting joy into my life. In fact, I am honoring them. They helped teach me how to live and enjoy life even amid pain.
Press Forward. At first, grief ties us to the past and to the present, but eventually, we ease into the future. We make new plans. We forge new relationships. We take new jobs, buy new homes and adopt new ways of seeing ourselves and the world. We merge our old lives – life before death – with a new one. Commonly called “a new normal.”
We don’t leave grief behind us in the dust – grief triggers are one evidence of that – but as we evolve, we can incorporate the reality of loss into our lives – and still feel the love of those who aren’t physically present. Short of knowing that I’ll see my parents again in heaven, that is the best outcome for the end of a loved one’s Earthly life.
What strategies do you have for grief and for grief triggers? I’d love to hear what you’ve found healing and helpful.
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