Grief Triggers: Traveling Into The Grief Unknown

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Traveling in space you never know what you’ll find. Sure there are some things you already know about, but what’s scariest are the things you DON’T know about. The things we don’t know about make it hard to prepare. Hard to know what we’re looking at in our navigation screen. Hard to keep moving into the unknown space.

Grief triggers. They are the big scary monsters of space travel.

They come and go without warning. We have no way of knowing what will catapult us into ugly crying or a full on panic attack. Sometimes it can be a big thing, a flashback, a memory, support from others that we’re unsure how to accept. Sometimes it’s a little thing, stumbling upon their favorite movie on tv, smelling their signature scent or hearing their name.

Years into my grief journey I sat down on the couch, bowl of popcorn with M&Ms on top as a guilty treat for myself. I was preparing to watch one of my favorite shows with my boyfriend. Grey’s Anatomy. It was one of my favorites for years, I had been following along since the beginning and loved it even though it made me emotional which often turned into me sobbing into my popcorn.

So let me just preface this with, I know that being triggered by this show is highly likely being that my brother was in a hospital daily for almost a year battling cancer. That the full on expectation of this is that I will be triggered in some way, shape or form and guess what….. I was. It was pretty ugly too.

I forget which episode it was because this was years ago but I can tell you that one of the characters ( I believe it was Gina Davis’ character) had to get radiation, and had to wear the radiation mask. The same mask my brother had to wear for his radiation. The one that scared the living crap out of me because it looked like it belonged to a terrifying Halloween costume. The minute I saw the mask going on to her face I had the worst memories flood into my head. I panicked, ran upstairs and locked myself into our master bathroom. I proceeded to hysterically cry for what felt like forever. I. COULD. NOT. STOP.

Finally, I came to a place where I could pull myself together and return to the couch but I felt like a different person after that. The feelings of grief and fear that washed over me in a matter of seconds was overwhelming. It made me fearful of my emotions. It made me wonder what else I might react to in that way and where I would be when it happened.

However traumatic that experience was for me, I believe it was also helpful. It reminded me that even if I am triggered or have an emotional response to something. That’s ok. That I can deal with things as they come and while the things that come might not always be pleasant they are usually necessary. They are necessary for healing, understanding and compassion toward our own grief process.

Remember when dealing with grief triggers that they are normal and necessary parts of learning to cope with our new “normal”. It can feel uncomfortable and scary not knowing when you might get hit with a trigger. Working with yourself to identify what coping strategies are most useful to you in these moments will be tremendously helpful. Grounding techniques are often useful because they allow us to come back to the present moment rather than staying in whatever memory or difficult emotions are coming up.

Utilizing coping strategies that may pull you from difficult memories or emotions does not mean that you are betraying your loved one. When we’ve experienced a loss the memories are all we have left, even the bad ones. This can sometimes lead to us feeling we have to stay in those memories even if they are harmful to us because they are a part of the person we’ve lost. However, staying in these negative memories and difficult emotions attached to them can be more unhelpful than we realize initially. It is ok for you to move away from the bad memories, and sometimes it makes more room for the good ones.

What are the coping strategies you utilize for your grief triggers? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear them!

Thanks for reading and grieve on!



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