When my husband died, I shuffled through those first few months as if someone had added 30 years to my birth certificate overnight. Even small excursions outside my front door into the land of the living could be emotionally exhausting. But necessary. I wasn’t working at the time and my three children attended school. Most of the day I was alone with little to do, which was depressing all by itself. Getting out of the house became a type of lifeline. A trip to the grocery store or the gym was a way to take up the slack of the day for an hour or two.
One of the problems, however, was the music. Most businesses that serve the public play background music. Often it’s soothing or energizing but sometimes what you hear evokes a memory. In my own period of intense grief when I was barely holding my emotions together, hearing a certain song was enough to push me over the edge. One time this happened while I was food shopping. I lost it right there in the cereal aisle. Hearing our song was a grief trigger.
What is a grief trigger? It’s anything that causes you to remember a loss. Grief triggers cannot be avoided because they come in every imaginable form. Like deer that leap in front of your car out of nowhere, grief triggers can wreck your day when you are simply going about your business. Any one of these can evoke a powerful memory which reminds you of both your husband and your loss: the sudden smell of his aftershave as a stranger passes, the sight of an older couple holding hands as they walk through the parking lot or seeing an intact family having fun together, a certain taste that reminds you of a special meal you had with your husband, or hearing a certain song. All of these can be grief triggers.
Knowing what a grief trigger is, however, doesn’t help you. It’s learning how to think about them that may offer comfort. The depth of our grief and sadness at losing our spouse reflects the importance of that relationship and the love we shared. One thing to consider is that your grief triggers reflect beautiful memories of your husband and your marriage. These memories are gifts that you get to keep. While they may cause feelings of loss and sadness, especially at first, it may be a comfort to examine why.
You know why. It is because in that other life you held such loveliness, experienced all the joys of daily life, and that you were so blessed, even if you didn’t realize it in the moment. You realize it now, and realizing it your heart is full, partly from the weight of sadness but also, if you allow yourself to acknowledge it, from the joy. The joy of your love, your smiles, your eating and laughing and dancing together. Your joy in creating a life and maybe a family together. And that’s no small thing. It’s an incredible, holy and mystical thing. It ended too soon but yes you held it for a time. So if right now, your tears flow because of what you lost, then please realize that’s perfectly fine.
The important thing is to get your feelings out in some way. Holding in what you are going through may cause you to get stuck in your grief and mired in the past. A friend or family member who has the courage and compassion to listen as you speak of all the dimensions of your loss, can be especially helpful. You may consider seeing a grief counselor. Journaling your feelings is another way to help you express your grief, release some of its intensity and thereby move forward. Whatever you choose to do, it is likely that time will wear softer edges to your loss. Perhaps then, the memories that today cause intense pain, will be something to cause you to smile with gratitude for what once was yours.