What Sets Off Your Triggers?

In the prologue of the book I promised I would not pull any punches, and just tell it like it is. This is one of those topics that I would much prefer to sugarcoat, but I won’t. After losing a partner, the pain seems unbearable in the beginning. Each breath is an effort to take, and there is no visible light at the end of the tunnel. Everyone has to discover where they can turn for relief, even if just a tiny bit of it. Gradually you will start to be able to tell someone about your partner without crying. Little by little you will think of them and smile at the sweet memories. You may begin to realize that you are recovering from your loss (and you are). But just when you least expect it, something sets off a “trigger” and you feel as though you’ve been plunged back into the depths of despair. Please know that this is normal. A friend once told me that the loss of a spouse or partner was like having them ripped away from your chest, leaving a large wound where you were connected at the heart. Just when you think this injury is starting to heal over, something happens that reaches up and rips off the protective scab that had started to form, and the wound is once again painful and exposed.


In many cases you will not see these triggers coming; they’re like hidden land mines. It may be as simple as driving by a hospital or doctor’s office, hearing a certain song, watching family videos or looking at photos. Perhaps a certain date or holiday comes along and you realize it had significance to the both of you. A friend from the past may call and ask how your loved one is doing, oblivious of the fact that your partner is now on the other side. I still avoid driving by certain spots that cause painful memories. I have learned to recognize and stay away from many of the triggers that set my emotions into a tailspin. However, every now and then I get ambushed.


Last week as I prepared for a trip to San Francisco, I reached into the closet and retrieved one of two neck support flight pillows that I had found while cleaning out a some boxes the previous day. As I waited to board the plane, I reached into my carry-on to get a book, and saw something that made me freeze. Stuck to the red neck pillow were several long blonde hairs, obviously from Malinda. I felt the tears well up in my eyes and I carefully started pulling the golden strands off the pillow and holding them in my hand. I was holding a part of Malinda. I suddenly didn’t want to use the pillow, and I didn’t know what to do with the hair. As difficult as it was for me, I got up and walked to the nearest trash receptacle and gently set the pillow and the hair within. I knew it wouldn’t bother Malinda, and I knew that that particular trigger would not set me off again.


According to the many people I have interviewed who have been separated from their loved ones for many years, these grief triggers don’t ever completely go away. They do, however, get further apart, especially when you have learned what to avoid. Little by little you will be able to overcome these emotional obstacles by slowly allowing yourself to be exposed to them. Some of them may actually become pleasant reminders of the one you are missing.

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