Prepare Your Response Plan for Grief Triggers

Grief triggers – your deceased loved one’s birthday, the anniversary of your loss, and holiday festivities – are a recovery challenge. How will you respond? Will you continue to move forward with life or will the grief trigger stop you in your tracks? Worse, will you go backwards?

I ask these questions when I encounter grief triggers. Tuesday of this week was the third anniversary of my daughter’s death. Though I was not sure how I would respond, I knew the day would be hard. So I pulled myself together, revised my response plan, and used it.

First, I looked on the calendar for other grief triggers. No holidays were listed, thank goodness, nor were any birthdays. Still, I was worried about the third anniversary and shared my feelings with my husband. “We will get through it,” he said, “just like we have gotten through everything else.”

Evaluating my mental health came next. Usually, I am an upbeat person, but after losing four family members in 2007 I was susceptible to situational depression – discouraging feelings caused by a life event. These multiple losses, especially my daughter’s death, knocked me down. But I tackled my grief work and continued to do it. All things considered, I thought my mental health was good.

Then I checked my support system, and it was wobbly. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law, the mainstays of my system, had moved to Wisconsin. Other family members were moving to Wisconsin, too, and I felt abandoned. Who would I call in an emergency? The question bothered me and it has bothered some of my friends. In fact, we talked about this at a recent brunch.

One friend, who is a widow, described a frightening experience. “I didn’t know who to call,” she admitted. “It is hard when you live alone.”

“You can call me,” another friend replied. “We have to do this for each other at this time of life.” What a wise comment. I told my friend that she could call my husband and me as well.

When the anniversary of my daughter’s death came, I was prepared. I let myself cry and then turned to the coping method that works best for me, writing. I wrote an article about my conflicting feelings, sadness at the death of a child, and satisfaction in raising my twin grandchildren. You may prepare for grief triggers by revising your response plan or creating a new one.

Your grief trigger response plan is like a protective shield. You feel the blow, shake it off, and return to living your life. Grief response plans can be revised to meet new situations and triggers. That is good news for you and all who love you.

Copyright 2010 by Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson

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Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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