Grief and Special Occasion Triggers
Have you seen the old Adam Sandler movie, “Click?” He was able to fast forward through different scenes in his life. If only it worked that way. If only there was a way that we could avoid or skip painful situations or triggers. It is customary in many different cultures to benchmark specific dates for many different reasons. Anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays are typically celebratory moments and times of joy, excitement, and laughter. Most of the time, people generally look forward to these special occasions – unless you’ve been stricken by grief. The pain of loss can become exacerbated and elevated distress is a common response during these events. While you don’t have a remote control to fast forward through time and you can’t skip dates on the calendar, you’re not completely powerless.
Below are a few things you can do to cope during Special Occasion Triggers.
1. Be real about what you feel. You’ve likely found that others are uncomfortable with your grief, and quite honestly, you’d much rather avoid your pain as well. Because of that, you may tend to suppress, mask, or numb what you feel, instead of acknowledging it. Don’t! Whatever we push down ends up pushing us down. We can bury our emotions as deep as we want, but in the end, that suppression results in compounded depression and anxiety. Instead of hiding what you feel, do yourself the favor of expressing whatever presents itself. Where do you feel safe expressing and experiencing your emotions? Start there.
2. Let your support system know ahead of time. How can they support you? Maybe you know what to ask for; maybe you don’t. It’s often hard to ask for help (that’s a topic for another day), especially while actively distressed, as stress makes it challenging for us to access the part of our brain responsible for decision-making and problem-solving. Plan ahead. In the days or weeks leading up to a significant event, identify who’s who in your world. Who are the friends or relatives that will be good listeners for you, who are the ones who will take things off your plate and get things done, and who are the ones who will give you a helpful distraction, like getting out of the house? Communicate with them and ask if they’d be available to support you in this way.
3. Visualize what you want that significant day to look and feel like. So much of grief is unpredictable and at times, uncontrollable. You don’t have a crystal ball to know exactly how the day will go, but I imagine that you anticipate it’ll be unbearable. You’re allowed to let the sun in. If you’re right in your anticipation of a dark and unbearable day ahead, why borrow the pain of tomorrow for today? YOU’RE ALLOWED TO LET THE SUN IN – even if only imaginatively. Take a moment before the significant day and visualize what it could be. What would it look like if that day was a great day after all? Let yourself imagine it vividly.
4. Write a letter. Letter writing is a good way to say what’s on your heart and mind. Are there things you wish you said to your loved one, your ex, or former friend? Maybe you didn’t lose someone but a past trauma or distressing situation makes the holidays or significant dates challenging for you. Maybe there’s something you need to say to yourself. Write it in a letter. Even if you’ve already written these letters previously, this is a great exercise to repeat as many times as you need. After the letter is complete, do with it whatever you choose: destroy it, store it somewhere safe, or share it with someone you trust. Whatever is best for you.
5. Meaningful Quotes. We agree that words have power, right? Meditating on or repeating words, phrases, or expressions is a powerful way to modify your thoughts and mood and design the life you want. Find or create quotes relevant to your specific experience (i.e., quotes about loss, hope, or peace). Reflect on what makes it meaningful for you and practice living in alignment with it.
As I prepare for the anniversary date of my dad’s passing (July 25th), these are the practices that I will implement. Add any tips or thoughts about coping with Special Occasion Triggers.