Living in Our (Grief) Trigger-Happy World…

Triggers…the unexpected and probably one of the hardest parts of losing someone you love.   When you are all aboard on this grief train…it’s enough to derail you.  Being that this isn’t the first time I am getting my ticket punched and setting out on this journey…it doesn’t derail me quite as easily, as I know what to expect…however, it seems almost constant at this point.

What’s a grief trigger? A grief trigger is anything that brings up memories related to a loss. What are grief triggers for me?  It would appear that it’d probably be easier to explain what aren’t…but here we go.

Let’s start with the obvious and in-your-face ones.  A birthday.  Matt’s birthday is at the end of this month.  He never made it to 39.  That’ll be a tough day, well, a tougher day…although, learning from my own history, the days before will be the worst when anticipating that monumental day…and the actual day will be okay and filled mostly with good memories and smiles.  Milestones counting out from the death is another obvious one.  First it’s days…then it’s weeks (yesterday it was six weeks since Matt passed)…then it’s months…then you get to the “angelversay” as we call it in our household.  We just passed Mike’s 3rd Angelversary just days after Matt passed away.  September can officially “suck it”. I’m always anticipating those triggers.  You can brace yourself for them and you can plan for your derailment…which, unfortunately, makes it no easier, but at least you have a head’s up.

Then there’s the unexpected triggers you face throughout your days. And weeks. And months.  And years.  I am letting out a big sigh as I just typed that.  My life, since embarking on own my path with Matt, was completely intertwined with him.  We never got to live together (which was our plan as soon as he was “healthy”), but if he wasn’t physically with me…he was on my mind.  Or I was traveling to visit him.  Or I was cooking for him.  Or I was texting him.  Or researching for him.  That makes for going through the days and weeks after he’s gone with a lot of reminders that he is not here.  A lot of free time on my hands that was typically was monopolized by him.  So, even the empty space in my days is a grief trigger.  Having empty space is starting to become my norm, so my new routine is starting to get a little easier.

And then there’s the grab bag of other reminders…the person that walks in the restaurant that looks like him, the song on the radio, the posts and pictures of the Grassdrags Matt was really hoping to introduce me to, looking down at your little boy who’s looking up at you…and drastically resembling Daddy, washing the sweatshirt you stole from him, the random post in your news feed about them…and there’s so many other little and unexpected things, smells, sounds that occur…and regardless of how small or insignificant they seem…they can drop you to your knees, or make you feel like you want to, because the pain is so intense.  Then you pick yourself up and move on until the next one comes along.

Working with the public combined with being so open on social media and through my blog, I come into contact with people daily who knew of Matt’s illness and were up to speed on the final days.  I am friends with a large portion of my customers…some closer than others.  We all catch up with each others’ lives when they visit.  Right up until yesterday I am seeing people for the first time since Matt died who are giving their condolences…hard, but welcomed.  And even harder (for them, not me) are the ones who are out of the loop and ask how Matt’s treatments are going.  That always makes for an awkward conversation…I still haven’t found the right words for that one. More grief triggers.

This becomes the norm.  Life, a series of reminders…triggers.  Sometimes all day…sometimes not for a while.  But forever. I can tell you, years later, I can’t hear an ambulance without being zapped right back to the day Mike was rushed to the hospital only to be gone from us a few days later.  I now know, because of this, that I will never hear a helicopter without thinking of Matt being airlifted to Boston. Throughout your days, I assure you that there are a lot more ambulances and helicopters than you realize!!!

I’m in no hurry to go through this process.  I know from experience that there’s no time limit on when you travel through all the stages of the journey. I will be glad when I am out of what seems like the zombie stage(my own non-technical term). I’ve never seen even a few minutes of the Walking Dead, but I can picture a zombie creature walking down the street, labored, and being hit with bullet after bullet…and they still keep going.  The trigger bullets keep coming, and I keep going.  I am the zombie taking the hits and going through the grocery store by the “Mitchell’s Fresh” sign without outwardly flinching. I am waiting on the customer that uncannily looks like Matt without batting an eye.  I will continue to pour drinks with a smile while a family member sits at my bar and fondly tells stories about Matt.  I will be cleaning the house with the kids when that song comes on…and I will just continue on.  But then I will get in the car alone and let it go.  I will feel it and by the time I’ve reached my destination I will be thanking my waterproof mascara and leftover napkins from Dunkin Donuts on the seat beside me…and move forward.  I will go to bed fine, then hit with a trigger, curl into a ball, get though my grief attack…and then pick up my phone and play my kids and other various opponents in my new favorite smartphone app.

So, what I have learned from mourning Mike and being with Matt, is that the triggers never go away.  Those triggers will be shot at you like bullets, like it or not.  The difference is that over time they don’t need to always be so painful.  They can bring a smile.  A good memory.  Sometimes sadness. Sometimes pain.  But not like it feels in the beginning.

For now, I will be thankful that even through the sadness and pain…and bullets… that I am able to find joy in my children’s smiles and laughter, that I am able to belly laugh whole-heartedly with friends and co-workers…and that I can just merely get out of bed…while it’s still in the a.m… I know that it won’t always feel the way it does today.

Zombie-like or not…I’m moving forward.

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