Becoming Aware of Triggers in Grief

For the grieving person who has lost someone (to death or other reasons), there is a lot of unknown in the grieving process. For a while, everything makes you want to cry or react in anger. As the months progress, though, you probably aren’t crying every day. Oftentimes, there are triggers that set off grief. These triggers can come at unexpected moments, probably because there are so much emotion and memories involved.

Some triggers for grief seem obvious (holidays, birthdays, anniversaries). Yet some are not so obvious.

Let me take a moment to share some triggers I’ve experienced as I’ve process the alleged murder of my Kindred Spirit, *Becca.



1. One of the strangest triggers is the way I react to movies and TV shows. America really likes crime shows. I couldn’t stomach them for months after Becca was allegedly murdered. I’d get so angry at the way entertainment so lightly passes over the victims who are usually murdered in brutal ways and everything is easily settled in an hour of television. Crime solved, detective is victorious, everyone goes on with their lives! Tell that to a victim’s family, who have to deal with the crime the rest of their lives. Even putting someone behind bars doesn’t solve the pain of the loss. I still don’t like crime shows or movies, and I try to avoid them. I can now be more okay watching them, but I still sometimes react in startling ways to entertainment that involves flippant violence or murder. I sometimes have to walk away from the TV set if my roommates are watching something that triggers memories. Once you’ve had something tragic happen to you, murder, crimes, and tragedy really isn’t entertaining anymore.

2. Another thing that is a trigger for me is weddings. I know this is weird, but the last time I saw my friend alive was at her wedding. It was a horrible wedding. I already could sense something was really wrong, but hadn’t yet put the clues together. She was allegedly murdered by a guy who was in the wedding party two short months later (at the alleged order of her husband). I went to a wedding about a year after Becca had died, and I was having flashbacks the entire time about Becca’s wedding. It’s not something I could control, and I tried very hard to enjoy my time at that wedding. Still, it was really hard.
The last eye contact I ever made with my best friend was when she tossed the bouquet at her wedding, and I caught it. I knew she’d throw it too hard, and it’d end up in the back. So I stayed in the back and got the bouquet. She looked at me, and I looked at her. One last true look. Just a few days ago, I saw a picture on Facebook of a bouquet toss, and I began to feel so much pain in the pit of my stomach. It took me a while to figure out why I was feeling such things about a simple picture that should evoke joy. And then I remembered…

3. Christmas break is another thing that really triggers pain. It’s not so much other holidays, but Christmas is hard. Becca wasn’t family, but she was like an older sister and mentor to me. We grew up in high school together, and when we both left for college, Christmas was most usually a time we got to see each other when we were both home. I made a concerted effort to see her often during the holidays. I was even planning a visit to see her again in December 2013, but she was murdered that October. It’s painful for me to know that I will never see her again during Christmas. Not just during Christmas break, but any time.

4. When I need prayer, it’s a trigger. When I need advice, it’s a trigger. When I need someone to look up to, it’s a trigger.  When I want to feel completely understood, it’s a trigger. Becca was one of the most influential friendships/almost-sister/Kindred Spirits I’ll ever have. There are often times when I would’ve called her for advice and pour out my heart to her, knowing she’d be there for me and understand completely. We were Kindred Spirits, made of the same stuff, and we could just look at each other sometimes and know things. I don’t have another friend quite like her in my life. I’m not sure I’ll ever have one again. The hole in my heart will always be there.

5. Triggers happen in small ways every day of every month of every year. Sometimes, when I go through my phone book to choose whom to send texts to, I will still almost instinctively click on her name. I haven’t deleted her number yet. I just can’t. For a moment, I will pause and look at her name, and it will hit me like a bullet in my chest that I can’t ever send her a text or a phone call again. That no one will ever understand me like she did.


Triggers, my friends, happen often in grief. I write this simply to help others think about things that might trigger grief for themselves. I also write this to help those who know people who are grieving. To help them understand why a griever reacts strangely sometimes to seemingly unrelated events.

ADVICE FOR the NON-GRIEVER: When someone loses someone they loved, every part of their life is forever changed, altered, warped. Whether it’s simple things like sending out a text or big things like holiday plans, it’s something they have to live with the rest of their lives. Sometimes, their emotions seem to make little sense–especially after time has passed–but dig a little deeper, and it usually will make sense. Remember that when you interact with a griever.

ADVICE FOR THE GRIEVER: It takes time to figure out what could be triggers for you personally as you grieve, and to give yourself space and time to process these triggers when they happen. Take care of yourself and learn to become more self-aware. When you feel pain unexpectedly, try to stop and think and figure out why. Go back to the memories. Seek counseling if you need to. It will help you heal and process. If you don’t face the triggers, they will eat away at you unawares and may effect your life and relationships in negative ways.

So think about it.

What are your triggers?

*Name changed for privacy.

  • Colleen Jense

    Thank you for this . I am a griever. This information helps me by giving me permission to just be with what comes up.

    • I’m so glad this post could help you out, Colleen. Yes, just let grief come and let yourself be when it happens.

  • Tern, you write so beautifully of your grief. I must say that I admire your ability to look at where you are. And
    see where you were, and explain feelings. Feelings for a long time were things I buried. I was afraid of
    what I would say if I let them out.
    Have a blessed Christmas!

    • Thanks so much! That’s really why I write–to help others have courage to know they’re not alone and they can be honest with themselves, too.

  • Kris Huhner

    Teryn – thank you. I totally feel the same way about your #1 trigger above. My husband was not murdered, but the way some shows are so flippant about death makes me sick. Just can’t watch them anymore. Also, your Advice for the Non-Griever is great. I would like to post it on my door at work so people would understand a little better, that even though it has been 2 1/2 years since Dave died, there are still triggers, and Christmas is one of them! Thank you for your blog – Merry Christmas.

    • Yes, I don’t like to watch flippant scenes about death, either. It becomes more real once you’ve lost someone. I’m glad my post could help you!

  • Bob Albro

    Music, string music, cello music, is my trigger, my son’s high school orchestra played at his furneral, then commisioned a heavy metal string orchestra piece in his memory. I love listening to the music it just reduces me to tears, but that ok.

    • Yes, I have many songs that do that, too. It’s bittersweet, to remember all that beautiful music that is now attached to the loss of someone you love.

  • Thank you for sharing your story. I just recently stumbled across your blog and it really speaks to me. The gracious light of Christ shines through your posts! Although I have not physically loss someone I love, I have lost a lot, emotionally-speaking, in my family relationship. I am a 24 year old whose parents’ are walking through a divorce and I am grieving because I love them both so deeply. Feeling like I have lost a part of my childhood in this process. Anyway, I don’t mean to gush, but I wanted to say I find it very comforting that some of the things you are sharing can be said for any who have also lost anything dear in their life. Thank you for writing.

    • Erika, I’m so sorry for what you’re going through. Wow. I’m glad my writing can somehow help you in this time of pain. I hope you’re going to counseling and finding people who can love and support you during this difficult time. My thoughts and prayers are with you!

  • Annette

    A friend shared your blog on the 15 things I wish I’d known about grief. I recently lost my husband and it is so hard sometimes to see things around the house without crying. This blog on the triggers helped me a lot. I do see triggers. Last night I had a rough night when I saw a picture of my husband and I. He was kissing the back of my hand and I realized that I can’t hold his hand anymore.

    • kris Huhner

      Annette….I so understand. My husband died 2 1/2 years ago, and there are still many triggers. ‘Touch’ (NOT sex) is a very amazing sense. I so miss just holding hands or a morning hug. One does not realize how important that is until you no longer have it. Take care…

    • I’m so sorry for this. I couldn’t imagine losing a husband, and I’m sure the knowledge of losing that option to hold hands is so hard. My thoughts and prayers are with you

  • Tim

    Those grief triggers can be heartrending, Teryn. My oldest sister and my favorite aunt passed away on the same night six years ago. The oddest things will get me thinking on that loss.

    • It can be very odd what triggers grief, can’t it? I still am surprised sometimes.

  • sherry allen

    I lost my son in a car accident this past July.My only son,Austin. He was only 25. I never understood why people say the holidays are the hardest. Now I know. We are part of the club no one wants to belong to. Teryn, thank you for explaining the triggers. I didn’t understand what was happening to me until i read your blog. Gives me much comfort to know i am not alone and drowning in this grief! Austin and i had a favorite song we used to dance to. “Rock me Momma” by old crow medicine show. I had them play it at his funeral. While shampooing a clients hair yesterday it came on the radio. I bent over in pain and tears. It felt like some one punched me in the gut!

    • I’m so glad my blog post could help you out in this very painful time, Sherry. And it’s the worst when those triggers happen in a public setting like work or in front of lots of people! May you find some comfort today as you walk this road of healing and processing this loss of your son.

  • Aaron Stolldorf

    I lost my wife unexpectedly on November 24, 2013 and well have been crying almost every day since. You talk about triggers and since that day I’ve had many. The first was two day after was my babies birthday, he turned 20, this was also the day that I spent the most preparing for her funeral. Then Thanksgiving, while I didn’t think I had anything to be thankful for I was reminded that I had 23 years, 10 months, 25 days (not that I was counting) with this woman and four wonderful boys. Then came December 6, my other sons birthday. Then this day of the trigger post My birthday 12/19. I cried ALL day, literally. A coworker asked if I was ok and clearly I wasn’t. Now I have two more big dates, Christmas which she loved and our anniversary on the 31st, 24 years and I was going to ask her to marry me all over, and this time with the big rock and honeymoon that we never got since we were both young parents. I just think of what a friend told me just this morning that it will get better and the first year will be the hardest because of all of these trigger dates. Thank you for you blog on your grief and the 15 things to know about grief, I will get through this it may be longer than I want but this is all so new to me.

    • I’m so sorry to hear of your wife’s unexpected death, Aaron. This must be such a painful time for you. I can’t imagine losing a spouse. I hope you can find a grief group or go to counseling. It really does help to process and have a place to vent where people understand a little of what you’re going through. My thoughts and prayers are with you today. Give yourself time and let yourself grieve and remember her and honor her name.

  • 13 yrs ago I lost my first baby and then almost 2 years ago my mom passed away. One thing I have noticed about loss is that mostly everyone, including the person grieving is waiting for the day when there are no more tears, when they can do, watch, see and hear all the things that were normal before the loss….
    This year as we do every year, we hung a small stocking for our angel baby. My husband always puts a candy cane in it…and every year after all the gifts are put out and we head to bed, we take a small moment and look at everything. Our eyes and hearts always land on her small stocking and we give each other a little hug. My husband always sheds a tear.
    I say this, because we see her short life as an ongoing blessing in our lives and celebrate it, as we do our 4 other children. There is very little sadness when it comes to our thoughts about this loss….yet, there will always be.

    This is our second Christmas without my mom and by far more difficult than last year. Actually….all the occasions were more difficult for me this year around as compared to the first….it’s just the way my journey into this new land of awareness is unfolding and I say all this, just to say that your journey will be filled with many of the same things as others and not…keep on.
    I really believe this is an experience for each person to find their way of clinging to goodness, softness and light that still exists beyond what we can imagine through the often darkened reality that is grief.

  • Shelby Davis

    Songbirds comment gave me a grief trigger, and it is Ok. I lost on 18 month old baby 7 years ago. She is still alive but I don’t know where she is. I recently lost another daughter not to death but to estrangement. I cry often for both of them. They don’t have to die physically for all your triggers to come into play. Thanks for listening. I won’t ever get over it but with God’s help I will get through it.

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  • Isi Adeola

    I know this blog piece was two years ago but its relevant to me right now. My mother died this month of December, murdered as well. I had to give her eulogy on my birthday and bury her the day after. Triggers for me were how I would respond to certain emotional scenes in movies. If a protagonist character died I would be in tears shortly after. Even in animated films! I was like ‘God what the heck is happening to me!?’. This never happened to me prior to my mother’s death.