Grief Triggers

Saturday, 16 October 2021

You may well wonder what exactly is meant by a ‘grief trigger’. The answer is simple – anything that brings up memories of a loss that has happened to you.

Sometimes we think of obvious times of the year that such triggers will be the strongest – birthdays, Christmas, family occasions, holiday times, and the like. One of the hardest to bare is the anniversary of the death, particularly in the early years – it’s common to recall all the things you did together as you count down the days to the time of death. You also might remember in great

detail, where you were and what you were doing when your loved one died.

But there are other triggers that can also trip you unexpectedly. Like times when you see someone who looks like your loved one or hear of someone with the same name or job. Reminders can also be tied to sights, sounds, and smells – and they can be inevitable. You might suddenly be flooded with emotions when you drive by the restaurant your loved one loved or when you hear your loved ones favourite song – all these links can cause a memory to ignite some feelings inside you.

Grief triggers can be upsetting because they re-kindle emotions and create feelings of sadness, longing regret, loneliness, thoughts of ‘if only’, and more. Even years after loss, you might continue to feel great sadness when you’re confronted with reminders of your loved ones’ death. As you continue healing, take steps to cope with reminders of your loss. For example:


  • Be prepared: Anniversary reactions are normal. Knowing that you’re likely to experience anniversary reactions can help you understand them and even turn them into opportunities for healing.
  • Reminisce about your relationship: Focus on the good things about your relationship with your loved one and the time you spent together, rather than the loss. Write a letter to your loved one or a note about some of your good memories.
  • Connect with others: Draw friends and loved ones close to you, including some people who were special to your loved one. Find someone who will encourage you to talk about your loss. Stay connected to your usual support systems.
  • Allow yourself to feel a range of emotions: It’s OK to be sad and feel a sense of loss, but also allow yourself to experience joy and happiness. As you celebrate special times, you might find yourself both laughing and crying.

“Memories are where our loved ones continue to live after they’re gone; it’s why we hold onto objects that remind us of them and go places where they feel near. True, when someone we love dies, we are forever more at risk of their memory triggering aftershocks of the pain. But also, if we let them, such reminders may also fill us with warmth and comfort”

Eleanor Haley, ‘Grief Triggers and Positive Memory: a Continuum’