Chapter 3: Challenges you may face

If your grief is triggered

The grief expert says
Chris discusses reactions to sudden unexpected waves of grief.(3:22)Video transcript
Fred talks about how grief can be triggered years after a loss.(3:22)Video transcript

Birthdays and holidays can be tough. All of the memories of our times together flood back and my tears flow.

I heard his favourite song in the grocery store the other day. It stopped me in my tracks, and there I was crying in the canned goods aisle.

Every time I hear a siren, it takes me right back to the scene. The images are still so vivid, and my heart just starts pounding.

When I face the triggers, I take some of their power away.

Depending on the time, place, or circumstance, you may sometimes find yourself in a wave of grief. This could be triggered by sights, sounds, smells, objects, events, places, or even other people. You might anticipate these waves of grief, or they might be unexpected. You may not always know what has set off your grief. 

Sometimes these triggers and reactions can happen close to home, for example, when hearing the person’s favourite song on the radio. Other times, they can happen in situations where you feel you have less control, such as at a social gathering or in a public place.

These experiences can be overwhelming and can bring about an emotional or physical response. If you have had a traumatic experience associated with your loss, these grief triggers may also bring about trauma responses. 

Understanding what triggers your grief can help you to find ways to cope with the “waves” when they come. Watch the videos on the right to learn more about grief triggers.

What may help

  • Recognize that there will likely be times when your grief or trauma responses reappear, sometimes without warning. This can happen on special occasions, such as an anniversary or a birthday, or when something brings back a memory. You may want to let others know that this might happen, and that it is normal. 
  • Share your experience with someone you trust. This can help you to identify the things and places that most trigger your grief and help you to find ways to cope.
  • Remind yourself that these intense moments will pass and their impact will likely lessen over time. If it doesn’t, it’s important for you to seek professional help. Look for a therapist or counsellor who is experienced in grief and suicide loss and/or trauma.

Helpful resources - Module 6 - Managing difficult situations, Chapter 1 - Triggers of grief