I want you to think about Tigger in Winnie the Pooh. You know the one–orange, black stripes, kooky laugh. Think about how he's "bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!" I'm going to draw a strangely odd, yet fitting, parallel that hit me as I sat in a meeting.
BAM! Knocked to the ground. Didn't see that coming. Much like our losses and the triggers that can knock us down.
Now, think about a trigger. One minute you're doing dishes and staring out of the window and the next minute, you realize that your husband should've been home 5-minutes ago so clearly he was in an accident and the police will show up any moment and tell you the news. That's rational, right? No? I know but that's a tigger ... I mean a trigger.
Some days we think we have our grief "sorted" once and for all and then... we get hit by a bouncing cannonball. Much like Tigger (see what I did there?). Grief bounces around, not caring what it's going to knockdown. It's like, "Oh! You just got engaged?! BAM! Guess who's not here to witness the big day!" "My daughter is seven! Better put her in a bubble so she doesn't get hit by a car!" (I really had to fight that urge). "My parents are leaving on a vacation. I hope they are safe." "Matt and the girls are going out. I need them to tell me when they get there."
Since Andrew died, when I was 12, my biggest trigger became the very real fear of a car accident. This fear ebbs and flows and right now, it's flowing. I don’t know if it’s because the world has felt so chaotic, I’ve been under a lot of personal stress, or the fact that I have entered a new stage of grief. The point is, I've had this same trigger for 28-freaking-years. It's strange though, I'm not afraid of crossing the street any more than the next guy. It would seem to me, that would be a rational trigger. But, who said grief was rational?
Several of my best friends have lost their moms to cancer. They have all had a breast cancer scare. They are moms with young children. Every one of them has had to swallow down genuine fears that they would follow the journey their own mom had. Trigger. My grandma had a form of intestinal cancer. I have celiac disease and it's been acting up lately. I've had fears that I was following her path. Trigger.
So what do we do when there are triggers that keep acting like Tigger? Here are five things I've been doing when a trigger gets pulled.
It's so generic, isn't it? Taking a deep breath forces me to shift my thoughts and pause. There are so many scientificky reasons for this one. Here, I Googled research for you. Click here. I mean, I'm no American Institute of Stress but if they say it works then it's gotta work.
2. Think. Think. Think.
(I'm sorry, you may never see Winnie the Pooh the same again. I haven't)
When I was doing the dishes and felt that familiar heart race and thought pattern begin, I took a deep breath and made myself think of the reality of the situation: my husband was running late, I have that trigger happen frequently and it has NEVER come true, and I need to wait for him to be much later than five-minutes before I panic.
I have found music to be healing, triggering, and distracting. In a previous blog post, I wrote about Johnnyswim's song, "Let It Matter" and its permission to grieve. I'll listen to praise and worship music to lift my spirit and look up other than down. A word of warning though is to listen to music you know or pick a playlist with a certain theme. Music can catch you by surprise and push those triggers deeper. The first time I heard Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven" I was unpleasantly surprised. Never mind the fact that the song is unrelated to my story, something hit a nerve. I still can't listen to that song.
Now, this next tie-in is most likely taking it too far but, it makes me smile and, we have to ignore those "little black rain clouds."
Sorry, not sorry. Unless that's a trigger for you and then I am really sorry.
4. Feel It
If you'll notice, my first three could be on the avoidance side of grief management. I'm pretty good at that one. That's why I started this project: so I could learn how to confront hidden grief and help others as well.
Yesterday morning, I walked into our kitchen and smelled my grandma. She wore a typical grandma perfume and I loved it. It was something from Avon or Clinique and smelled slightly like roses. As I walked through the smell, I stopped, forced myself to recognize it, and made myself feel it. I forced myself to recognize the fact that I've been missing my Grandma Britton. A side effect of this project is that I am feeling my grief more than usual and ever since my Grandpa Britton passed away in 2019 I've really missed her. She passed away 10-years after Andrew from cancer and was a critical person in my life. That moment brought out other grief but I needed to let it out. I've been shoving too much aside lately.
5. Write (or Speak) It Out
During my brother's viewing, one of my mom's best friends put me in her car and took me to Hallmark. She had me pick out a journal and a pen. I have kept some form of a journal since then. Lately, my brain has been too full to journal so I've been speaking into a voice recognition app on my phone or laptop (I use Otter.ai but I've heard Google Docs is a great resource as well). That has let me just get the words out as fast as I can say them instead of waiting for my hands to catch up. Since it's voice recognition, I can then print it out and put it in my journal or add to an electronic version of a journal like a Word doc, Google doc, or (gasp) a blog post.
Knowing the holidays are coming up (I'm writing this in December of 2020....yes, that 2020) I created a set of journal prompts. While they are holiday-related, there are a number of them that are seasonless. See if any of these might help your trigger.
Think about Tigger again. There was always some outcome: Rabbitt was mad Tigger knocked something over, Eyore fell off of a bridge, Pooh's honey jar broke, or poor Piglet was thrown through the air. He looked fun and seemed fine but then Tigger would pull his trigger and BAM! Oh, bother.
So grief. It's just not "fun fun fun fun fun" unlike that rowdy orange tiger. Do you want to know another reason I'm attaching this to Tigger/Winnie the Pooh? Triggers can be terrifying and if we put something less terrifying to them, the intimidation seems to melt away. In the clip below, take out "Tigger" and put in "trigger." It made mine a little less frightening, reminded me it's my fear-based reality, and compared my panic to an orange tiger named Tigger. Also, that makes me Winnie the Pooh and he's just adorable. Who doesn't want to be adorable?!