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The idea of triggers; sights, sounds, smells, circumstances that bring back a strong memory, have been around for a long time.  However, it seems that recently this idea has become more widely known, accepted and is creating room for more compassionate responses for and from others.

Current events seem to offer us plenty of opportunities to experience a grief trigger. But there are many others; seeing someone in the distance with a disability similar to your loved ones, visiting someone else in the same hospital where your loved one died, seeing a haircut like your loved ones, smelling the scent of baking cookies your loved one made, and so many others.

After my mother’s death the scent of cigarettes wafting in from a car at a traffic light could bring me to tears. (My mother smoked my whole life.) Seeing someone enjoying lunch with their dad when mine was gone was equally a trigger for me. And, in recent weeks, the school shootings remind me of a personal experience with an armed man. These triggers bring waves of grief, anxiety, fear, sorrow, a sense of loss, powerlessness…the list goes on.

It can be helpful to know and understand the things that may be a trigger for you. What are they and where are you likely to encounter them?

At the same time, there are moments when something will be a totally unexpected trigger for your own deepest emotions. Tears may stream down your face. Your hands may tremble. Your heart races.  The triggers can be out of the blue and completely bring you to your grief knees when you least expect it.

So, how do you handle your triggers?

First, noticing what they are and when they occur can be helpful. If you feel triggered visiting someone in the same hospital where your loved one died, you may choose a different way to be supportive. You might decide to send a note, call or text, send flowers rather than being present while they are in the hospital.

If the trigger is something broader such as the most recent school shooting, you may need to take measures to support yourself. This could include reducing or eliminating your exposure to media and social media. A friend recently posted on her Facebook page that she was leaving social media. She did not explain her leaving – instead inviting her friends to connect in other ways. Reducing your media exposure could help you create a safe place to be with your feelings – a place to guard your heart.

You may want to explore other self-care strategies when you find yourself in a trigger overload or particularly vulnerable to triggering circumstances. This could look like taking extra time for yourself with soul-filling activities; asking others to pray for you or hold you in their thoughts, reading poetry, spending time with a journal or another art form. You may make time for a long hot bath, a quiet dinner or a long walk in nature.  And, if you are feeling too overwhelmed you may find it useful to reach out for professional help; see your clergy, find a counselor or therapist or visit with a trusted friend.

What are some of the things you’ve found helpful when you feel triggered by circumstances in the world, your community or at home? How do you take care of yourself?

Deb Brandt (formerly Buehler) has blogged for Hansen-Spears Funeral Home in the past. She took time away from her writing after the death of her sister in 2017. She is a certified funeral celebrant, certified creative grief practitioner and professional writer. She works virtually and in-person with individuals and families as they tell their stories of grief and loss. Deb co-authored The Hollowed Heart; Inspiration for Women Awakening from Grief and Loss. You can learn more about Deb and her services at or contact her directly at


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