When Blindsided by Grief, 4 Tips to Help You Back Up

November 5, 2017

Wouldn't it be helpful if after losing someone you love (or enduring any trauma), you received a list of all the triggers that would be painful, and ways in which to cope with them to minimize the pain? 


Wishful thinking, I know. 


I've learned, in my grief journey, that there are certain triggers I can brace myself for. I knew Leyden's birthday, anniversary and the holidays were going to hurt like heck. They were inevitably going to be painful, but I wasn't exactly sure how I would approach battle. So, I put multiple game plans into place. I devised plan a, plan b, plan c and plan don't get out of bed unless necessary.... because even when preparing for the known, it's impossible to predict how you will feel and what you may or may not need to get through such moments.



When you see an event, date or holiday that is going to knock the wind out of you, my advice is this: acknowledge it, communicate your needs to people you love, have 3-4 options for yourself in place and surrender to the blow. It will lessen the impact. 


But what about the ones that completely and utterly blindside you? 


Unfortunately these can only really be seen after you're laying on the ground, dizzy, confused with the wind completely knocked out of you. And at that point, all you can do is curl up in a ball and wait for it to pass. 


After Leyden died, I was seemingly blindsided daily. The daycare under my office reminded me I wasn't doing drop-off or pick-up. Amazon shared their "recommended items" showcasing hair bows, earthy toned nursery decor and a variety of dresses, size 0-6months. And just recently, Apple sent me a "memory" they created. It was a minute long slideshow of Leyden's pictures, with sad, sappy music in the background titled "The First Years." Somehow the genius's at Apple missed the fact that their images spanned just a few months. The slideshow, and the name of it, felt like a double-teamed blindsided tackle.... and then a punch in the face just for good measure. 



I wish I could tell you there was human bubble wrap that would shield you from such overwhelming blows, but unless you intend to spend your life without internet, phone, a calendar or connection with humans, that's essentially impossible. 


So when recovering from intense trauma or loss, how do we manage these blindsided tackles from grief? 


1- Remind yourself, this will pass. You have made it through so much already. The reminder of your loss or trauma is NOT going to be worse than the trauma.  Remember: a painful hour does not mean a painful day, a painful day or week doesn't mean a painful month or year. It is hard, it is awful, but it WILL pass. You have already made it through the worst. Focus on the strength you have already shown and remind yourself that you can get through any given trigger. 


2- Remove the label of good or bad from your reaction. This sounds strange, I know. But bear with me here.... we are so quick to label anything painful as bad. Many times this comes from the discomfort of well-intended people we love, who desperately want to see us happy for their own comfort level. It's uncomfortable when someone is hurting. And this often impacts our categorizing of pain. Consider the magnitude of the impact as a reflection of the significance of what you endured, the love you felt (and feel) and the way that it has shaped you. It' s not easy and it takes practice.  I work to find comfort in the intense pain I feel when I miss Leyden by shaping it as a reminder of the intense love I have for her and I believe, she has for me. It's not easy. But it allows me to find gratitude in the darkness. Because her love, is truly a gift. 


3- Surrender to the impact. Resisting something that is already knocking you off your feet isn't going to help. Acknowledge your opponent's existence, recognize that you can't "beat" it, you can't avoid it and you can't out-run it. So, surrender to it while you need to. It won't be forever but so much pain is intensified when we resist what we are feeling rather than accept it. Trauma, grief, loss- it is awful. There is no way around it. So accept it, give yourself permission to be down. It's not forever (and do NOT kick yourself while you are there). Then when you are ready, get back up. We cause so much additional and exhausting suffering by trying to fight our pain. We can't remove the pain of a loss or trauma, but we don't need to add to it.


4- Identify your needs. Do you need to call someone? Does writing help you? Doing yardwork? Going for a run? Perhaps it's going to a restaurant or cafe where you feel safe and at peace. Resist the temptation to escape your pain through avoidance or numbing the sensation. It's only prolongs the process as the aftermath of trauma waits, patiently, until acknowledged. Try to build a tool-box, at times when you are feeling strong, of strategies to support you when knocked down. Become aware of what serves you well. Make a list for yourself. This way you are prepared and positioned to care for yourself when you don't have the energy to dedicate to creating new tools. 


Though the loss or trauma doesn't get easier (I hate when people try to place a finish line on my grief). What changes is that in time you learn that you have made it through such blows before, you will make it through again. By removing the fear and anxiety that surrounds our pain, we can better manage and address the pain itself. 


Apple isn't going anywhere.... the slideshow memories are still going to come. Unless you intend to live your life in a cave it's impossible to dodge triggers. And though I have been tempted myself, cave-living isn't going to honor the person you loved or confirm the significance of a trauma you endured.


Know that you are not alone. It's a journey with many twists and turns, but you are not alone. You are discovering ways to be compassionate with yourself and to lend compassion to others. You are realizing your own strength. And you are doing the very best you can. That's an accomplishment in itself.









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