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"What are 'Trigger Points'...Residual and Anniversary Grief?"
Written and compiled by Marcia McGinnis 1998

Trigger Points - an unexpected grief/sadness or pain triggered by some event which causes us to revisit our loss - and desire what "ought to be" (our child with us)

Various dates, holidays, and special occasion are "trigger points"

Parents are flooded by pain and memories as these times arrive. A newly bereaved parent usually has no reserve to deal with the extra stress that a holiday, an "unplanned encounter" or special date requires. The deep desire for "what ought to be" sends a parent into "renewed" sadness, often anger and confusion, leaving him/her with additional hurt. These feelings of defeat overwhelm a parent during the grieving process.

These additional group of feelings cause a more intense, unexpected grief-for brief time

WHY? Because these feelings are already a part of the grief process and, if we are in a particularly vulnerable place on our path, they compound our grief as we deal with all these "extra," unasked for emotions. Under "Holidays, Anniversaries, and Special Occasions" (see Drop Down Box)there is a discussion about what to do during these particular times of the year.

Two examples of other types of "trigger points"

Jill in Tulsa, OK - "triggered" by a visit to a toy store..

I stood with a friend in a toy store this weekend, feeling somewhat brave and proud of myself for not breaking down despite the fact that I was surrounded by toys and darling little children.

My friend, bless her heart, had not thought of the consequences of such a thing when she said while we were window shopping, "Do you mind if I just duck in here for a second and get some candy?

A birthday party sets the stage for JoAnn's panic

My husband & I were invited to a friend's 40th birthday party. Another couple at the party brought their 6 1/2 month old son with them. When I first saw the child it was like a STAKE had penetrated MY STOMACH.

My initial thought was, "how am I going to make it through this night?" Another thought was, "Ian would've been about that size today." I panicked slightly, but somehow found the energy to maintain my composure through the evening.

Protecting yourself is healthy

Both of these mothers ended up in tears "after the fact." Perhaps both mothers would have been better to have removed themselves from the situation to protect themselves. Eventually, times such as these will not be as difficult.

As we heal, we gain control of how these times influence us.

We come to a place where residual and anniversary grief can be coped with in understandable terms. Their sadness is recognized, but we don't have to move through all of the usual feelings..

Parents can "revisit" their sadness for a brief period

They can use some coping skills such as writing, doing something special either for themselves, someone else, or (once again) in memory of their baby. These activities can move them through this time frame without facing every stage of the grieving process.

Gradually, parents have some control around this event. Eventually, there is a time when a parent can choose not to go through the issues around the pain-at all or only for a very brief moment. Healing is most complete at this level. Marcia McGinnis

Notes from moms, many years later, who visit their grief briefly...

Six years and my baby's memory is still fresh. Time has healed the open wounds but they are still scabbed, still easily opened. I don't cry very much any more, only at this time of year. When the first snowfall comes, I cry, because the day he was born we had our first snowfall of the year.

Mary Jane, Calgary, AB, states in her original letter that she wishes this had never happened and...

I miss my son, but have learned so much from his death. ...I have become compassionate for others and much more empathetic towards people. ...But with experience comes knowledge and it's up to us to learn from our experiences and become better people.

I don't have many people I can talk to anymore about my feelings of grief. I'm sure most people feel that "I've gotten over it." But every once and a while I need someone to vent to. That's what I'm doing today. So thank you to anyone reading this, I have found a way to vent.

Gina, nurse in neo-natal care, Richland, WA celebrates Angelica's birthday...

We celebrate her birthday every year at Valentine's day. We ususally have cake at the cemetary. The kids look forward to this and in fact asked to make sure we were still doing it this past year.

Of course her name means angel so we have a special place in all of our hearts for angels. The best thing we did after her death was to plant crocus at her grave site because they bloom every year right at her birthday.

I still have my "moments", but those moments are very special to me. Leanne Las Vegas, NV

Grief and Healing

Accepting that
Healing will happen...
Grief is a process:

We can begin to redirect our energies into
positive activities for healing...

We, gradually, move from being "engulfed in uncontrollable pain"
to being able to choose when sadness
and/or bittersweet memories can be visited.

Marcia McGinnis 2000

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