Grief Triggers and That Darn Attic

By Lane Pease, Program Director

Grief triggers are a funny thing.

I tell people to anticipate the grief triggered by milestones. I take my own advice, so this year I anticipated the grief bursts. My youngest daughter, Lucy, graduated high school. She was just 9 months old when her dad, Jim, died and her sister, Zelda was 4 years old. In recent years, we have lost my parents and my daughters’ paternal grandfather. There are many empty places at big events, so I anticipate grief triggers. I also anticipated grieving the end of chapter, as I prepare to become an empty nester.

I was ready for the tears, but they did not come. I did tear up just a little at Lucy’s last play, but that was because she played Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird and the line “Hey, Boo” gets me every time.

I did not cry at the drama honor awards though I was extremely proud of her accomplishments. I did feel a measure of relief that my “drama mom” tenure was over and maybe I could cultivate a hobby of my own.

Graduation night came and because of work schedules, travel, and health concerns extended family could not make it.  Zelda, her boyfriend, and I were the only ones attending Lucy’s graduation. I thought, “Okay, this is a little sad” so I got ready for the tears.  After a rain delay, numerous speeches, and what seemed like an endless list of names, it was over.  I felt happy, relieved, and sore (those bleacher seats are no joke), but there were no tears.

Hmm, maybe I will get out of these milestones without the tears. Then, I went into my attic. You see, I plan to move soon. For many years, I have wanted to be closer to the city and mainly to work. My partner and I anticipate buying a new home together. However, to get to this goal I have to get my house of 22 years ready to go on the market. At the urging of my loving and minimalist partner, I decided to tackle my attic. Maybe it was the children books that I remember Jim reading to the girls, the radio control airplane parts, or my mother’s Christmas decorations, but the grief and tears came in an unexpected burst. There was also the aquarium with shells where our hermit crabs, Herman and Shelly lived. We got them as newlyweds in search of low maintenance pets.

The tears also came from frustration. Why did I not get rid of some of this stuff sooner? I had kept books with titles such as Fun with Mathematics. Unfortunately, no one else in the family learned to appreciate math in the same way as Jim.  I know years ago I was not ready to let go, but now the task seemed so large. I cried not just for the memories made, but all those not made with us. It felt so unfair that Jim missed so many years and the girls missed knowing him.  I cried because, though I am ready, a huge chapter of my life is closing.

You can anticipate grief triggers all you want, but then they have a way of surprising you. It is best not to fight them, but to let yourself feel. They will abate and you can go back to cleaning that darn attic.