I went back and forth in my head about whether to write about this topic. Ultimately I decided that not writing about it would be doing a disservice to my feelings, and the opportunity to validate others. It’s not an easy thing to talk about, or write about, this topic of the death of loved one and how triggering it can be. Understanding grief triggers is very important and validating those feelings is equally important.
Going to a funeral for someone who has been in your life for a long time, can cause a plethora of emotions to rise up quickly and all converge at once. So on top of already feeling sadness at the loss of someone you loved and cared about, you now have triggers piling on left and right.
As if you weren’t already overwhelmed, now the past makes things even worse.
For that matter, even if someone passes who we weren’t all that close too, the rush of emotions can still be very strong. The feelings of loss, abandonment, sadness, and loneliness can be just as strong regardless of the circumstances. These feelings and emotions are all very common in the life of a survivor of abuse.
I recently attended the funeral of my ex-father in law. A guy who I had known for almost twenty years. Even though I have not been officially part of his family for several years now since the marriage ended between his oldest daughter and myself, I’ve always thought very highly of him. He was like a second father to me. He asked about me regularly and always wished me the best; there were no hard feelings or ill will after the divorce.
I would stop by from time to time so my youngest son could see his “Happy” (that’s was his nickname for his grandpa), and we would always chat for a bit, recalling past times with fondness. Sharing laughs, talking about work, just shooting the breeze, he was a kind man who always enjoyed the simple art of talking with people. He was also one of those good guys who would do anything for anybody, and took pride in living a very simple life, wanting only for his kids and family to be taken care of and happy.
He was diagnosed with lung cancer in April 2016 and left this earth in March of 2017. I knew the funeral would be tough, but I had to go.
I prepared myself ahead of time by doing some self-care, taking a couple of days off work, and validating my emotions and feelings as best I could. As a survivor it’s always important to do that; sit with your feelings and not minimize or push them aside. Embrace what your mind brings up, allowing yourself to “feel our feels”, to be angry, to cry, to remember good times and rough times, whatever happens, to come up.
As the service went on, each of his children, now all grown up, took turns sharing memories of their dad. Many of those memories were times that I was part of that family. I internally recalled a good many of my own that weren’t mentioned too, and that’s when the triggers really began to hit.
I’ve written before about how trauma is cumulative, it builds on itself, and this is another example of that. Memories of the abuse, both sexual and narcissistic, compounded with the feelings of abandonment, and loneliness hit me like a freight train. I was recalling how I felt as a child being abused, how I felt as a middle schooler being bullied, and the invalidation at home. Most of all though it was that intense feeling of loneliness; like trying to put one more block on the tower and have it come crashing down.
Watching my ex-wife with her new husband and family. Watching the family that I was once a part of, all coming together to comfort each other. Others around me in the chairs, sitting with their spouses or family members, it was nearly unbearable. Sure I still get along with his daughters and they still consider me family, but something was different now, very different. An uneasy feeling that up until this point I had not really dealt with, but that was changing in a big way right in front of my eyes that afternoon.
As the service began to come to a close, his only son, who is an amazing violinist, played “Amazing Grace” and “In the Arms of an Angel”. I held it together pretty well considering, but I could feel a meltdown coming on and the triggers of the past continued to be relentless. This is one of those times when anxiety tries to leverage every bit of strength it can muster, trying to use my vulnerability against me and exploit it.
After the service, we all stayed around for a while talking. I hung out with my youngest son and caught up with some people I hadn’t seen in years. I knew there was a gathering planned back at his house, with food and desserts, and I seriously began debating on whether I should attend. My son then asked me to go, and I said I would stay for just a little bit so I could be there for him. I knew in my heart what was coming and I was preparing myself to deal with it as best I could and still be kind to myself at the same time.
On the way over to the house, I began to put a plan together in my head of how I would handle this situation. It wasn’t that I was nervous about being around those people, most of them I had known for a long time, but again things were different now.
- I made sure not to pull in the driveway, I parked on the side of the road so I wouldn’t get parked in when I knew I had to leave.
- I engaged in small talk with the people there but kept my distance a bit. I was feeling out-of-place as it was and knew I wouldn’t last long anyway.
- Rather than eating the food that was there, I politely declined, and just sipped on a drink. I wasn’t feeling very hungry anyway, and I needed to allow myself the ability to slip out as soon as I was ready.
- I played with the cats and the dog for a bit. Animals are great for helping to calm nerves and trying to relax. This also allowed me to blend in and not draw too much attention to myself.
- I tried not to focus on the memories of the house I spent so many years at, opting instead to focus on some mindful breathing and taking short trips outside for fresh air. Even though it was raining, I used that to my advantage as well; listening to rain drops hit the pavement, the trees, and taking in the smells of a spring rain. Being fully present in my surroundings was key.
When I knew I had enough, and the triggers were just too much to bear, I gave my son a hug and quietly slipped out the back door. It felt like an eternity walking to my car, even though it was only about 20 yards from the house. I closed the door and drove away, knowing that I did the best I could.
I can’t really say if/when anyone asked about me after I left, but I would imagine at least someone did. After all, I will always consider his kids to be a part of my family, even if things are different now for me. On the drive home I listened to a podcast, remembered some verses that I recall in times of sorrow, and did my best to validate all of my feelings.
I spent the evening with my older two kids and shared some laughs along with dinner. I’m glad they were there that evening to help brighten my spirits a bit. The emotions were still present but their intensity began to subside as the hours ticked by and the day came to an end.
So here I sit, finishing up these thoughts about triggers, survivors, and funerals. I’m hoping this post speaks to you in some way, perhaps gives you some things to consider using if you are confronted with a similar situation, or just validates you if “you’ve been there before”.
I spent the weekend relaxing, writing, and doing some things that I enjoy and taking care to not shame myself for the emotional onslaught I endured throughout the past week. I’ll carry on, life goes on, but things are different now.
If you’d like more information on working through grief, check out my free eBook for Abuse Survivors – Download your copy of Surviving Grief.
Previously Published on Surviving My Past
Photo: Getty Images