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4 Tips for Handling Grief Triggers after the Loss of a Child

Updated: Jan 8

grieving mother after loss of a child
Triggers can come out of nowhere

We've all experienced them after the loss of a child. Birthdays and Angel Anniversaries are obvious triggers, but they can also be more subtle like songs on the radio or certain scents. Instantly they can cause a wave of grief to wash over you and send you to your knees. A grieving mother can feel as though she is right back at 'day one'. A grief trigger can be anything that brings up memories related to your loss.

Besides making us feel broken and sad, triggers can bring about feelings of anger, anxiety, guilt, and loneliness.

Some common examples of triggers include: the empty chair at the kitchen table, emergency vehicles racing down the street, specific dates or times, perfumes, cigarette smoke, holidays or family traditions, and even certain foods. A similar tragedy or loss can be a trigger, too. Even seeing someone who looks like you child can be a grief trigger and can send you reeling.

After the loss of my child, sirens nearly turn me inside out, even after all these years and lots of therapy.

My daughter Katie died in a car accident. I didn't see it and I didn't hear the sirens, but for some reason, when I hear a siren now it can send me into panic mode. I've gotten much better at handling it, but each time it happens I have to go through all my coping mechanisms. First I remind myself that a siren can be a police car chasing a speeder or it can be a firetruck. Hearing a siren doesn't mean that my son (or someone I love) has been in a fatal car accident. I also have to focus on calming breaths, but my heart still races every time.

One day I was shopping at Winners (our Canadian version of TJ Maxx) and out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a tall, willowy young woman wearing cut-off shorts and a T-shirt. She had her hair in a messy bun and moved like my daughter Katie.

I followed that her around the store like a stalker. I felt a little ridiculous, but I needed to see her face. I finally saw her face when she turned to look at something. I fought tears all the way back to the car.

Every grieving mother has her own stories. Triggers are so normal after a traumatic loss like losing a child.

Here's what I want you to know:
  • Triggers are normal and very common. Every moms I've ever met that has lost a child has some kind of trigger. You are not alone if you are being triggered.

  • Awareness of our triggers helps us work on our healing. When we are aware, we can do the work whether it is journaling about the trigger, talking to a friends about it, or seeking out professional help.

  • Triggers also have physical components to them. It is not uncommon to have headaches or gut issues, or even sleep issues following a trigger. This is another reason why self-care is so important.

While triggers are a normal part of the grief journey, they can be debilitating at time. I remember many, many times hearing a siren and texting my son "Are you ok? I hear sirens.". Thank goodness he has always understood my fears and always answers me, but I have suffered my share of panic attacks since losing Katie.

Here are 4 strategies you can try when you are feeling triggered:
  1. Acknowledge the fact that you are being triggered and what the source is. Remind yourself that this is normal to feel this way.

  2. Distraction. Try breathing and counting. Try writing your thoughts down in a journal. Describe exactly how you are feeling and what thoughts are running through your head. When we face our feelings we can begin to manage them better.

  3. Call a friend or reach out to another grieving mom. They will always understand triggers because they experience them too.

  4. Another helpful resource is meditation. Meditation is all about being mindful, being in the moment, and using your breath to remain calm.

Walking beside you,


About the author:

Lisa lost her daughter Katie in a car accident in 2015. After serious consideration of ending her own life, she began crawling out of the depths of grief through writing and connecting with other grieving moms. In 2019, she published her book Journey to HEALING, and in 2021 created The Angel Moms VIP Community where she helps other bereaved mothers find their way out of the darkness.

smiling woman grief coach
Lisa K. Boehm - grief guide and mentor

If you are struggling after the loss of your child, you might be interested in a free video series that I created just for grieving moms. Topics include: managing guilt, parenting after loss, dealing with the heartache, and how to go on. You can request the series here.