Troubling Triggers

Without question my grief trigger over the last three years has been music. From day one music has triggered for me sadness and pain. I can honestly say that I hated music, I hated everything about it and I found it nearly inescapable no matter how fast I tried to run from it. The sound of music is everywhere and it pierced my soul with pains so that even background music in a TV commercial would cause me to cry. I made every effort to shut music out of my life to reduce the triggers of grief it caused.

The following video is one of Jacob performing a song he wrote only 4 months before he died.


The music trigger for me was set off every Sunday that I sat in church. I found myself in the deepest pain when the people sang. I do not sing, nor do I yet feel compelled to sing in church. I listen to the voices, I pray and I try to focus on worship while greatly anticipating the music ending and the sermon beginning.

I have been able to measure my healing by my ability to listen to music. I have moved from hatred of music, to tolerating it, to now being able to tune it in with only minimal grief. It has been uncanny how each anniversary of Jacob’s death marks a recognisable step in the healing process for me. I have noticed that the trigger of music is not what it once was at this three-year anniversary mark.

My heart is healing and not so heavy, music doesn’t make me shudder in pain like it once did. King Solomon wrote a proverb that perfect describes how I have reacted to the troubling trigger of music. “Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.” (Proverbs 25:20)

Grief Changes and triggers lighten

My wife Stacey has discovered Kenny Chesney’s satellite station called No Shoes Radio. Silence is usually what I am tuned into when we drive together but lately on the road I have tuned into her favorite station. I have been able to listen, but not without an occasional pull at my heart which I try to endure that the healing may continue in my soul.

Coming home from Chicago a couple weeks ago I heard a song by Kenny for the very first time. As soon as the song began Stacey turned and said to me, “You can turn it off.” I responded by saying “No, it will help me heal.” The song is called Who You’d Be Today.  It was hard to listen to and made for difficult driving as I pondered his words.

Time does not heal all wounds but I am discovering that time does change the troubling triggers of grief. With time grief becomes manageable and the triggers come less often. Who knows, maybe next year I will be able to sing in church once again, or maybe I will play my harmonica again. Time will tell because time changes everything.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

Ecclesiastes 3:1 & 4


Grief withdrawals

It is 3:45 AM and I can’t sleep again. At least this time I wasn’t awakened by night terrors. Stress seems to trigger certain things in grief like restlessness and nightmares. There is a veiled part of grief that I carry that most do not see or recognize. I am struggling with it greatly at the moment, it is something I hate and have dealt with before and assume I will deal with in the future.

I call it the withdrawals of grief. Irritability to commotion and disdain for group gatherings  heightens, stress seems to be the trigger and grief tends to be magnified with the stress. I want to pull away, I need to escape the chaos so I begin to withdraw myself from group gatherings.

I find it hard to be around happy people during these times. It is difficult to laugh and I find it hard to smile. Life takes on a more serious tone and silliness is annoying to me. I feel like oil and water in large groups and I just can’t blend in naturally. Irritability greatly heightens and it is just better for everybody if I pull away and disappear for a while.

This desire to withdraw creates an unnatural dilemma in my life. There is a large group of people I love greatly who have been an anchor for me in troubled times and in good times. They are my church family of whom I find myself pulling away from at the moment. It is unnatural because the church is the place where Christians go for fellowship, to be built up, strengthened and encouraged. The building itself is troubling to me at times as well. My kids grew up there and four of my family members including my son laid in caskets in the very place I teach from every Sunday. Bitter sweet memories grab me every Sunday as I enter this place. I want to run, I want to fly away, I want to withdrawal.

My heart is severely pained within me,
And the terrors of death have fallen upon me.

Fearfulness and trembling have come upon me,
And horror has overwhelmed me. So I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!

I would fly away and be at rest. Indeed, I would wander far off,
And remain in the wilderness. Selah

I would hasten my escape
From the windy storm and tempest.”

Psalm 55:4-8