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Grief Burst

By: Amy Lynn Frost, MBA and MA Spiritual Psychology

While waiting at a coffee shop for an important client, I sip coffee and the smell of gingerbread fills my senses. My Grandmother’s smiling face comes to my mind’s eye. I feel unconditional love from her flood my heart and I hear her infectious giggle. Then, I realize she is gone FOREVER and I begin to cry uncontrollable.                    What is this experience? A grief burst.

Sad on Couch

A grief burst A grief burst is a sudden feeling of being overwhelmed, a literal hit of grief. This sudden jolt of grief seems to come out of nowhere and strikes frightening deep pain at all levels. Even long after a death (or other loss), something as simple as a sound, smell, picture, movie or phrase can bring on a grief burst.


Ron Beams, Bereavement Care Specialist, says there are emotional livewires residing in all of us. Every experience (good or bad) we’ve ever had resides as a memory in our brains. These livewires present those moments in our past that hurt us and once remembered triggers recall of pain. A moment of recall immediately puts us back in that experience and causes momentary pain. This livewire experience does not always mean we haven’t completed our grief work or that there remain unresolved issues connected with the loss (though that may be the case). Overwhelming losses and their impacts leave emotional scar tissue. We do eventually recover with healing and this healing tends to soften the livewire experience. Grief bursts and experiencing livewires are a part of the healing process and should not be shunned. As Kubler-Ross said, “If we shield the canyons from the wind, the beauty of a new creation may never be gained”.


The holidays are a particularly likely time for grief to unexpectedly appear. As are special anniversaries of events that remind you of this person. These are especially important times to be kind to yourself and to do your preemptive grief work.

Avoiding grief is impossible. Grief is a message. It could be telling you to take some action, to do some forgiveness of self or others, to honor the person you have lost, to review what was lost and what was gained, to take time to do some deeper healing, or to simply be with the feelings.


Eric Jackson, Air Force Major, says, “For men, there is often a tendency to try to stuff the feelings associated with crisis especially when grief is involved. When my father died, I found myself immersing myself in the details of dealing with his estate and the funeral and ended up losing the opportunity to really deal well with the grief associated with his death. It is important that we as men, and especially as leaders, remember that dealing effectively with our feelings during crisis is a key part of living our strongest masculinity. We must not allow the socialization that says feelings are weak to prevent us from addressing our grief real time in a healthy and integrating way.”


It is important to have an action plan for when a grief burst hits you. Here are some ideas:


“If the grief burst is the result of the loss of a person, take a moment to think of that person, and call them (him or her) into visualization to talk with you. Ask how they’ve doing and say how much you miss and love them. Hug each other. Allow yourself to cry and allow them to soothe you.” Dr. Lynn Joseph


“Ways I handle it are to do a relaxation and imagery of inner peace and healing light; take a short walk, get out in nature if possible; remind myself that I am doing the best I can in this moment, use affirmations; remember special times with my love one who is deceased.” Barbara Dossey, Ph.D., RN, Director, Holistic Nursing Consultants, and Author.


Here is an exercise from Shirley Otis Green, Director Transitions (end of Life and Bereavement), City of Hope. “Getting Back to Work” We all have a pot of grief tears (Legacy of Tears) inside of us and it is important to take time to empty the pot and keep it empty. Outcome: to learn you can grieve and it will not go on forever. You experience emptying of the pot bit-by bit in a healthy, supportive way.


Prescription: Give yourself permission to have a BURST. Brainstorm what time is best to do this work. Set up a meeting, lunch, and/or phone call with a friend for when you finish as a transition time. Example: Set up 10-11a.m. on a Saturday for your grief time. Select a trigger to focus on: scrap book, journal, a memory, wedding album or video, a scent, a song, etc. Let yourself fully grieve. Stop at the scheduled finish time and meet with your supporter. During the transition, the friend accepts you as you are and helps you get back to normal. Now, reengage life. Use this exercise to desensitize a recent loss which can enable you to keep living your life by lessening the burden weighing on your mind, heart, spirit and gut. Periodically, do this exercise to keep the legacy of tears at a manageable level.


When I get a grief burst from my Grandmother’s recent death, I stop and take a couple of deep breaths, journal and/or draw my feelings, allow myself to cry or not whatever is real for me, and I talk to my cousin Deb who helps me transition back to my daily life.


A grief burst shows you still care, that some action may need to be taken, or just that you are human and its time to be with your feelings. Grief work is learning how to find a new “normal” and to move back into living in full color. The price of love….grief.


Resources: Healing Your Grieving Heart – 100 Practical Ideas by Alan D.Wolfelt, Ph.D., The Art of Helping by Lauren Briggs, and Writing to Heal the Soul – Transforming Grief and Loss through Writing by Susan Zimmermann. Grief Recovery Program

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