Last week I had dinner with a friend who ended her dementia caregiving journey a year and a half ago. She brought up an experience where out of the blue something triggered an upwelling of intense grief that she could not control. She said she knew it had a name, but couldn’t remember it. Later on I saw it on Facebook in an article from Next Avenue about STUG! I sent the article to her and she affirmed the acronym.
My friend thought she was alone in this type of sudden emotional response and wondered if she should see someone. It was so strong it worried her. A few of her friends who have not lost someone close intimated that this experience was unhealthy.
Although I had not heard of the acronym, I was definitely aware of the response, because I had had one myself. Like my friend, mine caught me totally unaware! It was 4-5 years after the death of my husband, and I was at our local philharmonic orchestra with 3 friends. I don’t even remember the category of the music of the concert, but when they began to play a musical piece my heart began to ache and the tears began to flow profusely down my face. I was thinking of my husband and our connection to that piece of music, and how much I missed sharing that love with him. My reaction continued through a couple different pieces, but despite my aching throat (trying to keep my emotions inside), I managed to get myself under control for when the lights came up. Luckily the folks I was with didn’t notice the tears streaming down my face for most of the concert. I could not speak much or even breathe out of my nose because I was so stuffed up!
Later on that evening after struggling to get hold of my feelings, I asked one of the friends I was with if you always have that sorrow in your heart after you have lost someone (she had as well). She replied that you always feel it, but you learn how to look at it with a different perspective.
So, yes, sudden temporary upsurges of grief ARE NORMAL! Grief follows different paths for each person. Your journey through grief doesn’t have to be like anyone elses. The important thing is to let yourself feel it and work through your feelings and memories. If you don’t, they may come back to haunt you in some other form later on. You have your own timeline and no one should tell you when you should be done. Of course, if your mourning is making you unable to carry on living a productive and joyful life, and you are truly depressed, then you should seek help from your family doctor and perhaps see a therapist.
And by the way, seeing a therapist does not mean that you are weak. It actually shows strength in the sense that you want to get your life back on track to a more fulfilling place!
Sometimes I will be driving in the car, or walking somewhere and a smell or a visual reminds me of past feelings from my life like summer when the grass has just been mowed for the first time and you get that sweet smell, or the sun coming through the trees brings me back to a visual memory of when I was younger…like a little viniette playing in my head. Well, STUG is like that too! Only it’s a very strong emotion.
So when you experience STUG, get yourself to a safe place, let yourself feel it, work through the experience and honor the memories that are brought up with it. Realize that having the experience shows you how important and valued the memories are, and find a place in your heart to cherish them!