The Timeline of Grief and the STUG

 There are times it’s hard to grasp the fact that I’ve been a widow for as long as I have been. My grandmother was widowed at the age of 46, just a year older than I was. She was left with twice as many children. She was also disabled, although she was ambulatory; she was an amputee, I have multiple sclerosis and my disability is actually more incapacitating. Most people in my life don’t realize how often she and I spoke, and how well she understood my situation after the death of my husband. To the outside world she was a rock, the epitome of strength and resilience. But she grieved for my grandfather tremendously and she understood my shock better than anybody else did.

When the police detective stood in my living room and told me that my husband “didn’t survive his injuries” after being broadsided by a drunk driver, time froze for a long moment. I couldn’t hear anything but my pulse in my own ears. I remember my daughter crying and asking me questions because she was terrified and confused. I vividly remember the room darkening and telling myself I couldn’t pass out because the kids needed me to be awake. I was breathing hard and trying not to hyperventilate. For so many months that followed, it sometimes took concentrated effort to just breathe.

Today, I usually have pretty good control over my grief. I do still occasionally cry when something unexpectedly triggers the excruciating pain of his loss. I have made it to the point where I can often think of him without crying, and that’s a good thing because he pops into my mind at some point every day.

I’ve read a lot about grief – books written by psychiatrists, psychologists, clergy people, philosophers and other deep thinkers. Grief is often described as a journey. The most common belief many people seem to have is that those who are grieving go through a series of stages, and once each stage takes place, it’s finished. Somewhere in the back of your mind you believe that when you get to the last stage and finish it, grief is over and life can get back to normal.

In reality going back to normal is not a realistic expectation, at least not for everybody. The truth is, there are no very precise stages when it comes to grief, and there’s definitely no definitive timeline. In my personal opinion, the ‘five stages of grief’ mindset is inherently dangerous.  Why? It makes it seem like there is some kind of checklist for grieving. There isn’t.

Grief doesn’t care about logic. It has no rule book, no playbook. It’s not a measure of how much we loved or didn’t love the departed. It isn’t something that’s quantifiable or somehow measurable.

Sometimes, no matter how much time has passed since the death of someone important in your life, you may be going through your life without consciously grieving and then suddenly experience a raw, intense feeling of grief as if the loss had just happened. Any major life event or experience can remind you of what was lost … lost by you, lost by the deceased, lost by your children, or even lost by the world.

It makes perfect sense if you really think about it. I am who I am today, because my husband lived. I am who I am today, because my husband died, and the way he died. I don’t know who I would have been if I hadn’t met him. The children I love wouldn’t exist if it were not for him. I don’t know what my life would be like today if acute stress caused by his death hadn’t dramatically accelerated the progression of my multiple sclerosis.

I still sometimes get a visceral, overwhelming attack of grief and it agitates me so badly I end up nauseous. I found out there’s a name for it – it’s called STUG. Sudden Temporary Upsurge of Grief is a term created by grief expert Dr. Therese Rando back in the early 1990s. It’s a powerful and unexpected wave of emotion that occasionally happens to someone who experienced the loss of a loved one. It can be triggered by an event in your own or somebody else’s life, a sound, a song, a scent, or any other seemingly random thing.

Roadmap of Grief

As I’ve already mentioned, I’m not a fan of the idea of the five stages of grief because it makes people think that upon experiencing those stages, the grief will be resolved. When you’re surviving the death of somebody very important in your life, you have to try and figure out a way to live in a world that no longer includes the physical presence of that person. you need to compensate and adjust for the absence of that person.

Surviving a STUG

What can you do if you experience a STUG?

  • Recognize that what happened is a real thing. It’s not a weakness or defect on your part. You might temporarily feel out of control of your emotions, but you’re still in charge of your life.
  • Remember that the T in STUG stands for Temporary. No matter how bad the experience makes you feel, it is going to pass.
  • Research I’ve done indicates that the most effective way to deal with a STUG is to try to remember it’s going to end and that you just have to breathe through it. It isn’t something you need to fight.
  • I’ve read that when you’re experiencing a STUG, your body releases endorphins because of the ‘fight or flight’ response perceiving the president of some kind of danger.
  • After the STUG has ended, your body may need several hours to absorb the hormones and brain chemicals that were released, and return to your usual baseline levels.
  • After a STUG, your usual cognitive abilities will return to normal. You can try to figure out what brought on the experience. You may not even be able to figure it out, and that’s OK too.
  • Try to remember that it’s not fair for you to expect you’re going to have a complete and final end to feelings of grief. Maybe you will and maybe you won’t. Either way, it doesn’t reflect on the quality of the relationship you had with the person who’s no longer here.

Grief is a normal reaction to loss. You can feel grief about the death of a person. You can also feel legitimate grief over loss of an ability you used to have, but no longer do. Don’t let yourself be made to believe that your grief is too much or not enough.  Whatever your feelings are, you’re entitled to them.

The exception to this is if the feelings of sadness are making it impossible for you to eat or to sleep for more than a couple of days at a time. It’s also a problem if you want to do either of those things much more than you normally do, for more than a couple of days at a time. You don’t want to let yourself be pulled into serious depression.

If that’s what you think is happening, reach out to someone. Even if you don’t think it’s all that bad yet, it’s perfectly fine to reach out to somebody. If you don’t want to share your innermost thoughts and feelings with someone who knows you personally, you can talk to a professional or to a clergyperson. Unable or unwilling to speak with someone in person? There are plenty of people who will talk to you over the phone or on zoom. You can even call a local hotline. Don’t suffer through the pain alone. Reach out to me and I will send you some information for resources in your area.

Has anything you’ve ever done worked well in helping you deal with grief? I truly would like to know, if you don’t mind sharing with me. Please email me at frominhere@gmail.com.

3 thoughts on “The Timeline of Grief and the STUG”

  1. Thank you for your insight about dealing with losing a loved one. I lost my boyfriend July 1st & I am not dealing with it well at all. I assumed I would be able to just deal with it & move on..I was wrong. We were only together 4 1/2 years but it seems longer than that. I am always thinking about him & so many things remind me of him: Kentucky Fried Chicken, fudge bars, cherry pie, 1957 Chevy cars, Hogan’s Heros, etc. He was from a different generation than me & I truly loved hearing about his life as a child through adulthood. He was 78 when we started dating/living together in 2017 & I was 51. We had the same birth month/horoscope (May) & both stubborn as can be! Anyway, I miss him every day & will love him always..will be receiving a cross necklace soon that will carry some of his ashes which will give me some comfort. Thank you again & I am so sorry to hear about your husband. My dad died in 1987, he was only 46 & was driving drunk on his way home & lost control & hit a semi head-on. It was so tragic & beyond heartbreaking.

    1. Aww dear I’m so sorry to hear this hun and sometimes it’s not always as easy as we tend to think to move on. I always say I had to learn to live with losing them cuz we never really move on we just learn over time how to continue with daily life lil by lil Something that I was told after spiraling downfall I had been told that if I could close my eyes when there’s something that brings memories to me if I close my eyes and instead of feeling the pain of not having it anymore or not feeling it but instead taking second to go to whatever memories it brings me to like just silly things kids playin n park as we drove by would break me down n I would just cry cuz the pain of not ever seein them play again but she told me instead of feelin the pain of not having the moments or memories again go to the memories n remember playin at park n sounds of their laughter n games we played n remember that remember the memories for what they were not painful or sad but full of love and happiness n when something brings back their memory embrace it wit the memories u shared n instead of tears of pain n sorrow from once was it can bring u peace wit what u did have n how amazing n incredible it was n it really hit me hard cuz it was just what I needed to help me so I wasn’t breaking down always n it was a lot n almost kept me from being open to what life had in store for me as far as love n future n family I never thought possible but I survived I was meant to be these kids mommy n I was meant to be who I am today so my parents look down on me n their proud to see me happy and before I had kids n stuff it was lil hard to try to embrace this giving my memories the time of bein n them ya know like kids at park instead of losing it bein able to just remember n hold my memories n good way holdin then n remembering the sounds smells n great times n bein able to allow myself to feel the love n incredible way certain memories of them just made u feel at the time n bein able to kinda bring it out so that it’s not painful memories cuz their all we have is our memories n it helped me to allow them to be what they were n how I felt durin makin them n just takin time to close eyes n try to c it n feel it n not let be pain n cryin but feeling good about it n how blessed I was to have the time I did have and here all these years later it still helps me so much just telling stories about them n laughin as we look at pictures and I can enjoy what we did have n the time we spent together cuz I know they would not want me to be n pain n crying remembering them they would want me to remember them n how incredible it felt wit them and I hope this helps u dear maybe when u see 57 Chevy truck u can remember last time yal seen one together or something he may have shared about it or memory that was fun or laughing n u can feel it n remember it as bein there n how great u felt next to him n sharing that time n it can make u smile remembering the love n memories n n time be able to see or hear Chevy n smile knowin he’s watchin too n u can already imagine what he would have said or did n it can bring smile to u face n will help u thru dear have blessed day

  2. This really hits home with me as it took me some time of trying to figure out how to be after losing my 2 oldest girls n then as we are saying our goodbyes my dad drops n prays to take him Instead and his heart was just broken and he never left hospital either he went to be wit the. 6days later. I never understood why or how it took me so long of being angry so full of anger n pain n thankful that I had the time wit my mother her heart was broke after 45 yrs wit dad she tried but her heart she soent 17days n hospital n I spent everyday wit her shortly before she had went in somehow god brought this incredible man in my life someone who was unlike the abusive men I had known n so I wasn’t ready for anyone as I had just left almost 7yrs wit man who for many yrs just mentally n verbally abused me n the last few yrs it was physical n hard thinkin back cuz I left si many times n i struggled wit what if I stayed gone n moved on would girls still b here but idk then that god kept me alive so I could survive that accident I was meant to live n meant to get away from him and live life n meet this man apparently cuz he was not goin away he became my best friend when I couldn’t get way to hospital to be wit my mom everyday he would get me there n he would pick me up at night when she went to sleep she even met him n said sissy that’s a real man there one that has no reason but because he is who he is n has good heart so don’t b scared to let him n yours I know it’s broke. Sissy but sometimes love can heal wounds u never new possibile if u just allow yourself to be open to it don’t push away him or shut down or turn to using again to cope alcohol n drugs won’t help the pain sissy u daddy n girls would want u to be everything your meant to be and sometimes feelin pain is hard but we have to mourn and we have to learn how to move forward because life isn’t over u r meant for so much more n my mom was such strong woman n when nurse called n middle of the night we were watching movie together after I let him take me on date n I got the call n he rushed me there n I held her as he held me up while she went to be wit them and I held onto what she said because I see now I lived I survived bein victim of sexual assault growin up I survived abusing men I survived it all it made me who I am today I finally learned that I’m worthy I’m someone I don’t deserve to be hurt talked down to I always said if I ever had kids again I would make sure I did things differently just lil things like makin sure they don’t hear adult talk if we disagree we handle it right way around them cuz it shows them how to handle it their learning from us and we had both talked about things we would do that we didn’t have growin up n he came from broken home n his dad past when he was 3 he ne rt new the love from real father n his mom went thru men like seasons n she was addict n never took care of him his older sister did and well we got prego wit first kid n now almost 9yrs later and 5 kids it’s incredible to me that I’m here m now I grew so much strength from such pain I learned how to love myself n feel good about who I am n knowing everything I’ve been thru has given me what I am n I’ve learned so much n I’m able to embrace life everyday enjoying the lil things n life we tend to just forget about how important it is but I think bout it now I think about a lot of things n try to live a good life makin sure I’m setting good examples for my kids showing them healthy relationships n how man treats woman n vise versa i know tomorrow isn’t promised so I make sure to love wit all u have n make sure kids know how loved they r and we live life fullest we try not to put stuff off n try to follow thru wit things so we can get out and really enjoy life with them new experiences new moments together new memories for them building traditions wit them I really enjoyed this it hit home me n so many ways

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