Trigger Tropes

I don’t have much to say today, other than a reminder (and perhaps, a warning to those of you reading that are still in the raw, early stages of your grief) that triggers can appear anywhere at random, no matter how “far out” you may think you are.

We’re never truly “free” from our grief.  It may fade, in a way. We evolve and learn to acknowledge it, taking the sting off of it.  A birthday, anniversary, or even just a random thought gives us a bad day, but it generally doesn’t reduce us to a sobbing mess.  After that first year, I knew what to expect. I knew what songs, movies, events, and locations could trigger an upwelling of grief.  It didn’t make the feelings or thoughts any less significant, but there was certainly a sense of “it is what it is” making noise in the background, softening the blow.

But, there are those moments that you’re never prepared for.  The moments where it is a complete shock to the system. Happenings that you don’t have time to work up to or get your “gameface” on, like readying for battle.

I still can’t watch medical shows that have any inkling of the reality of death in a hospital portrayed.  Sure, most of these programs are “entertainment”, so they hype up the screaming doctors yelling silly terms like “stat” and “he’s coding!”, shocks to the heart with defibrillators, and the trusty old standby...the flatline of an EKG.

If you’ve spent any time in a hospital ward with someone connected to an EKG (which you have even when you’re just there for a broken arm), you may have realized that they don’t “beep” most of the time.  The only time they make noise is when there’s an alarm of some sort...a low heart rate, for instance. For the most part, all of the monitors that Megan was connected to were quiet, with just a display screen behind the head of her bed showing the statistics.  

That didn’t sacrifice any drama, mind you.  Instead of listening for a weird pattern of beeps, I stared at the screen showing the beats of her heart, which is very much a real thing.  

Where does this circle back to my initial point, that triggers can happen any and everywhere?  Well, because this cliched “beep, beep, long tone” is used as a plot device in almost every show, even one that doesn’t focus on medicine or hospitals.

It’s an understandable way to convey to the viewer that the person lying in that bed is no longer alive.  It’s a hard and concise method of going from life to death that in my case, watching Megan, is totally untrue.  Her heart rate went from 70 beats per minute, to 40, to 20, to 10, to 3, seemingly over the span of hours. I watched that damned monitor, without hearing a single beep, as they had turned the alarms off (purposefully).  It was never “alive”, then a few seconds later, “dead”. There really wasn’t any clear indication, for that matter. She faded away, excruciatingly slow.

You would think that this would at least let me view a scene that only hopes to approximate this without losing it.  The old “flatline” trope isn’t what I experienced, so at least it doesn’t bring up that day in my life.

But no.  The cliche gets me.  Shelby, Sarah, and I were watching “Stranger Things” last night, and a scene came on with a young girl, in a hospital, “coding” then flat-lining.

Cue the following, in order:

  1. “Uh oh”
  2. “No, wait, really?”
  3. Tightening chest
  4. Shortened breathing
  5. VIVID re-imagining of Megan dying
  6. The first “huffs” of inhale
  7. Raising of eyebrows
  8. Exhaling as I sob uncontrollably


It has been almost four years since Megan died.  Day-to-day, I get along pretty damned well, with my focus on Shelby, Sarah, work, and the weekend, rather than consuming thoughts of Megan’s death.  There are tons of little moments throughout each day that she is in my thoughts, but they’re effectively noise that is largely overrun by the rest of life.

But every so often, a moment such as the above explodes.  Nothing else matters to me but the fact that I watched my wife die while holding her hand, and my brain absolutely must replay that scene.  I can’t look away from it. I can’t distract myself or logically think. In 3 minutes, November 19th, 2014 is placed on fast forward, in ultra high-definition.  

That “trope” will never leave my psyche.  20 years from now, any given scene in a random show may cause it to replay.  What is actually on the television is irrelevant at that point, partially because they never get it right anyway, and ultimately, because there is no writer on this earth that could make a scene more memorable than my own.  I imagine every widow or widower has some version of this. Whether it be like mine...witnessing the actual death after a long struggle, or something as simple as “the phone call”. You know where you were and what you were doing at that moment.  You remember it in excruciating detail. Any detail of it that is similarly portrayed in front of you will trigger that memory.

This is all but fact.  Of course, I have no way to say with 100% certainty that EVERYONE has these triggers, but I have to imagine that most of us do.

We may choose to avoid them...I certainly do.  You won’t catch me watching Grey’s Anatomy anytime soon.  But, when I’m accidentally thrust into it, when I least expect it, I keep on with it.  I let it play out. I’ll cry in front of our kid because of it. Somewhat sadistically, I’m glad these moments happen from time to time.  It shows that the woman I loved until the day she died still has a real effect on my heart. The media may fake those moments on-screen, but they still haven’t figured out a way to fake my grief.  

Showing 2 reactions

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
  • Ron Marro
    commented 2018-10-12 11:31:59 -0700
    i’m just 10 months out and the way you describe the final days ring so true to me. Home Hospice let me hang on to Sandi as long as possible. 20 days of hospice after 18 years of fighting. Those 20 days seemed like years as she slowly slipped away. I know this will never end and most days I don’t want it to because I love her so and miss her every minute. Thank you for your words.
  • Don Yacona
    commented 2018-10-09 11:10:39 -0700
    I completely agree about medical shows and movies. I saw Arlene in ICU hooked up to machines 4 times. And she lost both legs due to runaway issues from diabetes and dialysis. I found it very hard to sit through the hospital segments Patriots Day when they were bringing in patients and using words like “saline” and “amputate” because she lost both legs (the 2nd I had to sign off on while she was in the coma) and those along with several other phrases used there were part our daily battle for her last 30 months.