Grief and Loss During the Holidays

Image with blue background and pink and black roses in the top left and bottom right corners. Text in the center saying "Grief and Loss"

STUG Reactions by Harry Hynes Memorial Hospice

December is the height of the holiday season. For many, this time can trigger emotions tied to grief and loss. If you or someone you know is struggling with grief and loss during the holidays, it is okay to seek help.

Have you ever felt you were doing okay in dealing with your grief and then all of a sudden felt you were hit by a ton of bricks? Maybe it’s hearing a certain song on the radio or knowing you would have celebrated your wedding anniversary this month. Therese A. Rando, clinical psychologist and author, says you were experiencing a STUG reaction. STUG stands for “subsequent temporary upsurges of grief.” People who are dealing with the death of a loved one experience STUG reactions after the period of acute grief has passed.

Rando identifies three primary kinds of occurrences that cause STUG reactions. The first kind is a cyclic precipitant. Cyclic means any kind of precipitant occurring on a regular basis whether it is each year, each month, or even every day. Obvious examples would be the yearly anniversary of the death or the wedding anniversary. Another example might be the ritual the two of you had each morning before going about your daily routine. Often times the anticipation of the event may be more stressful than the actual event. An anniversary one year may be more difficult than another year because of other issues happening in your life at that time.

STUG reactions can also be precipitated by one-time occurrences. Rando calls them linear because they involve the passage of time. Something in your current life triggers a STUG reaction because you realize in a new way how much you miss your loved one. Perhaps a new baby has been born or a grandchild graduates from college and you wish your deceased loved one could share this experience. You may not have been directly impacted by the death of Princess Diana but it may have triggered grief in you for your own family members who have died.

The third kind of STUG reaction is precipitated by specific stimuli. These stimuli can occur anytime. You may be driving and hear a song on the radio reminding you of your loved one. Or you may be
watching a movie in which the story deals with loss or families getting together and you
experience a STUG reaction.

There may be times when you welcome having a STUG reaction because it is a reminder you haven’t forgotten your loved one or there may be times when you dread it and even try to avoid having one. Perhaps you thought you were doing better and now wonder if you are regressing because of these STUG reactions. Having STUG reactions is to be expected. You will have many ups and downs. Sometimes you may have questioned your own ability to survive. To paraphrase the words of Earl A. Grollman, “If there is darkness (when you experience a STUG reaction) there is still enough light to go forward.”

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