grief triggers

The Many Rooms of Grief – Blog on the Hope for Widows Website

I put down my phone for a second to think back. Years and years ago now…let’s see, he got the cancer in 2016, but it was in the fall of the year, so that summer was probably the last that we enjoyed our evenings on the deck. He was too sick in 2017. And I pictured the sun, and the deck, and Rick sitting across from me. I pictured our non-stop conversation and him pouring me a fresh glass of wine. I pictured both of us saying, “No, you have the last one. Go ahead, really, I’m stuffed” as we both REALLY wanted that last mushroom. I pictured the evening as clearly as it was yesterday. And then… there it was, that awful, awful pain. The pain I’ve rarely felt in the last year, or year and a half. It was the deep, deep agony of losing something so incredibly wonderful that it can’t be borne.

And I was stunned! What was that about? I’ve been fine. It’s nearly three years since Rick died, and I rarely experience that awful gut-wrenching pain any more. And I remembered something my grief therapist told me very early on after Rick’s death.

She said my memories of our marriage could be imagined as a house with many rooms. As my grief progresses, I’ll visit one of those rooms and I’ll remember our time together, and I’ll feel the pain of loss for that thing we shared, then I’ll “clean out the room,” process the memory and deal with the grief. And when I’m done, I’ll leave that room, and I’ll close that door, and I’ll be done with that memory and the grief it evokes. Maybe I’ll revisit it now and then, but it will be mostly “sorted and cleaned” and it won’t hurt nearly as much as the first experience.

But some days, I’ll accidentally come across a different room, one I haven’t been in since he died. The memories that surface in that room will trigger grief that will be just as overwhelming as those earlier stages, because I haven’t visited that room before. I haven’t dealt with or processed the grief and come to terms with it. And every now and then, even after I think I’ve visited every possible room, some twice, or a dozen times, and I’ve tackled every possible memory of our time together, I’ll accidentally open a door to a new, untouched room. And that early, awful pain of fresh grief will come back…

Read the rest of the blog on the Hope for Widows website.

About the author

Katherine Billings Palmer is a technical writer, poet, and essayist from Garden City, Michigan. She’s won several academic writing awards, including first place in the University of Michigan Dearborn Critical Essay Contest for her work about poet John Donne: “‘The Sun Rising’: A Lover’s Boast.”

In 2017, Katherine’s husband, Rick, died of complications from small cell lung cancer. She wrote a series of poems and essays about her struggles to cope with her grief. I Wanted to Grow Old With You is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

Her latest book, A Widow’s Words: Grief, Reflection, Prose, and Poetry – The First Year was published in January 2019 and is also available on

Katherine is a guest blogger for the Hope for Widows Foundation and writes about her grief journey at

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