Grief Bursts

Brain Injury Blog by Janelle Breese Biagioni

April 18, 2011

Grief Bursts – What are they?  How do you cope?

Dr. Alan Wolfelt uses the terms “grief burst”, “grief attack” or “memory embrace” to describe those times when a feeling of deep sadness washes over the bereaved and renders them to tears. 

This often happens immediately following a loved one’s death, but it is not uncommon to happen weeks, months, and even years later.  It can happen when the person is going along in their day doing things like shopping, working, or socializing. These unexpected bursts of tears and sadness are beyond our control, yet we are often embarrassed by our behaviour and may feel the need to apologize.  Don’t. 

Grief bursts are normal and they happen to all of us.  I remember a particular time about nine months after my husband died.  I was hurrying from an appointment to meet my children at the school bus, but decided to make a quick stop at the store for bread and milk.  As I rushed from the car, pulling my cheque book out of my purse, a slip of paper fell to the ground.  It was my husband’s cheque cashing card.  When I picked it up and saw his signature, I stopped in my tracks and burst into tears. I was so overcome with grief from seeing his handwriting that I could barely stand up. So I got back in the car and headed for home – without the bread or milk!

Years later, I still have ‘grief bursts’ now and then. However, they are less intense and although my eyes may tear, I no longer experience a sense of “uncontrollable emotion”.  This may have to do with the amount of time that has passed. Or it may be that I tend to embrace these moments as a time to pause and remember.

5 responses to “Grief Bursts”

  1. Annie Pixley says:

    Wow…did you hit home! My husband passed away 17 months ago, and even though I made it through the “year of firsts” and thought I came out on the other side, I’ve had those grief bursts recently. Seeing his handwriting reduces me to a blithering fool and then I feel silly. A song, a word, almost anything lately brings him to mind, so I like your reference to memory embrace. Thank you for sharing. I don’t feel so foolish knowing I am not alone.

  2. Marie G. Cooney says:

    I like the phrases, “grief burst”, “grief attack” and “memory embrace”, especially “memory embrace”. They seem so normal. Everyone experiences them to certain degrees throughout their lives for various reasons. And I think embracing memories is better than burying them. They are soon to come up again. If I cry, I just continue crying. Sometimes, I wonder if someone who hands me a kleenex is more uncomfortable with my emotions than they are kind and just want me to stop. Others genuinely want to be with us in our expressions of grief and unburied memories.

    As a person with a TBI, I often wrestle with what is called “hightened emotions”. Others might have “dampened emotions” or a “flattened affect”, a non-emotional voice. These can be very difficult. I think I’ll try to remember these phrases too. Thanks.

  3. ipad 2 cases says:

    i am extremly thank ful to you for publishing such a good article . and thanks to all who express their view in forum. those views help me in sorting out my thoughts.

  4. Covers says:

    I’ve never been so interested in such readings. Looks like you know how to capture my attention.

  5. Janet Cromer says:

    Thanks for such telling words, Janelle. I really like “memory embrace.” For months after my husband Alan died I had to avoid the Gatorade aisle at the grocery store. As my hand reflexively reached for the blue variety, I’d crumble in a grief burst.

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