Bereavement and ‘Ambush Moments’
I would guess that pretty much everyone who has experienced the loss of someone they have loved and the resulting grief will also have had their feet swept from under them by an ‘ambush moment’.
We can be listening to a piece of music or song, tasting a particular recipe or item of food, someone who looks just like…., hearing special words spoken or suddenly be aware of a particular smell and immediately, bang!, we are overwhelmed with a huge rush of sadness, joy, loss, a certain memory, deep pain, laughter, or possibly all of these, and more. One of the strange parts of ambush moments is that they’re not always negative feelings that we experience – they can manifest as warm and loving feelings – often with laughter and broad smiles. We know the feelings are absolutely connected with the person we have lost and that they are hugely powerful and come as a shock. Usually we don’t immediately know how or why this particular sight, sound, smell or other sense has affected us so deeply. We’re too busy dealing with our physical reactions to these ambush moments.
The strength of the feeling can be shocking in its intensity – we are often left literally gasping for breath by the strength of the ambush moment, as well as feeling confused and sometimes frightened at where the feelings have come from and why they feel quite so powerful. Painful ambush feelings, such as loss, yearning, loneliness and abandonment can feel especially devastating and, even if we can’t do so at the ‘point of ambush’, we need to talk through and get support from someone we trust with our vulnerability.
We’re often surrounded by other people when having ambush moments and the sudden breathless tears, smiles, laughter and/ or sobs are difficult for us and them to deal with. We can end up feeling embarrassed at best and unbalanced or slightly deranged at worst – we should be able to control our feelings, surely?
The good news is that there is nothing wrong with having ambush moments and that they may actually be a good thing. After we lose someone (or some thing – they don’t just apply to bereavement, but also to all sorts of other losses – such as health, job, relationship, faith, home), consciously and unconsciously we put strategies in place to cope with the pain of our grief. We might ‘keep busy’, steel ourselves to ‘be strong’ for others and for ourselves, or we might drink more alcohol/ food or any one of numerous other behaviours we turn to at such times. There is nothing inherently wrong with many of these strategies – some may help us to cope initially.
However, they can all have the effect of keeping us away from our real feelings of loss, or at least from the true strength of our feeling. The feelings we experience during ambush moments have no such filters – we feel the feelings full on, with defences or barriers in the way – that’s why the effect is so breath-taking and overwhelming. So, although ambush moments can be somewhat startling, we can be sure that what we feel is real, both in the type of feeling and in its intensity. We are having the full fat version, unmuted by our rationalisations and strategies – and this applies for sad or painful feelings, or the joyful, funny and warm ones that can ambush us – we can often feel several hitting us at once or in quick succession. Would we really want to edit or blank out such feelings? It could be exhausting to feel them all the time, but to experience them full on is testament to and proof of the relationship we had with the person or thing we have lost.
So, the next time you have an ambush moment, think about welcoming it as a true messenger of your feelings about what you have lost.
20th January 2019