There’s a name for that wave of grief that hits long after a loss: STUG – InForum

Dear Carol: Both my parents passed away more than two years ago. As they both had long-term health issues as well as different forms of dementia, their deaths were difficult, but it was a relief to know that they were no longer in pain.

I’m writing now because twice lately I’ve had days where a wave of grief over their loss almost washed over me. I know grief isn’t just a straight path and a part of me will always miss it, but it was so sudden and powerful that it still unsettles me. I thought I was done with the grieving process, except on that quiet level of missing persons that stays with many of us for life. Why would this happen now? — TE.

Dear TE: Having had a similar experience, I can wholeheartedly identify with what you have been through. I am wholeheartedly with you.

You made the point that grieving is not a straight path, but I want to point that out for readers. Most psychologists will tell you that the grief caused by the death of someone dear to us will not be a linear process or something that we “overcome”. Longing for our loved ones becomes part of who we are, but we learn to live with the loss and eventually move on to happier times.

Yet we remain vulnerable. Psychologists call what you experienced a sudden, temporary increase in grief, known as STUG. It’s often brought on by a “trigger” of some type that reminds us of our loved one, but it can also happen seemingly out of nowhere.

This is what happened to me. I was walking down a hallway at work, an ordinary process on an ordinary day. My parents had both passed away a few years before and I was caught up in research and hadn’t consciously thought about them or their deaths. Seemingly out of nowhere, a wave of grief over their loss stopped me dead, leaving me almost breathless. I stood (thankfully) alone in the hallway, frozen for a moment as the wave slowly receded.

Each of us has had unique experiences, but like yours, despite everyone’s best efforts, my parents were both sick and miserable for a very long time. So I, too, felt a certain relief when they passed, leaving behind their suffering bodies. Perhaps because we as caregivers had to deal with so many emergencies and close calls before they passed away, it took us longer to deeply integrate the fact that they had really, physically left his world. It might just be normal.

As I speak as a caregiver, others may also experience STUG. Our losses don’t “resolve” as if they never happened. They are part of our being and can come to the surface from time to time. If you have these times often, please see a grief counselor who can help you get to a point where STUG is a rare event and when it does happen, you can handle it without lasting sequelae.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a seasoned caregiver and established columnist. She is also a blogger and author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories”. Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at She can be reached via the contact form on her website.

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