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Widows, do words have new meaning for you?

Ashley Judd at public event



Are you triggered like Ashley Judd?

You may be wondering why I am asking this question and where Ashley Judd fits into it. No, it is not to see if you are a country music fan, but it is to see if there are certain words in your grief journey that now affect you differently. They may not have given you pause before, but now may send you to the bathroom sobbing in the middle of dinner when someone says something. (Yes, I have done that.)

The word “triggered” changed for Ashley Judd. You are likely aware that her mother Naomi died in April 2022 from suicide, using a gun to end her life. I usually don’t provide details surrounding the death of someone’s loved one. I did not appreciate it when people asked prying details about the events surrounding the death of my husband, so I am especially sensitive to this. However, in this case, it is relevant.

You see, as part of her healing, she had been having conversations with the renowned grief expert David Kessler. In one of those conversations, he referenced the word “triggered”. The mere use of that word really took her aback. I imagine it brought forth images in her mind of the scene with her mother that she likely did not want to revisit at that time. It was visible on her face that the use of this word was a problem. David, of course, was very gracious and realized that it was not a good word choice. He subsequently has apologized publicly to her and is actively working to change awareness around the word “trigger”, since it can bring unwelcomed feelings not only for Ashley but unfortunately for so many.

I did really admire Ashley for taking a stand in her deep emotion surrounding the word and its meanings to her. So often in grief, and frankly in life, people say things and we just let it go. I know I did. Sometimes it just feels easier, or we don’t know what to say at the moment.

I still remember like it was yesterday...

Senior year in high school, a girl who was on the pompon squad with me asked where I was going to college. I responded, and she said, “Wow, I didn’t know you were smart enough to go there.” Of course, it was the snarky, snarly way she said it, too. Ouch. That just hurt. I know I didn’t say anything. I was not the girl in high school that had the “comebacks”. I certainly don’t need them today and recognize now that her comment was just her own insecurities talking, but my 17-year-old self did not know that.

Back to my adult self. I still remember times when people I didn't even know asked how Steve died. Depending upon what mood I was in, or if I felt they were being really inappropriate, I would deliver my response accordingly. This question coming from the wrong person could make me quite angry. How could someone who does not know me, and did not know Steve, ask such an intimate question? The audacity! So I would bluntly say, to put them in their place, “My husband was murdered.” That definitely left them speechless.

As my grief journey evolved and I continued to work with my therapist, my anger has certainly diminished. But the lesson of standing up for yourself still remains. People will not change—and your circumstances will not change—if you don’t initiate change.

Setting boundaries in grief is crucial for your emotional well-being and your healing process.

Here are 5 reasons why setting boundaries will help you to move forward in your grief:

  1. Protecting yourself: Grief is a highly personal and sensitive experience. Setting boundaries allows you to protect yourself from potential triggers (activators) or situations that might exacerbate your grief or cause additional distress. It gives you the space and control to navigate your grief journey at your own pace and in ways that feel comfortable and supportive to you.

  2. Respecting your needs: Grief affects everyone differently, and individuals have varying needs when it comes to processing their emotions and seeking support. By setting boundaries, you communicate your specific needs and preferences to others, enabling them to understand how to best support you during this difficult time. It ensures that your needs are respected and met, helping you feel more understood and supported. I know this is hard. But you have to verbalize what you need or they won’t know.

  3. Preserving your energy: Grief is emotionally and physically draining. Setting boundaries helps you conserve your energy and prioritize self-care. It allows you to allocate time and space for activities that nurture and rejuvenate you, such as rest, relaxation, engaging in hobbies or seeking professional support. By managing your energy levels and establishing healthy boundaries, you can prevent burnout and maintain a healthier balance in your life.

  4. Honoring your grief process: Grief is a unique journey, and each person copes with it in their own way. Setting boundaries helps you honor your grief process and gives you permission to experience and express your emotions authentically. Don’t let anyone tell you you are grieving “wrong” or you should be “done” grieving by now. You need to do you. By setting boundaries, you create a safe space to grieve in a way that feels right for you.

  5. Establishing healthy relationships: Boundaries in grief can also help maintain healthy relationships with others. You need to take care of you first. If there is a relationship that is not serving you, push pause on it for now. By setting clear boundaries, you promote healthier and more compassionate interactions with those around you. Find those who are supportive of where you are now.

The next time you have an encounter with someone who rubs you the wrong way, take a moment. Call to mind what Ashley Judd did. It is more than OK to say, “That is not sitting well with me.” You matter. Your healing matters.

Send me an email, and let me know what you are going to do to keep your boundaries in check while you grieve.


Jody Hello Portrait2.jpg

Hi, I'm Jody!

I’m a widow, grief expert, widow coach, and mom. I hope that Widows in the Workplace is able to provide you with comfort, support and guidance while you find your way with your grief journey. 

It is possible to Rediscover, Reimagine and Relaunch your Life again. You do not need to do it alone. 

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