Watch Out for Grief's Ambushes

wisconsin-rib-mountain-state-park-rocks-and-stairsIt would seem that at some point in your grief journey that grief could no longer hold out any surprises for you. But that isn’t the case. After a weekend of clearing out closets of my accumulated stuff, I was ambushed by grief and by an ugly old suitcase. After over twenty-three years of grief journey, I decided to take out to the dumpster an old floral designed suitcase along with the rest of my no longer needed stuff in my closet.  At one point I am sure that I thought all of this stuff was important.  But now the suitcase along with all my other junk was just taking up space in my life and had no purpose or meaning for me now.

Then on the way to dumpster with the suitcase in hand, grief ambushed me. Remembering my wife Cindy without my help picking out a family suitcase for our trips.  A girly-looking, rose red and gray suitcase that made me cringe every time we travelled with it. Remembering  the embarrassment as I had to grab the feminine-looking suitcase from the baggage claim area in front of all those people.  Remembering how me and the kids joked about how our family suitcase had to be the ugliest piece of baggage ever.

But that’s not all that grief ambushed me with. There were the memories of trips with Cindy and my family on holidays and vacations.  Remembering seeing Cindy and that suitcase whenever I picked her up at the airport from trips and being so glad to see her again.  My sweetest memory connected to that ugly suitcase was seeing a smiling Cindy carrying our newly adopted Katie.  At that time our family felt truly complete with the addition of that sweet baby.

Then in an instant I was feeling regret that I had ever hated anything that Cindy had thought was beautiful. Regrets that all I had now physically in my touch that was part of Cindy and our life together was an ugly old, but memory-rich piece of baggage.

That’s when grief’s ambush was complete. There was an overwhelming sadness as I remembered all the things connected to Cindy and my daughter Katie that I had said “goodbye” to in the last twenty-three years. I tossed the unneeded baggage into the dumpster and began to sob. How many more times will I have to say “goodbye”?

What I have learned in twenty three years of goodbye’s is that you are never far enough into the grief journey to avoid a grief ambush or to say farewell again to another very important part of your relationship with the loved one.

Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or

The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunica Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” on

Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX