Grief Triggers, You Just Never Know…

Last month when I heard Elizabeth Taylor had passed away, it triggered some unexpected feelings. I guess it’s true what they say about grief, you never know what might trigger it. You never quite know when it might sneak up on you. You just never know…

I love movies. I even have a movie category on my blog. Maybe there’s a new career waiting for me some day as a movie critic?? Maybe not…

My mother loved movies. She continued going to movies for as long as possible even when she was really sick. Many “older” people don’t go to a lot of movies, especially the more “questionable” ones. There wasn’t any kind of movie my mother wouldn’t consider going to or watching on TV. Going to movies was another way she kept current. Going to movies and then discussing them helped keep her young.

So when I heard Elizabeth Taylor had passed away last month, it somehow felt like I was losing yet another little piece of my mother. Elizabeth Taylor and my mom were connected, in my mind anyway.

Hearing this news made me sad. But, then I realized perhaps I really am at the acceptance stage of grief because I was only sad for a few moments. Of course, I still felt saddened by the news of this loss of another Hollywood icon, but on a personal level, I was able to move on to fond reflective memories as well.

I loved remembering how much my mother loved movies and Elizabeth Taylor. I enjoyed thinking about all those years I got to stay up late with her to watch the Academy Awards show on television. I enjoyed reflecting on our conversations about whatever movie either one of us had just seen. I enjoyed remembering conversations about our top 10 lists of all-time favorite movies. I just enjoyed the remembering part.

When you start remembering your loved ones life, not their death, this is real progress. When you start remember mostly the pleasant memories, this is real progress.

After Elizabeth’s death, I remember hearing someone being interviewed on television say there would never be another movie star quite like Elizabeth Taylor. They were probably right. Elizabeth was not only a beautiful and talented actress; she was, or at least seemed to be, a genuinely good person. She changed the room when she walked into it the person being interviewed also stated, and not just because of her stunning good looks. There seemed to be something different about her, something more, something bigger than life.

Elizabeth also knew quite a bit about survival skills. Though she led a privileged life to be sure, it was not free from challenges. She survived the death of her beloved husband, too many marriages to keep track of, pneumonia, addiction, weight struggles, a bad back and osteoporosis to name a few. And these are just a few the public knew about. Like all of us, I’m sure she had a few private struggles as well.

Movie stars don’t seem quite so iconic today, probably because modern social media lets us pry into all aspects of their lives. I think in some ways they seem more ordinary, more flawed – more like us. Perhaps we don’t hold them in such high regard anymore. This is probably a good thing, but there’s something a little sad about this as well.

Regardless, whenever I go to a movie, I still wonder to myself what my mother would think of it. It’s a little connection we still seem to share. I like that.

That’s progress.

 Note:  I don’t remember a lot of Elizabeth Taylor’s movies. Two gems I have seen are “Giant” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”  In the eyes of this particular “movie critic,” Liz delivered pretty stellar performances in the two roles she played in these.

Do you have a favorite Elizabeth Taylor movie?

Who is your favorite movie actor or actress and do you think genuine “movies stars” still exit?

Have you experienced an unexpected grief trigger?


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22 thoughts to “Grief Triggers, You Just Never Know…”

  1. I had the same exact reaction. My mother died four years ago in March, very suddenly. She and Elizabeth Taylor were both born in 1932, and almost the same age. And when I heard of Elizabeth’s death, I burst into tears, as it brought surging up grief from my mother’s death. You were not alone in this. And I adored Taylor, her death was very much the end of an era.

    1. Laura, I’m sorry for your loss and for the suddenness of it all. I guess Elizabeth’s Taylor’s death probably impacted many people the same way it did me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. I hope you have lots of good memories of your mom.

  2. I was sad,too. Like you, Nancy, Elizabeth Taylor brought up memories of my mother. They were about the same age and carried similar styles throughout their lives, although, far from the jewels worn by Elizabeth, and it was like losing a part of her all over again. I love what you wrote about remembering a person’s life, not their death as being progress. I absolutely agree. I’m glad you’re able to enjoy your memories.

    1. Stacey, I know what you mean about feeling like you were losing a part of your mother all over again, another little piece gone. I do have lots of good memories and I know you have lots of your mom as well. Thanks for taking time to comment, Stacey. Like always I appreciate your thoughts.

  3. Oh Nancy, I’m so sorry that brought back a flood of memories. I am, however, so very happy that you have such wonderful memories of your mom–sounds like she was an amazing woman (and mom!).
    Special hugs to you today….
    🙂 Lisa

  4. Nancy,

    I remember watching the ‘epic’ movies that Liz Taylor performed in, I especially loved ‘Cleopatra’ and a younger Liz in ‘Black Beauty.’ All her movies were always wonderful. And I agree, there are many things that so many of us are unaware of that go on behind the scenes. Not unlike any of us, who keep a smile on our faces, but yet have so much to carry.

    My favorite actor was Richard Chamberlain,(showing my age here) and yes, I do believe we still have some genuine actors and actresses today. I look at Johnny Depp as one, he has certain values he adheres to, and he manages to keep his family and personal life out of the tabloids (not an easy task), and who can forget Betty White, she just amazes me.

    As for grief triggers, ‘let me count the ways.’ I never quite know when a simple phrase, song or bit of news will leave me crying, longing or deeply saddened. Just this week in my Scripture sharing group, I read a passage from Isaiah, and the words just gripped my heart refusing to let go. I began to cry, the simple passage brought back of flood of memories so strong, I could not control my reaction. I have learned to accept this, and realize it will probably be a way of life, at least for a while yet. There is no predicting what will trigger a reaction.

    I know the triggers are a result of LOVE, because we loved, we hurt, and because of the love, we miss those who have died so very much.

    Nancy, your mom and all those who have held special places in our lives and hearts, are always with us, always near, and I find the tears, sudden longing, or that quiet ache, are gentle reminders that this is true…

    Blessings, take care, Rose Mary xoxox

    1. Rose Mary, Thank you for commenting on this. I value your thoughts on this topic since I know you are all too familiar with it. Johnny Depp is one of my favorites too. I never saw Cleopatra or Black Beauty, might be good rentals sometime. Richard Chamberlain, all I remember from him is the Thorn Birds, right?? That was pretty good. I’m glad you accept your honest reactions to grief and again, I’m sorry for your loss, Rose Mary.

  5. So true, one never knows what a public loss such as this one can trigger. Grief triggers are mysterious — and their power can be overwhelming.

    My mom, too, loved Ms. Taylor, especially those eyes, which Mom said were violet. We used to argue about the color of my eyes: she said they were blue, I said green. Having just looked at that stunning photo of Ms. Taylor, now I’m kind of wondering whether Mom was colorblind, not just desirous of her daughter having blue eyes. 🙂

    Great post, Nancy. And speaking of triggers, as you know I just wrote about how finishing my manuscript has triggered all sorts of feelings… When I should be jubilant, I am sad, leaving behind a part of my life that was almost completely about Dad.

    I like the fantasy of thinking our moms are up there or out there or something, witnessing our online conversation.
    Always hope,
    Blogging at

    1. Lori, Thank you so much for taking time to comment about grief triggers. Congrats on finishing the manuscript, it’s not at all surprising to me that you have had so many conflicting emotions at this time. It actually makes a lot of sense. And that is a fun fantasy to have about our mothers isn’t it?

  6. Nancy,
    Great post. I think you have written about a key area in healing (grief, physical or emotional.) Triggers.
    Your love for your mom is so evident in your writting. Thank you for sharing this love with all of us.

    Ps. Thanks for your comment on my blog piece about fear. I don’t mean to be personal, but I can’t recall if you mentioned what kind of surgery you are having?

  7. Nancy,

    Thanks for such an inspiring post. Elizabeth was indeed a true Hollywood icon, but she was a real human being, as well. Too many people get starry eyed when looking at Hollywood stars….but these famous individuals have their inner demons like the rest of us.

    It’s wonderful that you have so many sweet memories of you and your mom sharing life together. These are treasures that will always be there.

    In terms of my grief, I also have my share. My really close friend died of breast cancer, leaving me reeling and grieving and suffering from survivor’s guilt. During my bad days (I do have great days), I grieve the loss of fertility and the loss of my body to the surgical scars that will never go away. But then again, I have so much to be grateful for.

    1. Beth, Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You’re right, everyone has those inner demons, even those we sometimes perceive as having it all. I’m sorry about your friend, how long ago was that loss? Feeling the losses and feeling the gratitude, it is a balancing act of sorts, isn’t it?

  8. Nancy, thanks for sharing your memories with us. My mother was 11 years older than Elizabeth Taylor, but still adored her. I, too, think of my mom when I watch one of Ms. Taylor’s films. My all-time favorite movie of hers is “National Velvet.”

    My favorite actress is Meryl Streep, whom I believe to be extremely versatile in her acting abilities. I truly believe movie stars still exist; those are the ones you remember long after the movie plot is forgotten.

    An unexpected grief trigger for me was watching a “Gone with the Wind” DVD after my mother died. That was her all-time favorite movie, and my tears flowed as I realized she wouldn’t be seeing it anymore, nor would I see it with her.

    Best wishes, Jan

    1. Jan, Thank you for commenting. I have never seen “National Velvet,” but I’d like to sometime. I think you made a good choice there in your favorite actress selection, Meryl Streep is remarkably talented and has a wide range. “Gone With the Wind” was my mother’s favorite movie too. I try to watch it once a year.

  9. Hi Nancy,

    I lost my friend about 5 years ago. Thanks for asking. I took her to almost all her chemo treatments for about three years and visited her often. We met at a support group, and she and I had so much in common, we hit it right off.

    When she died, I was relieved in a way because she suffered so very much when she was alive.

    But the whole thing was so hard for her and me. Luckily, the last words we said to each other were “I love you.” So there were no regrets.

    1. Beth, Thanks for sharing more details about the loss of your friend. The experience must have been excruciatingly painful for both of you, but at the same time something quite beautiful. It sounds similar to my experience with my mom at the end. I’m glad you have no regrets. That helps.

  10. Nancy,
    I keep having grief triggers since James died. Seems like most anything can cause it: a song, food, remembering a comment he made about trees, or a trip we took together. Daily I talk to him, out loud, imagine him coming through the front door after work, singing to me while I shower and he shaves. The triggers are bittersweet for I want to remember those things. Sometimes I’m strong and other times, I cry in public places as strangers walk by not knowing what to do about me.

    About Elizabeth Taylor, I wrote a blog about her as well. I LOVED her, was MESMERIZED by her. You might see if you can find “A Place in the Sun.” Everything about her was perfect then.


    1. Brenda, I imagine you are constantly bombarded with triggers. Your loss is still so fresh, so I’m sure memories are bittersweet indeed. I will have to check out that particular movie sometime. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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