Grief Recall

Author: Gregory Jacobs

I recently had the privilege of taking my grandson, Thomas, to the Kentucky State Fair. Thomas is 5 and the son of my deceased son who served in the Army. While walking around looking at the animals and various venues, he was attracted to the police lights in the middle of the convention center — a Kentucky State Police cruiser display and recruitment booth. Next to the display was a trailer with a mangled-up car and a kiosk to promote safe driving. There it was!

Anyone going through grief knows that all-too-familiar feeling of a grief reminder. I turned to walk away from the trailer and saw a police helicopter on display — another reminder. I was trapped and felt helpless. Thomas grabbed my hand, wanting to see the car; then he became intrigued with the helicopter. Inside I was dying. I didn’t panic or allow much emotion to arise on my face, but — inside — it felt like a million fire ants were gnawing on me. I turned once again from the car, then the helicopter, and saw a uniformed soldier walking toward his recruitment booth. I froze — was this a cruel joke?

On December 23, 2020, my first-born son, David M. Jacobs, was taken from me. He was involved in an auto accident 50 minutes after getting off work in Colorado Springs, outside of Fort Carson. He was a U.S. Army Specialist and worked on Apache helicopters. His car was hit by another driver as they entered the interstate. David's car flipped, hit a light pole, and he was killed instantly.

Apache helicopters

David M. Jacobs hiking

The totaled car, the helicopter, and the uniformed soldier at the state fair were all painful reminders of my loss. They triggered an emotional response in me. These reminders or connections or triggers are not talked about much in everyday conversation because we would prefer not to find ourselves in these situations. We choose to safeguard hearts and emotions by not veering into their path whenever possible.

At first glance, you could not have known that a mangled-up car, helicopter, and soldier in uniform would necessarily be painful. Once I expounded on my story, though, it probably started to come into focus that David died in an auto accident, served in the Army, and worked on Apache helicopters, and my reaction likely makes more sense to you.

Approaches to consider when Grief Triggers You

Certain situations or items can bring us right back to our loss — like the car at the state fair — or reminders of the life that was lost — like the soldier and the helicopter. Triggers could be watching war movies, Memorial Day celebrations, U.S. flags, friends getting married, graduations, pictures of friends on social media, and nearly anything else. Unfortunately, we rarely discuss what might trigger us, so even well-meaning friends, family, perfect strangers, and everyday life can present painful moments. That would be a problem — an emotional endurance race, but in the years after David’s loss, I’ve found two drastically different approaches to these moments.



I have been taught that avoidance is not good, as grief will eventually arise to confront you head-on. I agree, if we are talking about the overall umbrella of grief. Still, I would counter that it is OK to avoid putting yourself in situations that you know you can’t handle at a particular time or remove yourself from an upsetting situation you didn’t anticipate, but find yourself in. If you don’t think that you can handle a Memorial Day ceremony at the cemetery where your loved one is buried, then it is OK to sit that year out and reevaluate next year. Grant yourself that patience and grace.

Overcome Your Fears


My whole life, I have had a fear of snakes. One time at a nature preserve, I held one to try to overcome my fear. Instead of avoiding every known trigger forever, I would encourage you to work on overcoming your fear when you feel ready. As your grief journey develops down the road, you will find that what used to be a trigger just might not be any longer. I will never forget the sergeant handing my wife and me David’s folded flag at the gravesite. For years after that, I would cringe at the sight of the United States flag. Now, I have a full-sized flag hanging in my office as a reminder of my son’s sacrifice.

Comfort or Counsel

I acknowledge that I still struggle with seeing an ambulance, hearing sirens, watching helicopters flying over my house, and hearing my doorbell ring — fearing that it is the notification officer. These all have the power to bring me right back to my loss, and I work on them daily. But, just like picking up that snake, I am learning to either avoid certain situations or face the fear behind them.

You may be able to minimize difficult moments by talking through your triggers with those closest to you — those walking this journey alongside you — and clarifying whether you are seeking comfort or counsel. Comfort means that you just need them to hear you, and counsel means that you are looking for their wisdom or advice. They might or might not get it, and that is OK, but they care about you and would likely do anything they can to help you avoid or overcome difficult moments.

As grieving loved ones of those who served this country, our lives are forever changed. At the beginning of my grief journey, I never thought I could live again, but I am learning that I now have a new life — stronger in the midst of adversity and able to navigate the ways life reminds me of my loss. Be strong and courageous and know that you are not alone!

TAPS men discussion group

TAPS Men's Program

Whether you’re a surviving father, like the author of this story, or any man grieving the loss of someone who served in the military, the Men’s Program at TAPS welcomes you to grieve and grow your way alongside a support system of surviving men who understand. Vist TAPS Men's Program to learn more about TAPS’ online and in-person programming designed to support grieving men.

Gregory T. Jacobs is a TAPS Peer Mentor and Care Group Leader and the surviving father of SPC David M. Jacobs, U.S. Army.

Photos: Gregory T. Jacobs, TAPS Archives