Our guest writer Wendy explores the emotion of anger in grief when dealing with sudden trauma, news of serious illness, and bereavement.
I often hear anger in the voices and in the words of the people I meet that are grieving and I see anger in their body language. It is natural.
When catastrophe strikes anger is one of the first emotions. I remember when my husband collapsed in Bolivia I screamed in my head “Why now, why here, why us?” Then I moved on to “Why did he have to botch things up for us when everything was wonderful?” Then I moved on to “What have I done to deserve this?” It was all very angry and very natural.
However there are no answers to these questions, so why, in a time of enormous stress, do we waste vitally needed energy? We have much more urgent demands on our time and energy. We have to deal with all kinds of emotions, changes and administrative issues. We have get our loved one to appointments and therapies as well as taking care of everyday matters. We have to organise, arrange, try to make sense of what is going on now, today. This is challenging enough so we must garner our energy and use it wisely.
Read more about the emotions of grief
At the same time it is important to recognise that if such venomous feelings are not dealt with in a healthy and effective manner, then these feelings become destructive and can cause ill health.
I am sure that the anger I bottled up was a significant cause of my cancer. I felt I had to cope with everything but I knew I could not. I was so sensitive to the reactions of people and felt they were always judging me about how I dealt with my husband and his needs.
I was angry at myself for not being perfect and I was angry with my husband for messing up what we had.
I was angry at the world for ruining our lives especially as we had done nothing to deserve such pain.
I could not admit even to myself how I felt. I was afraid if I opened that bottle of anger the reaction would be so strong I could not control myself. I am convinced this was a major part of my health breakdown.
So how can you deal with these angry feelings? Let me suggest several ways and see what suits you best.
Firstly try to admit to yourself the reality of what has happened. Look at yourself in a mirror and admit what the problem is.
Tell it like it is. Say it out loud. Say it and scream, cry, do whatever it takes to get the reality and anger out there. When you really admit what has happened then you can begin to accept reality. Once reality is accepted you see the situation more clearly and you choose better options. You can be the commander in chief of events.
When I was first diagnosed with cancer my anger was huge. It welled up uncontrollably at a set of traffic lights on the way home from the doctor.
I remember screaming and banging on the steering wheel. “I will NOT die!! You will NOT kill me!” I must have been pretty scary as the light turned to green and no one tooted the horn to tell me to move!!
When my husband was sick I used a “dammit” doll to great effect. A friend who had gone through a similar situation gave this doll to me. I would pick up this rag doll and bash it against anything to hand and scream aloud what I was angry about. I would go to the golf range on the pretext of practice and smash golf balls all over to relieve my anger.
Another way of getting past anger in grief is for you to join a support group of people in a similar situation to yourself. In the security of my group I could weep and wail to them about how I felt.
The great benefit of this group was not just the relief. When listening to their feelings, their stories and the way they handled similar situations I learned I was not alone. I realised what I was going through was normal. I also realised others had been through much worse than me. I learned that there are many ways to cope with this extreme situation.
There may be close friends and relatives who are very supportive and willing to help you but remember that they have their own grief to deal with first. Also they have not been through what you have experienced. With all the best intentions in the world, unless you have been through it you do not know what it is like. That is where a support group can be so valuable.
The group had a facilitator and he asked us to write about all kinds of things. I realised later the titles were ambiguous at best and these exercises were to enable us to express our feelings in another way. I found myself writing about all sorts of things that I had never considered, things that at first did not seem relative to me. However after a while I began to see a pattern in my writing. I realised that certain feelings were a focus, certain fears kept surfacing again and again and certain events were inescapable. Again I found this was a great benefit to me. I learned about myself and I found ways to deal with these matters in a more efficient and effective manner.
Read more about writing through your grief.
Some of these writings are now on this website and, I hope, helping others.
In conclusion let me reiterate that anger is destructive but normal. It has to be dealt with in the way that suits you best. Then you can concentrate all your energy on to the important matter at hand in a positive manner.
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