Second or third on many lists of the stages of grief is anger. Probably the last thing anyone would expect when grieving to become angry. However, anger and grief go hand in hand. Being angry at the person who died because he/she left us, being angry at God for allowing the loss, being angry at people who don’t help or who don’t help the way we need – all the previous reasons and more result in an unexpected fury. If we don’t examine our anger, its cause, and find a way to deal with it, that anger can fester inside, remain, and destroy any peaceful life we could have.
First, we must face the anger, which may strike without warning. The intensity may shock us. How could we blame our loved one for dying, blame him or her? How easy to blame God for not intervening? Why didn’t the doctor or the hospital do more? However, sometimes the very “reason” for the anger may be surprising.
I thought I had no reason for anger, that the anger phrase would skip me, until the day I dealt with bills. Suddenly, I shook with resentment and rage. Robert could have cared enough to arrange for my future. He had chances but refused. He had an opportunity to go to work at Tinker AFB when we had been married two years. He would have begun at $15 an hour, which in 1964 amounted to a large wage. He would have had regular raises in salary, an excellent pension, all health care paid, and an easier life for himself. His excuse not to take the position infuriated me then and returned in force, “I can’t stand having all those people around me.” No matter how many times anyone told him he would only work with a small group, he refused to believe or accept anything except “he” would have to be around huge numbers of people. I went with him back to the Oklahoma Panhandle and to a lower level of living. Years later, when working for an oil field company, he had the opportunity to pay into a large life insurance policy for a year, with his employer paying even more, which would be effect for the rest of his life, giving his beneficiaries financial stability. He refused, saying I would be able to care for myself.
The irritation and resentment frightened me. I forgave him so long ago and thought I had put the incidents behind me. Knowing how frightened and insecure he was when we were first married, I could understand his fear of taking the job. Realizing that he couldn’t see the results of taking money we needed monthly to pay for something that might never be needed, I forgave his refusal to accept the insurance. Yet, I trembled with fury so many years later, and I had to accept the anger before I could defuse it. Loving Robert for over 53 years, made forgiving again possible. But, I must live with the fact I had become so alarmingly angry.
We stay most angry when overwhelmed and involved in our own pain and loss. Therefore, finding an outlet for our thoughts and actions helps us deal with the anger. Keeping a grief journal, writing poetry, writing our feelings, painting our inner emotions: All are creative ways to deal with the grief and anger. Becoming active in our churches, volunteering with the elderly or with children could help.
Finally, seeking help from a therapist, counselor, or pastor if we can’t handle our anger is a step that may be needed.
We might consider ourselves immune to feeling anger when we lose someone, but, as I did, the anger can and does attack when we are at our most vulnerable, during grief.