Friday, January 10, 2020

Anger as a Part of Grief

In memory of Pierre Gareau
~By François Milhomme
When we normally think of grief, we readily associate it with feelings of sadness, loneliness, even feelings of guilt.

Yet grief involved many reactions: thoughts, behaviors, physical reactions as well as feelings. And anger is one of those feelings. We may be angry with everyone who comes close. Anita was like that. When her husband died, she found she was angry with everyone-her children for calling too much or not enough, her friends for perceived slights, almost anyone who, as she said it, moved into her sight. 

Others may focus that anger, directing it to one person, or a small group of people. 

Fred, for example, was angry at his sisters-in-law. When his wife lay dying, they would still sneak her cigarettes. Lori was furious at her son's doctors, convinced that earlier diagnosis or more effective treatments might have saved her son's life. 

And, though it may be hard to admit it, we may even be angry with the person who died. Fred realized that. Though he called his wife a saint, he hated the fact that she continued to smoke, long after earlier scares and dire warnings. He knew deep down that he held some anger towards her.

Sometimes the anger is cosmic. We are angry with God for what has happened. 

"...The problem with anger is not that it is not natural but that it may interfere with support just when we need it most..."
Often times anger turns inward. We become angry with ourselves-blaming ourselves for our actions, for the loss. That anger becomes expressed as guilt. 

In fact, anger can come out in many ways. We may be sullen and withdrawn or snap at others around us. We may focus the anger at one person, a few individuals, or sometimes with just about everyone we meet. Karen, for example, would become furious with anyone who simply wished her a good day - complaining of the insensitivity and failure to acknowledge her loss and her pain. 

The problem with anger, even though it is a natural reaction, is that it may interfere with support just when we need it most. Our anger may drive others away. Unwilling to face our fury, they avoid us. And this fuels the anger, creating a dangerous destructive cycle where we become increasingly isolated. 

The first step is dealing with anger is that we need to analyze it. What are we really angry at? Is our anger appropriate to what actually occurred? How did we handle that anger? How is it affecting our health and relationships? Are there more appropriate ways to express that anger?

One key to dealing with anger is understanding that it is a normal reaction, exploring the sources of anger, and then finding appropriate ways to channel that anger so that it does not negatively affect our own health or relationships. In some cases, anger can be channelled into worthwhile legal or social action. For example, persons who have had loved ones die due to drunk driving may channel their anger into groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Others use their spirituality or other activities as ways to deal with anger. Each of us needs to find our own way.

One client shared with me that after her child died, she would have "moments of sheer fury." She learned over time to go outside and shout at the sky. "I guess people passing and neighbors thought I was crazy. But the sky seemed to take my fury a lot better than my husband and kids." 

Anger as a Part of Grief was penned by Kenneth J. Doka for the June 2002 issue of Journeys: A Newsletter to Help in Bereavement for the Hospice Foundation of America.  

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