(And how to get over it.)
Saying goodbye to him was the hardest thing I ever tried to do. I couldn't do it.
People told me to reach out to God but I was too angry. People told me to call them but what did they know? I was too resentful. I’d see old men and wonder why did they get to live and he had to die? I was too pissed.
When Kubler-Ross did her seminal work on grief, she was sure to include a stage on anger.
While researchers have discounted stage theory, the experts agree that anger plays a major role in grief and loss. It colors the grieving by pushing others away, making excuses for behavior, and withdrawing to avoid the pain.
For many, being angry is more acceptable than being sad. Sad comes from hurt and we don’t want to hurt anymore.
We fear exposing our vulnerability, so we lash out at those around us. It could be towards someone close or a total stranger. It's scary if you’ve been the nice guy or girl all your life but now, you're the emotional bitch.
Anger is your body’s natural reaction to threat. The threat can be real or perceived. Someone died, there’s nothing more threatening.
While grieving, you are not yourself, you are going to misperceive a lot. I said, "A LOT". There's nothing, nothing wrong with being angry. You lost someone precious, your indignation is righteous.
When people tell you to let it out, that there are no wrong ways to grieve, they're not thinking about anger and are not expecting a "meltdown" so they tend to get confused or defensive at best and retaliatory at worst.
Meanwhile, your emotions flap in the breeze like laundry on a line. It's a scary time and here are three steps to help you through the anger stage of grief:
1. Recognize you're not yourself.
You're coming to grips with the "new normal". Remember: When normal people go through abnormal events, they tend to act abnormally.
Repeat this in your head, then say it out loud.
2. Express your anger.
That’s right, say it. Anger is normal, but what you do with it is either constructive or destructive. Lashing out is destructive but holding it in can be equally destructive.
By recognizing it early you can deal with it in a constructive manner: "Strike while the iron is COLD."
Give yourself some time to cool down then come confront the person or situation with an "I" statement followed by a feeling, followed by a behavior. For example, "I get pissed every time you tell me what to do..."
When we grieve, we need structure but we loathe others telling us how we feel or what we should do about it.
3. Ask for forgiveness.
This is the hardest one and the one that makes me angry the most. But, it's the one that brings the most release.
Practice grace. While you're grieving, you find out that life is all that matters, all else is vanity. The only way to let go of anger is to ask for and grant forgiveness.
Get better at it. Print up a card and read it verbatim if you need to: "Forgive me for being such a bitch when I told you to perform an unnatural act …" or "I forgive you for saying, ‘you are young, you will get over it.'"
Only then can you let go of the anger. Forgiving the one who died my be harder yet. Writing a letter, praying, or simply talking out loud to them could be effective for you.
Lastly, letting go of the anger does not mean letting go of the one you lost. Just the opposite. Letting go of your anger means that you can see the world more clearly, and in turn see the one you for whom you grieve more clearly.
You will be even closer to the one you lost, your memories will be more complete, and your grief, more focused and bearable.
Don’t believe me now, just remember what I am about to say. You will be a better person than you were before. You will see the value of life and what is truly important.
You may not want that, you may still hurt because of the hole in your heart and you will likely get angry in the future. But because of this horrible situation, you will have the chance someday to help someone else who is hurting like you now hurt.
Please read my first two articles, "The 10 Biggest Lies I Told Myself When My Son Died" and "The Stage They Forgot To Tell Me About".