Anger: A Bridge Across the Abyss

Anger surfaces once you are feeling safe enough to know you will probably survive whatever comes. At first, the fact you lived through the loss is probably surprising to you. Then more feelings hit, and anger is usually at the front of the line as feelings of sadness, panic, hurt and loneliness also appear. David Kessler
Anger is an energy. It cannot be destroyed or forgotten. It has to be converted. Leo Madow

When we are grieving, anger is another indicator of how much we loved the person who died. If you feel anger over your loved one’s death, you owe no one an apology for your grief—or your anger. It is human to be angry and underneath your anger is your pain. Consider, too, that anger is not a “requirement” of grief because not every griever will feel its force.

There are many reasons to be angry when a loved one dies. You may be angry because: the medical professionals did not do their jobs correctly; friends and relatives say unhelpful things; the person who died left you alone with a legal mess or in a bad situation or caused his own death; someone is responsible for your loved one's death through reckless or violent behavior; God let you down
 and didn’t answer your prayers; you didn’t respond to a crisis the way you wanted; your finances have drastically changed; you have to go back to work; you must now assume the burden of added household responsibilities; you have lost control of your life; or you feel isolated from friends and family.

More reasons to be angry include: the rest of the world acts like nothing has happened; people continue to laugh and tell jokes; bills still need to be paid; night still follows day; the world hasn’t stopped because of your grief; or fill in your own reasons here. You may even be angry that you are healthy and alive and can’t join your loved one just yet.

Anger is a normal part of grief—a bridge of strength and energy (at a time when there is little of either) across the abyss of loss. Anger tells us that we are alive and we loved someone very much. We are angry because now that person is dead. Anger is progress because it means we are feeling the emotions of grief needed in order to heal. The more we honor our loss by allowing ourselves to feel anger, the more healing we will do.

People will criticize our anger because it is uncomfortable to be around. The problem is not anger. The problem arises when we misdirect anger—unfairly—at those around us or turn it towards ourselves. Anger turned inward can create physical and emotional problems such as ulcer, high blood pressure, heart attack, anxiety, depression and abuses of food, alcohol or drugs.

Lashing our unfairly at the people or pets around us, or engaging in reckless behavior, creates all sorts of chaos in our lives. We are already grieving. Anger can cause us to do or say things now that we will regret later, resulting in even more pain.

Unacknowledged anger grows larger and larger until it erupts. Suppression (ignoring it) never works. Angry energy will not go away. It must be released. The more you can understand your anger—how you react when you’re mad—the more you can make changes that allow for your healing.

Anger is an important part of grief. It’s yours, you earned it and no one can (or should) take it from you. Anger can also be a constructive force for good. Just ask the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. (MADD) But when anger becomes the defining characteristic of your grief, a stuck place that causes you and everyone around you to suffer more, please seek professional help to gain a better understanding of it.

Never forget that you are angry because you deeply loved and now the one you loved is gone. You may be shocked when the intensity of your anger is in direct proportion to the intensity of your love for the one who has died. Explore your anger because the more you allow the feelings to surface the more of yourself you will find. Mostly, it will be the pain of loss and your grief will change form again, not in circles going nowhere round and round, but in upward spirals of healing.

Please visit The Red Diary
 for suggestions on exploring and safely expressing this powerful emotion of grief.

Resources and Further Reading:

Fitzgerald, Helen. The Mourning Handbook. New York: Fireside Books, 1994.

Kubler-Ross, Elizabeth and David Kessler. On Grief and Grieving. New York: Scribner, 2005

Kaiser Stearns, Ann. Ph.D. Living Through Personal Crisis, Idyll Arbor, second edition, 2010. Five Star reader reviews.

Dr. Stearns writes: All of us have the rights and responsibilities to take our losses seriously. Grief and pain, when ignored, can do us in, harming us in a dozen ways. Unresolved pain keeps us from being complete. Facing our losses is how we find our freedom again.

Here is a passage about anger from a chapter titled 'Anger and Bitterness Can be a Good Sign':

Whenever life puts us up against a wall, for whatever reason, great anger is usually generated within us…Many of us grew up in an atmosphere where angry feelings were unacceptable to the adults who provided for us and taught us…when we’re grown and a crisis comes, we desperately need to know how to investigate and understand feelings of anger…The rest of the chapter addresses how to do that.

Go to next page: Spirituality and Anger
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