Anger can be unattractive, there’s no question about it.It’s messy and unpredictable, sometimes loud and violent. And in a world where we like things to make sense, it’s often unacceptable. But never more than when you’re grieving. There’s a long list of people we can be angry with:
The person who died: why didn’t they take better care of themselves? Why didn’t they ask for help? Why did they take such a stupid chance? What were they thinking?
The medical community: why didn’t the doctors notice something was wrong? Why didn’t the paramedics get there sooner? Why hasn’t someone discovered a cure for cancer, etc.?
God: why did you make a good person suffer? Why did you leave those parents without a child? Why did you leave those children without a parent? Why them? Why now? Why not someone else? Why not me?
The family: why didn’t they make him go to the doctor? Why did they let her live alone?
Death is, after all, the great unknown. Despite stories of white lights and visions of deceased relatives, no one’s come back from any extended time in the afterlife. We don’t know what awaits us.
And we REALLY don’t know why people die when they do. We say “it was just their time,” and obviously, it was. When the person we lose is a friend, that sense of helplessness can create even deeper anger.
Many times when I’ve grieved I’ve been angry, although I rarely shared those feelings. Despite being one of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ famous stages of grief, it’s probably the least acknowledged.
Anger can be useful, but when turned inward, is more likely referred to as depression. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about white-hot, body-shaking, screaming-at-the-top-of-your-lungs anger.
You’ve already realized that the grief you feel for your friend is being devalued because you’re not family. And that can add to the anger you already feel.
Even those who are also grieving are unlikely to accept your anger. Think of Sally Field melting down in the cemetery in Steel Magnolias, and the shock on her friends’ faces. The minister in The Big Chill – “I’m angry, and I don’t know what to do with my anger” – is much calmer about it, but the look in his eyes is anything but.
The problem with suppressing the absolutely justified anger we feel when a friend dies is that it will bubble up eventually. It will present itself suddenly and loudly and often in a completely unrelated situation. And that presents its own complications. Screaming at a barista who doesn’t know you won’t bring back your friend.
So, if you’re angry that cancer treatments and cures came too late for your friend…
If you’re angry that your friend’s family dismissed her threats of suicide…
If you’re angry that your friend drove drunk…
If you’re angry that an evil person chose your friend at random to kill…
Embrace that anger: accept it and embrace it. You’re angry because of the pain that your friend’s death has caused. That’s, dare I say it, normal. Frankly, it would be strange if you weren’t angry. You’re angry because you loved them and wanted them to stay close to you always. Selfish maybe, but normal and human.
Anger in itself is a natural reaction to grief and loss; getting mad occasionally is normal. But if anger stays too long, it can develop into a stronger emotion called rage, and that can turn out of control. Anger that is unresolved can create bitterness. If it’s left to fester too long, anger can also turn into fury and vengeance. These are all dangerous and destructive by-products of a normal emotion that you don’t want to keep. Through diligence and forgiveness, the anger you feel now will become weaker until it ultimately changes forms. The energy is still there, but if you allow it to, the anger can change from negative to positive.
Anger tends to come and go before it’s finally resolved. Yes, anger can be resolved, and should be. Rather than being held in the caustic grip of prolonged anger, you can chose to release the powerful and negative emotion. If you hang on to it for an extended period of time, it can become a stumbling block in your recovery. Even though it’s typical to feel this way, it’s important to get these feelings out. However, you don’t ever want to take your anger out on another person. There are some things you can do to release these emotions constructively. When feeling angry:
- Simply count to 10 or take several deep breaths.
- Scribble hard on paper or tear up strips of scrap paper, then wad up the papers and throw it all into the trash; imagine your anger being discarded with the paper.
- Draw, paint or use other art forms to express your anger.
- Talk to someone in your support system or let all your emotions out in your journal. Explain what makes you angry; be honest and open with your words and don’t worry about sounding “right.”
- Exercise and being active helps to release negative energy.
- You may feel like physically letting your emotions out; sometimes expression of anger does not come in words. In those times, you can find a safe place to vent your emotions by yelling, kicking, screaming, stomping your feet, shaking your body, pounding your fists into a pillow, or running. However, if you choose to release your anger in such a way, make sure you tell someone you trust what you are doing and always make certain you remain safe. You don’t ever want to hurt yourself or others while releasing your anger.
- You may choose to direct the negative force into something constructive by becoming an activist for a particular cause or advocate change where it’s needed.
You may find that expressing the feelings you have and helping others makes you feel better. Make the choice to let all the anger go from your heart and then replace it with love.
So, as long as you don’t hurt yourself or anyone else, you have my permission to be angry. Then you can work on channeling your anger into positive action, to keep your friend’s memory alive every day of your life.