One of the strongest emotions you may face during times of grief is anger.
I have found through the years that anyone who hasn’t been through a tough grief experience, they aren’t quite sure what to do with a loved one who is dealing with anger after an unfair or tragic loss.
Anger is a very uncomfortable emotion. Most people want a remedy that is instant…but anger has to run its course.
Outside of the ground rule I have for those I coach through grief of “Grieve however you need to grieve…as long as you don’t harm God, others, or yourself,”…I never tell a grief-stricken person to not be angry.
Some are going to be angry. Angry at God…angry at other people, including family…angry with a doctor or other hospital workers…angry at life…angry that life drastically changed…angry at the lack of being able to turn back time…angry at injustices…angry at other’s wrongdoings…angry about rejection or a hurtful divorce/breakup…angry at feeling hopeless or helpless…angry you prematurely or unfairly lost a loved one…angry you were mistreated by people you trusted. The fact is, anger is sometimes interlocked with grief.
One time, at a monthly grief group I lead, there was an attendee who very unfairly went through the premature death of a loved one who meant the world to them. This attendee was screaming… cussing… insulting me… but I didn’t stop it. Another attendee was about to stand up for me and correct the person, but I quickly interrupted and just allowed the parent to get it all out. I sensed they didn’t need corrected or judgment…they needed compassion and understanding in the midst of their shattered life and their heart being torn apart.
A grief group should offer a safe place where each attendee can feel how they need to feel, and have the freedom to work through the tough, difficult, and agonizing emotions. When you try to make grief predictable… safe… sterile… you shortchange the person you are trying to help.
The thing is…as I explained to everyone in my grief group – whose eyes were as big as silver dollars at the outburst – why shouldn’t the person who was throwing the fit be angry?They just lost one of the most precious, highly treasured gifts they had ever been given in life. This grief event changed life as they knew it. I’ve seen people become unglued when they temporarily lost a replaceable possession such as a car, home, job, or even when breaking something as silly as a fingernail…and everyone understood – so why not be understanding and empathetic when someone permanently loses a person they greatly love here on earth?
“I sat with my anger long enough until she told me her real name was grief.”
~ C.S. Lewis
I think it is totally justifiable to have a time for anger during times of grief…without having an outside person trying to remove it, control it, fix it, or lessen it. If someone went through the heartbreaking loss of a loved one’s death…the loss of their marriage or an important relationship…found out they have an untreatable or terminal illness…went through the loss of a job after years of loyalty and service…was abused or assaulted…went through the devastation of adultery…if they had an injustice done to them or a loved one…if they experienced prejudice or any other social unfairness…or someone came back physically, emotionally, or mentally wounded after serving in the military…etc. Well, those experiences are harsh, and absolutely horrible. They’re life-changing. Why wouldn’t they be mad? They should be mad for awhile – if they need to be. They had terrible, heartbreaking, or unfair things happen to them in life and they should have full understanding and support from loved ones (family, friends, church family, etc) to work through their anger…as long as they aren’t harming God, others, or themselves.
I think society needs to become more comfortable with allowing people to feel what they need to feel during times of grief. And anger is a part of it.
If people on the outside are frustrated with how a loved one is processing grief, think how the griever feels on the inside. They’re frustrated, too. Probably, more so. They most certainly didn’t sign up for the grief experience they’re having to walk through…and when family or friends lack compassion, understanding, and genuine love and empathy, think how much that compounds their hurt and frustration.
If you have a loved one who is experiencing deep hurt, allow them to hurt without trying to fix them. If you have a loved one who is experiencing anger, allow them to be angry. If they are feeling shattered, allow them the dignity to grieve over their tremendous loss without any judgment.
Majority of grievers will grow through their grief…in time. But they aren’t going to get over it…..no, they will instead need family and friends who care enough to stick around who will actively love them back to life so they are able to get through it.
Even in the toughest life situations, it is never wise to camp out in the wilderness of anger longterm. If you stay angry, or make anger a lifestyle, your grief and pain will be in vain.It will destroy you and your loved ones from the inside out, and will harm your relationships and your quality of life…but anger for a season isn’t bad.
Anger can have great value. For example: as a society, we immediately teach children that anger is a bad emotion…and by doing so, we fail to show them that anger can be a healthy emotion (when used correctly with care) that can be a helpful, driving catalyst to bring about great change. Anger reveals an injustice, injury, or hurt we have experienced in life…and these revelations eventually open up opportunities to prevent similar situations from happening – or to help others who are going through a similar situation.
When a griever is allowed the freedom to feel angry about their loss…mind you, not stay in their anger longterm, but to feel the expected feelings of anger…they are fully using their emotions and heart to process their grief.
The alternative is not pretty.
I’ve seen a lot of grievers stifle their anger or stuff it down, and, instead, turn to alcohol, drugs, and other addictions to numb their pain.
It is far more valuable for a griever to go through – and work through – anger than to permanently destroy their life by denying, burying it, holding it in, or stifling it. Anger is a way of a griever’s heart screaming what they know to be true: “grief sucks…this is not fair…this should not have happened.” Because, ultimately, that is what anger is…it’s acknowledging that what took place in life was hurtful, tragic, unfair, and not right.
The next time you have a loved one who is horrifically hurting in grief, please keep in mind they truly are not trying to be a pain…they instead are in pain.
Expecting a griever, who went through a tragic life event, to not have anger or intense pain would be like unfairly expecting a person who was in a horrible car accident to conceal their pain while in the ambulance or emergency room.
Instead of judgment, please show kindness and mercy, and help them through their hard time. No words necessary…just love them, listen to them, stick around, and be there.Give them the respect and gift of time so they are able to thoroughly understand their grief and how their grief event has impacted their life.
Make the commitment to meet loved ones who are grieving exactly where they are, and to be the kind of family member or friend who is an active, restorative support system to loved ones throughout grief and life.
Always be the mercy and compassion today that you hope to receive in the future.
“It is important to feel the anger without judging it, without attempting to find meaning in it. It may take many forms: anger at the health-care system, at life, at your loved one for leaving. Life is unfair. Death is unfair. Anger is a natural reaction to the unfairness of loss.” ~Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Gratitude, grace, & blessings,
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