When anger gets in the way of grieving…
Just as grief is the normal response to loss, anger is a normal emotional reaction to loss. In normal grief, anger may be directed at the loved one who died, as in, “why did you abandon me?”
But, when the loss is due to death by violence, the anger is often directed at the one who caused the death, especially in cases of murder, gang violence, or a mass shooter.
A mother in Colombia, whose son died at the hands of a drug dealer, described how she organized a group of armed men and marched up the hill to the neighborhood where her son’s assassin lived with intentions to take his life in revenge. They never found the guy who killed her son. Months later, the mother participated in a training workshop that I conducted in Bogota. She told our group how her anger and rage had consumed her life. All she could think about day and night was revenge. She put her grief work “on hold” while her anger poisoned her daily life.
A father, whose son was murdered in school, attended the trial of his son’s murderer. The judicial process went on and on for many months. Meanwhile, the father decided that he could no longer allow the anger to control his life. He felt like he had developed a bondage to anger. Finally, he decided to forgive the perpetrator, not because the guy deserved mercy, but because the father needed to liberate himself from the bondage to anger. Once he did that, he set himself free to do his grieving.
Sometimes, anger gets in the way of grief. To put it another way; it’s often easier to go to our anger than it is to enter into that deep place of sadness called grief. Anger is an emotion that is more than willing to stand in for sadness, especially if people around us don’t really give us permission to express sorrow.
Our grief journey can easily get kidnapped by a desire for revenge or justice. The mother in CoIombia finally let go of her compulsion to get revenge, and focused on doing her grief work. She arrived at a place where she decided that her hate was dominating her life and as long as she held on to that rage, her son’s assassin still controlled her life. When she gave up her passion for vengeance; she felt free to rebuild her spiritual self. That became the path to her healing.
Questions for discussion:
After reading the above paragraphs, ask the group,
1. Have you ever experienced a loss where your anger took over your life?
2. Have you ever been surrounded by a community (family, friends, faith group) that didn’t really give you permission to enter into the sadness of grief?
3. Is it possible to “seek justice” and also do our grief work?