WHEN GRIEF IS LACED WITH ANGER
Am I a bad person if I feel angry after the death of a loved one? Is anger a normal expression of grief? Does my anger get in the way of my grieving? Can the passion of my anger help me cope with my loss, or does it complicate my grief work?
These are a few of the questions that surface when grief is laced with anger. There is no shortage of reasons to be angry during the Coronavirus Pandemic. When we are deprived of the opportunity to visit our loved ones in the hospital, we feel frustrated, helpless, and angry. We want to be there to offer support and comfort. We may be infuriated at a family member who brought the virus into our home. We may be upset at ourselves for having visited a vulnerable loved one. We may be outraged that certain businesses do not carefully protect their customers. We may be annoyed at confusing messages about how to protect ourselves. After a loved one dies, we may feel angry at our religious or political leaders who persuaded us that it was okay to congregate in crowds. We may feel incensed because we were ordered back to work even while our work environment was not safe. Anger exploded as we learned that COVID-19 disproportionately killed minorities, the elderly, and people with previous health conditions. So many reasons to be angry.
And while the pandemic continues, the use of violence by police, protesters, federal agents, and anarchists provokes more anger. When we grieve loved ones who died because of violence, there is plenty of cause for anger. That fury spilled out into the streets of major cities across the USA and the world. Pent up anger erupted as people remembered so many lives lost to unjust violence.
As a grief educator, I can assure you that anger is not new to conversations in grief support groups. Mourners often express anger at their loved ones who “abandoned” them. Some express exasperation at a loved one for not fighting hard enough to survive the illness. Some express outrage at the drunk driver. Some express scorn at an unjust healthcare system.
Parents who lost children in school shootings bring their rage to grief support groups and grief counselors. During our first decade of teaching facilitators of grief support groups, we did not hear much about death due to violence. Yet, after the killing of Trayvon Martin, the flood gates opened, and many parents began attending grief support groups. Their anger and pain went deep. We designed a new program just for parents who had lost children to violence.
Anger at God.
Because we facilitated grief support groups in faith communities, we heard plenty of expressions of anger at God. How many times did we hear? “We believed God’s promises. We believed in prayers for healing. We believed the pastor and the church family that gathered in prayer vigils, but our loved one died anyway. We feel betrayed and abandoned, confused, hurt, and angry.”
Here is an example of when psychology and scripture agree; Anger is a normal manifestation of grief. Like Job, who railed at God for the injustice of his multiple losses, mourners in our grief support groups felt empowered to either blame God or accuse God of indifference. We listened. We were moved to compassion. We shared our wounds with each other. We embraced each other’s pain. We built community around our common losses.
Is it okay to be angry? We learned from mourners that many of us grow up in religious families where the expression of anger was punished. We may have been taught at an early age that anger was not okay? We may have grown up in a religious home where being polite and nice were rewarded, but expressions of anger were condemned. With that teaching so ingrained in us from childhood, if we feel angry while grieving, then we may feel guilty for being angry. Grief laced with anger becomes complicated. Right?
What do we do with our anger?
A psychology professor friend of mine taught me that anger is neither good or bad; it is a normal human emotion. The value in anger is what you do with it. Can you take the energy of anger and make the world a better place? In the first grief support group I attended, a mother told how her son had been killed by a drunk driver and how her grief became intertwined with her anger. Eventually, she joined MADD (Mother’s Against Drunk Drivers) and invested her anger energy in campaigns of awareness to reduce the incidence of innocent lives being lost to drunk drivers. This is an example of how the passion of anger can be transformed into activity that gives life meaning and purpose. Parents of Murdered Children is another example.
I would like to invite the readers of this blog to join the Facebook Group: Grief Care-Givers. You will be given access to resources for grief support groups. I also invite you to join in conversation with other participants to comment on the theme: When grief is laced with anger.
Here are some discussion questions for the Facebook group:
1. Can you share a time when you experienced anger as you grieved the loss of a loved one?
2. Was your anger socially accepted or rejected by your family or community?
3. What did you do with your anger?
4. What would you do differently today?
Here’s the link to the FB Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/GriefCareGiversGroup/?ref=bookmarks