Grief is not really an emotion—for most people, it’s a complicated package of emotions, some ra-tional, others less so. We think of grief as being synonymous with sadness… and thus think of tears as the most appropriate response. Sadness is definitely part of the grief package, but it’s far from the whole deal. Some people find that sadness isn’t even the dominant emotion they experi-ence after the death of a loved one, and some find that they have no urge to cry. Instead, they feel angry.
In our culture, anger isn’t generally considered a positive emotion. In fact, it’s less positive than sadness—sadness we think of as a normal response to events that are disappointing or devastat-ing—ie, the death of a loved one. But it’s harder to find examples where our society as a whole condones anger. Anger is something that we strive to manage, to overcome, to breathe through and in general to make go away.
Although anger is a perfectly reasonable, rational reaction to the death of a loved one, our socie-ty’s general discomfort with anger can make it hard to express your anger—and might also make you feel uncomfortable with the anger you’re feeling.
Of course, anger can also be expressed in ways that aren’t appropriate. Although anger is an en-tirely natural part of the grief process, that doesn’t make it ok to lash out at the person in front of you at the grocery store.
Anger Makes Sense
There’s a reason anger is a common grief response—it makes sense. We generally feel anger when we feel like we’ve been treated unfairly or we’ve been victimized. If someone you love re-cently died, especially if he or she died young, you’ll likely look at everyone else going about their business and think, why me? Why did my loved one have to die when all of these people are still alive?
Being angry is a way of saying “This is not ok, I am not ok.” That is an entirely valid response to early death.
Note that anger is a natural part of grief even when there was no fault at all—someone who died after receiving stellar medical care, for example. It can be even more all-consuming when there is a guilty party—in the case of medical errors, accidents caused by negligence, homicides. It’s even more complicated if your loved one died by suicide or because of their own negligence—if that’s the case, you’ll probably find yourself struggling to get over your anger at him or her for being so careless with his or her life.
Making Room for Anger
The challenge is to find ways to acknowledge your anger without directing that anger in a way that’s inappropriate. If you feel like anger is one of the primary emotions you’re experiencing after the death of your loved one, working with a counselor can help you find ways to give voice to that anger and the legitimate reasons to someone who understands—and doesn’t fear—anger. It can also help you develop strategies for expressing and managing your anger in a healthy way that doesn’t hurt people around you. Eventually, we’ll work on ways to live with anger about you’re loved one’s death, because even if your anger is entirely justified it can prevent you from moving your life forward and healing.
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