October 26, 2009

Just because grief and loss hold the seeds for a glorious flowering of spirit, does not mean that it is okay that someone we love has died.

It is natural to go through periods of anger during the grieving process.  Our whole being roars its objection to what has happened, crying out against the reality in which we find ourselves.  Who would choose to lose of a loved one?  A primal “No!” rises from the depths of our souls.  As well it should.

This kind of anger has many faces.  It may manifest as an irrational irritability about the way your partner chews his food or your mother strokes your cheek.  I may be triggered when my friend is afraid that if she speaks about my daughter I will get upset, while all I want is for other people to share their memories and feelings so that I don’t feel like I am carrying this loss alone.  It can be righteous indignation directed at the doctors who misdiagnosed or mistreated or carelessly communicated with our loved one.  When well-meaning acquaintances stop you in the grocery store to express their sympathy and assure you that your loved one is in a better place, we may want to throw a vegetable at them.  Our feelings may boil down to simple rage against a God who could allow such a thing to happen.  And in the secret depths of the heart, we find ourselves blaming our loved one for leaving us, for being reckless with their precious life, for making us suffer.

My friend Ted Wiard is widely considered to be the Grief Guru around here, as a result of the multiple tragic losses he has endured and the transformational effect they have had on him.  Ted says that the anger many of us feel when we lose someone we love is a form of protest.  It is not a sign of weakness or evidence of a bad attitude.  Rather, it’s a natural response to circumstances we cannot yet bring ourselves to accept.

And even when we have already experienced moments of acceptance and peace, the anger still rises from time to time.  Grief is a dynamic, ever-changing reality.  There is no check-list to get through, ticking off each task as we complete it, at the end of which we are all better.  It is a life-long dance, a constant opportunity to open and grow.  The trick is to approach our grief with as much awareness and compassion as we can muster.

Sometimes still when I think of my vibrant daughter, of her desire to be a doctor, of her environmental passion and concern for human rights, about her quirky sense of humor and love of baking, I am felled by a tidal wave of fury.  As I kneel gasping on the shore of my wrecked heart, a silent stream of epithets flows from my lips.  I hate this situation, that my beautiful, talented, compassionate girl is gone.  These rage-attacks have happened often enough over the past eight years that I no longer criticize myself for them.  I know they will pass, and that there is nothing wrong with me for protesting against this loss.

The danger seems to come with unconsciousness.  When we do not recognize anger as a natural response to an untenable situation, we may lash out against someone we care about and rupture a relationship, which creates more grief.  We may be so busy accusing everyone else of wrong-doing that we do not give ourselves the space we need to fully feel our feelings, allowing them to move through and transform us.  Or we may be so conditioned by society that anger is a bad thing and we are bad for feeling and expressing it that we double our pain with harsh self-judgment.

I still find myself behaving badly sometimes when a wave of grief comes dressed in anger.  I become resentful and defensive, and then, because I am a “nice person,” I find myself over-apologizing and over-explaining, hoping that I will receive the compassionate response I am yearning for.  But no one seems to be able to make me feel better in these moments.  I am pissed off, and it will pass.  I offer myself whatever self-soothing thoughts I can come up with, and trust that I will be forgiven for any uncomfortable moments I may have imposed on others.  Usually, absorbed in dramas of their own, they forget about these exchanges long before I do.

Be kind to yourself.  Grief is a hard job, and you are doing the best you can.

One Response to “Rebellion”

  1. sutprem said

    Thank you for addressing what anger, as a result of grief, can look like from the outside. It is so essential through the journey of grief to be kind to ourselves, as those we have lost surely would have wanted that for us. Being truely human is all we are expected to do here. To live daily with some degree of self reflection and conciousness, about our feelings and behaviors, is in itself a great practice resulting in a sense of connectedness to all life.

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