Virginia Ironside’s book ‘You’ll Get Over It’ has an interesting subtitle – The Rage of Bereavement. That description may resonate with many of us, but even if you’ve not felt actual ‘rage’ at the loss of your loved one, ‘anger’ may be a more familiar emotion. It’s a common thread running through the experiences of people who have been widowed while young at some stage of their grief journey.
It’s important to realise that feeling angry following bereavement is normal and there are a number of reasons for it:
Who or what are we angry with?
We can get angry with a whole range of people – doctors or medical staff, relatives, people involved in the death, church ministers. Those with a faith can feel angry at God for letting it happen, and we may even be angry with ourselves or with our loved one for leaving us. Indeed, we may be angry with just about anyone who crosses our path!
How can we deal with it?
Although anger may be normal, it’s a very powerful emotion. It has the potential to lead us into unhelpful ways of thinking, so it’s vital that we handle it in positive ways.
First, it’s important to confess our anger – to accept that’s how we feel – and, once we have done that, to express it in appropriate ways. Screaming in the shower, thumping the cushions, or hard physical activity may help, but it will be better to find some friends with whom you can be open and honest about the way you are feeling. Choose friends you trust and who you know well.
Suppressed anger is anger that you keep locked inside yourself either because you feel you shouldn’t be angry or because you don’t want others to see your anger. This is not helpful as it may erupt in inappropriate ways, hurting both yourself and others. It can also lead to general irritability, short-temperedness and even illness.
Try to find something that gives you a way to turn your anger into something positive that will make a difference.
Anger need not be destructive; in fact it can be constructive and positive if it is focussed in the right way and we can use it to help us on our grief journey. Perhaps we can put our energies into doing all we can to help a cause related to our experience – raising awareness of an illness, for example, or improving road safety. Perhaps we could fundraise for charities that help others going through bereavement, write a book or start a blog. Whatever it is, try to find something that gives you a way to turn your anger into something positive that will make a difference. For many, it will be being determined to be the best single mum or dad they can be, or working hard as the family’s sole breadwinner.
Although anger is normal in the first few weeks and months after bereavement, anger that persists unabated for many months, or that turns into bitterness and consumes thoughts, is always destructive. This kind of long-term anger is usually the result of not being able to accept what has happened. The “if only” questions hold us in the past and make it difficult to move forward. It is said that bitterness can only hurt the one who is bitter. George Herbert, a 17th century poet, wrote that, “He who cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass …” Although extremely difficult if there is real fault, exploring the possibility of forgiveness may be the only way to work towards releasing bitterness.
Anger is probably one of the strongest emotions that those who are widowed young have to face, but it can be turned into something positive. If that seems impossible for you right now, please do speak about it to a friend or contact us to be put in touch with a WYS befriender – we’d be glad to talk to you.
‘You’ll Get Over It’ – The Rage of Bereavement, Virginia Ironside. Published by Penguin. ISBN 0-14-023608-2