We don’t need to be angry at someone or something to feel anger as part of grief. This anger is not a stage of grief, not a complication, but an intrinsic part of the process. Since much of grief is visceral — a response to perceived danger — we experience a tremendous fight or flight hormonal upsurge. The panic we feel after the death of a life mate is a natural part of this survival mechanism; it alerts us to the danger of being suddenly alone. Anger is the other side of this mechanism, the part that generates the energy necessary to take action.
In many cases, the anger comes first, and the reason for the anger second. Our minds scurry around trying to find a reason for how we feel because as rational beings, we cannot accept unfocused anger, so we search for a focus. Sometimes there really are causes for anger, such as doctors who don’t tell us the truth or who made horrendous mistakes that caused the death. Other times we focus on the deceased, for example, a smoker who died of lung cancer after refusing to give up smoking. Other times we are angry at the cancer that stole our loved ones, at death, at the loved one for leaving us, at ourselves even for not being more of whatever we think we should have been.
Anger is generally considered to be a negative emotion, but like all emotions, it has a positive side. In small doses, anger is a good thing. Anger can give us the strength to survive. Anger can give us the energy to do things we couldn’t do under normal circumstances. Anger can give us a feeling of control in uncertain times, and for sure, grief is an uncertain time. Anger can keep us going when we want to give up. Anger can give us the courage to live with the injustice of death. Anger can motivate us to find solutions to problems, can motivate us to undertake dreaded tasks, can motivate us to change our lives.
Much of grief is a process of change, of adaptation, taking us from a relatively-safe shared life to a relatively-safe solitary life. And it is anger that helps get us there.
In those first weeks after Jeff died, not only did I have all those ghastly end-of-life chores to do by myself, such as arranging for the disposition of his body and dealing with banks and government agencies, I had to pack up and leave our home to go take care of my ninety-three-year-old father. I managed to do everything necessary by using the power of anger. When I was too enervated to do anything, when I was too dazed to think or too stressed, I cried, or paced, screamed or went to bed, but when waves of anger came over me, I didn’t fight the feelings. Instead, I used the faux energy of anger to get things done.
After the initial anger dissipated, I clung to the vestiges of anger to help me get through the lonely days.
The wild grief for a life mate/soul mate makes us feel as if we are out of control or even crazy, but understanding the process and realizing what we are feeling is normal, can make it easier to deal with those feelings.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Unfinished, Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.