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Anger and Acceptance

Anger and Acceptance can often go hand in hand in our bereavement. I want to look at each one separately and see if we can learn some things about each and how they interact in our grieving.


Revisiting experiencing, expressing and dealing with anger during our grieving:

Not every one feels or expresses anger in grief, not everyone has issues with anger while dealing with their often very fragile emotions when they are grieving. If you do feel any of these things, because they come and go and can sometimes show up when least expected and since we didn’t get to really talk about anger last month, I’ve included this discussion again here for us to talk about.

I didn’t really think that I experienced a lot of anger that I expressed or recognized during my grief, although while writing this, I do remember some things now that make me believe I was indeed holding some anger inside myself without realizing it, especially in the early parts of my journey. 

But, I have heard many people talking about their anger in the support group meetings I’ve attended and in conversation with other widows and widowers over the years and in our brief mention of it last month so I’m guessing that it is probably there at some level in most of us. And we probably really do have things to feel angry about considering what has happened to our lives and our loved ones.

There can often be a lot of lack of control involved in bereavement and lots of unresolved questions we may be asking like: Why, why me, why now, this is so unfair, why did you let this happen, how am I going to go on, why did you leave me here alone, how can I deal with all this, why did you say that, why don’t you understand and many other questions like these. 

These things can lead us to frustration and pain and that can sometimes turn into anger and sometimes may make us want to verbally or sometimes physically act out or even strike out in some way to release some of our frustration at what has happened to us and to our loved ones and to our lives and futures. 

Are any of these questions things that have run through your mind or your emotions? How do they make you feel? 

So back to anger:

Anger in our grief, if we experience it, seems to come from many places within us and the situations we find ourselves in. People have talked to me about frustration associated with lack of control, of things happening that were outside their plans and certainly outside their ability to change or effect. Some talked about fear of what the future had to bring and how they would handle it alone. How could they make good decisions without having the shared decision making process they had grown to depend on in their marriage. Most of these were probably the underlying causes of the frustrations and lack of control as well as the pain of grief that sometimes either caused or were masked by anger.

Are any of these feelings/thoughts things that sound familiar to you? How do/did they make you feel? Do any of them make you feel angry? Are there any other things or emotions you could add to this list? 

Frustrations and lack of control may also occur at a deeper level than our every day thoughts and feelings during our bereavement. They can often be submerged below our grief. As it can when we don’t let ourselves express or acknowledge our grief, they too may build up, may grow inside of us without us being aware of it. Sometimes the first indication of their existence is when they break through to the surface and we find ourselves having an angry reaction to something seemingly not that important (a smoke screen). 

Anger, at ourselves or others, can be a way to release some of the tension our frustration may cause. And when we turn it on ourselves or on things or people that only seem to be the cause, the anger may really be a “smoke screen” in its own right. It can be a smoke screen especially for things we really can’t do anything about but maybe are what the real issue is. 

I believe that whenever possible, if we find ourselves getting angry, we should consider trying to stop and ask ourselves why we are angry, what is it about a situation, about something that happened or what some person said or did that makes us angry and more importantly why does it make us feel that way! 

If we can stop and think about why we are angry, often times we may find that our anger is indeed a smoke screen, we aren’t really angry about the words someone said, we are actually angry that what we experienced, what someone said or did triggered our own feelings of lack of control, of grief and/or pain. 

Maybe if we just lash out because we can’t do anything about the real reasons, we just “shoot from the hip” at a convenient target. Sometimes after the anger has passed, we may need to apologize to ourselves or to others for things we may have done or said and maybe try to explain what we learned from the outburst. 

Can we can find a way to not let those frustrations express as anger towards ourselves or someone or something else but instead, try to learn what we can do to resolve the unresolved feelings within ourselves by ourselves or in conversation with others who understand our feelings or are trained to help us find solutions for these deep frustrations?

How might we do that? 

Something to think about:

In grief, many of the things we are unhappy and frustrated about our inability to control or change are just that. We can’t do anything about them. They happened. They are unchangeable and nothing we can do will make it any different.

They certainly include in large part whatever it was that happened to our loved ones that we couldn’t stop or change or fix and of course that our loved ones are not here with us any longer. 

Some people have told me that they are actually angry with their loved ones for leaving them alone, for leaving them to do so many of the things their loved ones used to do or that they did together that they now have to learn to do on their own. 

That’s a pretty large package of possible frustrations to deal with, especially when they are loaded on top of all the other emotions our grief causes us to feel.

But it’s also important, at least intellectually to start with, to remember that for many of these things, no one is or was responsible. No one may have caused these things to happen. For many of them, that’s just how it was and in some way, we have to learn to live with them. That is part of what we need to find and learn in our healing and growth within our grief. 

Obviously, some things that happen in our lives are caused by others. Some things were indeed done by other people and we do have good reasons for our anger. It is sometimes hard during our grieving to separate our justifiable anger for wrongs done from the frustrated anger that comes from our lack of control and loss of our futures. 

The anger I am trying to address here is the anger we direct towards ourselves and other people or towards our loved ones or even towards God because of things that happened that were indeed out of our control, that no one was really at fault in. 

Seeing those distinctions clearly and not taking our frustrations out as anger at or on ourselves or others, of not assigning blame when there was no blame either to ourselves or others, is often a very challenging but important part of our healing and of learning to live within and beyond our grief. 

Acceptance: Dealing with the things we can’t change…

I believe that one of the most difficult but also one of the most important parts of the healing process is finding acceptance within ourselves of what has happened in our lives. Coming to gradually and slowly understand that our loved ones are not coming home, that the place they occupied in our material lives is going to be empty of them forever and nothing we do or wish or think is going to change that. Coming to accept that is perhaps one of the hardest and most painful things we need to do during our hope and healing journey.

However, acceptance is almost essential to building our new lives, to allow us to start to look for and find ways of thinking, of acting and of living that both honor what was and create what will be as we transition from us, to me all alone. Until we accept what has happened, it is difficult to want to even look for alternatives isn’t it!

Acceptance is often a verrrry difficult place to reach. There is often anger, regret, guilt, sadness and probably most of the other emotions that live within grief that we experience and have to work through along the way. The journey is filled with uncertainty and unknowns, some of us have really never been or lived alone in our adult lives. 

For many of us, being with our loved ones has filled essentially all of our adult lives. We have no or very few memories of a time when it wasn’t so. For many of us, we have very few skills or memories that we can apply to help us learn all we need to learn to craft our new lives.

Denial can also be a part of the process of reaching or not reaching acceptance. It’s not necessarily a linear process or part of a list of stages we have to go through, but the magnitude of what we are experiencing is so very difficult to believe and come to terms with that sometimes its easier to deny and keep the hope alive in our hearts that we may yet somehow see things turn around and we will have our loved ones back in our lives again. 

I know I kept saying early in my journey as I tried to convince myself to move forward, “it’s the one thing I want most in the world and it’s the one thing I can’t have. So what do I do now?” I still say that from time to time…

This is only what happened to me but acceptance seems to have crept up on me almost without my knowing it. I wrote these lines in a song a few years ago and it struck me over the weekend that there was a measure of acceptance here about what had happened and that realizing it had helped to allow me to move forward in my life.

“I know you are at peace now, 

resting softly, out of pain.

You’re done with all that sadness

and flying free again…”

I know I realized when I was writing it that I wouldn’t have wanted Andi to go through one more moment of the pain she was enduring and so I had to let her go and I had to accept that not only had she moved on but that it actually, for her, was a good thing. I think that helped me to find a more peaceful acceptance going forward.

I do know that not everyone’s situation had this aspect in it but i believe that it shows that no matter what our particular story is, we all will come to find a moment when we understand and accept the deep reality of what has happened.

Acceptance also doesn’t always come in one single flash of insight or light. It can grow gradually within us over time as it slowly comes into focus. It can also move like our grief does, sometimes we go forward and think we’ve got it and sometimes we go backwards and don’t have it at all and sometimes we stagnate and don’t seem to be going anywhere. These are all part of the process and kind of a “normal” way for us to learn to accommodate the huge changes that have occurred in our lives.

Once acceptance begins to appear, there seem to be times when our acceptance is strong and healing and then on some days along the way, often unexpectedly,  the reality of what has happened reaches out and grabs us again and the pain of that realization triggers our grief back into full intensity, hopefully and thankfully just for a short time and then that too passes.

As with so many parts of grief, there is no timetable here either. We each reach acceptance in our own time and in our own way and when it happens for us, that’s when it happens. 

Where are you at in the process of learning to accept what has happened?

Is there an aspect of denial in your thinking?

What would you like to share about how you feel about acceptance and what you are having a hard time coming to grips with?

What coping skills, social skills and life skills do you need to learn to move forward?

Hope and Healing:

Our journey together here as a Support Group is moving towards working on figuring out what those things are that we need to learn. Hopefully, we can share each others experiences in how we might find and learn those things as part of our healing journeys.