Anger in Grief
This is an advanced and long post. There are a few links early in the post that new followers might wish to branch off for a warm up before the main course, so that the rest of what I am saying might make more sense to you.
Anger is a common component of grief and anger is the most dangerous and destructive emotion. I commonly refer to anger as a cancer of the human soul that consumes love. Grief wounds the human soul and often cancer finds a place in a wounded soul.
In my self-developed model of the human soul https://distillinggrief.com/2023/04/24/a-model-of-a-soul/, I believe that we build metaphysical connections with loved ones that allow us to give and to receive love from each of those that we love. When we are grieving, we are bleeding the life force energy of love https://distillinggrief.com/2023/04/25/what-is-love/ from our soul because of the loss of a loved one, and as our reservoir of love drops anger can come to feed easily.
As we love someone longer and deeper, we establish trust. When we trust, we flow deeper love with less resistance. A special loved one dies and all of the connections we have with them, small and large, deep and shallow will bleed love from our soul towards the memory of them. The process of healing grief can reconnect those broken pathways of love to the permanent memories and monuments that we build in the gardens of our grief (insert link), and the loss of love from our own soul eventually comes to a stop.
If we consider that our soul contains only love, and is entirely responsible for our love of daily life, a sudden flow of love away from our soul can trigger panic. The loss of a deeper and more meaningful love, by its depth and breadth, can empty a soul in a very short time causing extreme anxiety and fear that can outwardly present as anger or resentment, or if internalized as numbness.
I experienced that complete emptiness after the death of our son, but at that time I had no capacity to describe or explain it, so what I felt was simply described as numbness. Numb is a common description of how many people feel when grief first sets in. Numb is often a description of the symptom of not knowing how to feel, not understanding what you feel. That’s logical because every grief is so different, a new and uncharted journey without a map. Numb is uncomfortable and unpredictable, and so, we are often made afraid and become angry by being numb.
When we internalize our anger in grief, often we are punishing ourselves for not having done more, for not doing something, for not seeing this coming, for not somehow intervening and stopping the Universe from taking this life that we loved. There’s an irrational sense of failure, of hopelessness, and of personal responsibility that is unreasonable to place on ourselves. These negative emotions can become self destructive and self defeating quickly, and they can form lasting bad habits as well, because in our sense of failure is a sense that we might actually bear that responsibility and we twist that to we deserve to have our life punish us for the death of a loved one.
Another side effect of grief is that we lose trust in life itself. We question the purpose of the life lost as well as our own life. This is especially challenging for some who seemingly have very well defined purposes that have been derailed by grief. Grief will change how you see your own life, and questioning your own definition of purpose is a healthy and natural part of grief as you heal. But, this questioning of purpose is not wise too early in grief, because your soul is under filled with love and unbalanced to make such significant decisions competently.
The simplest explanation of the pain that we feel in grief is that we have become addicted to the love that we share with each person that we love. People who truly love life will gather love from one or many other people, from many activities and passions. The complex cocktail of love that we build for ourselves is addicting, and that wonderful addiction truly defines us in daily life. When any component of that cocktail of love is removed, we might lose the feeling and love for our life until we find ways to replace or regenerate that part of the blend of love that we live for.
That collection of love that defines our love for life is blended, not compartmentalized. So, when a significant loved one dies and our soul drains some of all of our sources of love, we can lose some or all of what defines us. Through grief, we may become someone quite different from our usual normal, for a time or for a lifetime. These changes can become negative or positive, they can redefine us as we heal, but left unchecked or unhealed they can destroy much of what we are and much of the life we love living.
In the first couple of years after our son died, I could not look myself in the eye in a mirror. I saw that empty space, the confusion, and the destruction of so much that I had loved about life. I saw my own empty soul and wanted to avoid it. I had lost sight of my own value, a value that I had spent decades building and maintaining. My son was a large part of that value, but in those years any love that flowed into my soul drained through the wounds that his loss had left, wound that I had not healed because I did not understand how to best heal them, or even that I was the one who needed to choose to allow my soul to heal them.
While I was numb, there was very little outward anger. I had internalized it and the cancer of that anger was consuming any love that flowed into my soul. Think of it as an auto-immune reaction of the soul that was addicted to love, now unable to expand and live on the little love remaining.
As the reserves of our collected love flow out and away, we create room for that cancer of anger to come to us. The more full of love our life is, the more we become dependent on a feeling if security that an abundance of love generates in us. In grief, we sense love flowing out of us, and that triggers panic. The deeper the love, the faster that outflow is, the more we feel panic. Panic threatens us and often triggers anger.
Slowly, in spite of the serious injury to my soul, love started to collect again. I could smile, and after a time I could even laugh without guilt. My soul was healing itself. As I explored myself, modeled and explained what I was feeling, I came to understand that I could help myself to heal. I understood that it was I who was responsible for how I would change through grief, that I could build a solid joyful memory for each of those broken pathways and that that memory would reduce the amount of love flowing out of my soul. Building good memories was my path back to live and loving life. Each fixed memory, each monument to that love built in my soul improved my feelings about life.
The vast majority of anger in grief is tied to the things that we just can’t change. It’s a lot more than simple frustration or resignation; anger is often a violent call to a forced reflection on mortality and the meaning and purpose of our own lives as well as the life of the loved one we have lost. We are drawn into the vortex of coming to understand that love is meaningful to us, but also that love can be suddenly taken from us by any random event of the chaotic Universe. This loosens and may weaken or break some of our foundations and beliefs, upon which we have built our purpose for life.
In my writings I speak of the three choices we have as Ignore, Change, or Accept https://distillinggrief.com/2023/04/21/only-three-choices/. We can’t safely ignore the reality of the death of a loved one, and we have no capability to change death, so any death brings us to a forced acceptance of that death and the changes it will bring to our lives. It is human nature to fight or resist forced change, especially those changes that we see as negatively impacting our lives.
The question we must inevitably ask ourselves is: How much of our life, a life that we loved, are we willing to, or expected to sacrifice in memory of this death? The simplest answer I found is that the person you are grieving would be ashamed and disappointed if their death caused any damage to your life. They would not want that responsibility for any part of the ruin that you allow to be inflicted on yourself by their death.
With this perspective, it becomes your responsibility to heal and to minimize the damage to your soul and to your life. This is the foundation of what I mean when I distill grief to:
We grieve because we love.
No love, no grief