In this series, we are talking about the stages of grief and how they look in our life or in the lives of our loved ones. I would like to make one thing clear before we go any farther.
Anytime we go through a situation that causes deep grief many people are affected and many will go through these stages of grief.
For example, I got very sick with Transverse Myelitis in 2009 and it left me paralyzed from my ribs down. This has absolutely and profoundly changed my life and it has been a great loss that I have grieved. So, it affected me very much personally. However, although my husband has full function of his body, he has also had his own grief and loss. My paralysis was not in his plans and ideas of our life together. So when we talk about grief and how to identify it in yourself and in others, don’t just think of the one the most closely associated. I know couples that we have talked to that have a disability and at times I have been more troubled and concerned for the able-bodied spouse than I have been for the disabled one. So, be alert to all involved in the grieving process.
Last post, we talked about the first stage of grief which is denial. In this post, we are going to tackle the next stage of grief which is anger. Most of us think of anger as slamming our fist into a wall or bashing a window in. We think of it as a raging temper tantrum! While this is true, anger takes on different forms.
1. Outright Anger
I remember one day when I was newly paralyzed. At that time, we lived in a two-story house. My laundry room was downstairs and I decided that I was going to go down those stairs and do some laundry. I had an extra wheelchair and I told my children to put it at the bottom of the stairs to wait on me. Upstairs, I got myself out of my wheelchair and onto the floor at the top of the stairs. I would throw my legs out in front of me, grab the handrail and sort of plopped my way down those steps. I transferred into my waiting chariot at the bottom of the steps and did some laundry! Success!! I was so proud of myself. Time to go back upstairs. I transferred back to the bottom step. I grabbed the rail and tried to pull myself up to the next step. I could not get my rear to lift at all! I was pulling with all my might. I felt like I weighed 1,000 pounds! Going down steps is one thing. Going up them is a whole new ballgame! I tried this and I tried that. I f…i…n…a…l…l…y got to the next step and was heartsick at how many more I had to go. With each step, I got angrier and angrier at being paralyzed! How easy were the old days when I would bound up those steps with not even a thought! About 45 minutes later, I finally reached the top. I was exhausted. I was angry. While still sitting on the floor at the top of the steps, I grabbed my wheelchair and in one erratic decision decided to hurl it down those stairs praying it would break into a million pieces! As I was about to let it soar, I quickly thought how I would be stranded and that is the
thing that stopped me. That is outright, obvious anger. Someone may cry or shout. Someone may punch or hit. Someone may throw or break something. Someone may lash out hateful or hurtful words. “I don’t need you!”, “Get out of here!!”, “You don’t know what I am going through!!” or “Leave me alone! I never want to see you again!” may be expressions you could here.
Outright anger is hurtful. If you are the one doing it, you know that you have hurt someone else (I do not mean physically hurting another person – that should never be tolerated under any circumstances) and you are now even more angry with yourself. If you are on the receiving end of someone’s outright anger, it is confusing. You know they are angry and probably don’t mean what they say, but they have hurt your feelings very badly and you want to retaliate.
If you feel angry, you need to put your self in a safe zone where you won’t hurt others. There were times, I would get so very frustrated, I would punch my legs. Who cares. I couldn’t feel them anyway. There were times I would go to my shower and cry my head off. I mean a whaling angry cry. There were times I would go outside and just need to breathe. All alone. The key thing is that I did not do any of these things in front of my family. I did not want to hurt them as I came through this process. If your loved needs to be alone to regroup – let them!
2. Subtle Anger
Subtle anger is harder to identify because it comes out in many different ways. I have told the story before of deciding that my housework was too hard and so I took to my bed for 3 days. I did not yell. I did not cry. I just didn’t come out of my room. I wasn’t depressed. I just did not want to see the mess. If I saw the mess, then I had to clean it. When I tried to clean, it was just too hard and not the way it used to be at all. So, I ignored it and hid from it. I got away with it until my husband confronted me and told me that if I was sick he was going to take me to the doctor. If I wasn’t sick, he wanted to know what was going on. I will tell you that by the end of that conversation my anger came out and I almost threw a book at him! I didn’t. 🙂 I knew he was right and I got up. I was angry and it came out by avoiding.
My husband would get so mad at himself if he accidentally bumped me into a wall while pushing me. He was angry at himself for not being able to protect me enough from paralysis. He would get angry if he could not get my clothes on right. I would get angry that he got up in the night with the kids now instead of me. I would get angry if he did not clean the places I could not reach like I cleaned them. I would get angry that he was the one swinging the kids on the playground. He would get angry when their wasn’t a handicapped parking place for me. He would get angry when a family outing that was supposed to be accessible was not. I would get angry when he tried to help me too much. He would get angry when I wouldn’t let him help me enough. All of this anger from two very grieving individuals.
Many people check out of their marriages at this point.
There was much hurt, anger and confusion. We were determined that although it seemed like we were mad at each other a lot, we were committed to one another. We knew we were hurting. We knew we were lost in this strange new world. We knew that no matter how mad we were at one another, we wanted to journey this road together. We clung to the Lord and to each other even when we were angry.
Do you know how most of those anger examples came out though?
. If he bumped me, he would be grouchy for the next hour and I wouldn’t know why. In truth, it was because he felt stupid that he couldn’t drive me without maybe hurting me more. But I didn’t know that. I just knew he was grouchy and I would lash back. If the children cried out in the night and he would jump up to help them, I would lay there and the tears would roll down my cheeks. I would ask for him to bring them to me so I could help him and he would sweetly tell me to go back to sleep and rest – it was fine and he had them settled in. He was being precious and his only desire was to help me. However, my mommy heart was breaking that I couldn’t comfort my child in the night. Instead of telling him what was really wrong, I would turn from him and feel like he was just trying to take my place. It would affect our next day because I felt hurt at him. But in reality, I was grieving over a “mommy” loss and I did not want to be replaced.
This leads to another area where subtle anger rears its head. Believe it or not, it is jealousy. Ask any sibling who lives with a special needs sibling about jealousy. Many times, they struggle being angry at the disabled sibling because they are jealous. The disabled child requires a lot of personal one on one care from the parents and the other children can feel left out and wishing they could get attention like that. I have been jealous of Jimmy. Jimmy has been jealous of me. A close family member told me she was jealous because nobody read her blog and she wished I would stop using my wheelchair to my advantage. These things hurt, but they are just evidence of anger and a grieving process.
Anger can be outright or it can be subtle. Anger can be internal or external. Anger can be aimed at people, objects (my wheelchair) or God. Remember Job’s wife? She has always gotten a bad rap, but my heart goes out to her. She also lost her children, her servants, her wealth, and then her husband lost his health and she became caretaker. Her anger lashed out to Job, but was really directed at God. She looked at Job (who I am sure she hurt with her words) and told him to curse God and die. Ouch. She was a grieving woman and she was angry. Job told her not to talk foolishly. He took the conversation back to God where he knew her real problem was. She did not want Job dead.
What can we do about this stage of grief? I will just offer my advice as one who has learned through trial and error!
You would think that I would be a wonderful communicator as a writer and speaker. And, on the whole, I do love to communicate with others, but I have a terrible flaw. I have a John Wayne side to me that says I am tough and I will not struggle or complain. I do think we should greatly bridle our struggles and complaints, but I have learned that instead of anger coming out all the little holes of my life, it is better to open the spout and let the water flow from the real channel.
I vividly remember the night that Jimmy went again to check on one of our children in the night. Again, I felt angry. Again, I felt ready to smother my feelings and just give the cold shoulder. However, this time, when he came back in, I let him see the tears. I told him my heart and how it was breaking for my child. I told him that I could not get to their beds, but could he please bring them to me even if just for a kiss so they would know that I cared and was there for them…even if I could not get to them. Jimmy was shocked to know that I had been struggling with this. He was also more than happy to do this for me if it was important.
I had to learn to let him know that when he pushed me in front of people it made me feel like I was an old lady! But, when we were alone and I was exhausted, pushing me was fine. He would not have known those differences if I had not shared my heart. He had to let me know that he had always been a gentleman and enjoyed helping me. A wheelchair made no difference to him. I had to learn that when I didn’t let him help me in front of others, it made him worry that others would think he wasn’t a gentleman to his wife. I didn’t think of it like that at all! Communicating our why’s are very important. Otherwise, we just snap and turn on one another while the deeper reasons stay buried in our pride.
Job didn’t yell at his wife and tell her “just hit the road then if she really didn’t care!” He didn’t sit and cry and say, “How could you say that to me? Don’t you love me?” No. He guided the conversation to the real problem. My hubby has had to do that to me on many occasions, and I have had to do that to him. Truly loving someone means you tough love sometimes.
I still wish I could talk my husband into spending an entire day in my wheelchair. I want him to “get it.” He always says that watching me gives him a good enough picture to know he wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It wouldn’t work anyway because at the end of the day, he could still get up and walk away from it so he would miss the emotional side. In turn, how could I relate to his side of watching someone you love struggle? How could I do for him all that he does for me? We can never truly relate to how someone else feels.
If we remain in a spirit of competition as to who has it worse, we will forever be attacking one another.
Give grace. I don’t have to know exactly how Jimmy personally feels. He doesn’t have to know exactly how I personally feel. If we have communicated those feelings to one another, than that should be enough for us to extend grace.
In the anger stage of grief, grace must be abundant. We can hold a boundary with others. We can remove ourselves. We can get the conversation to where it really needs to be. But without grace, we will hurt each other wrongly. Grace must extend beyond our comfort zone. Grace understands that all of us struggle. Grace is treating others in their struggle like we would like to be treated in our own. Grace does not enable bad behaviors, but instead remains committed while they find their way to a better place. Grace is not easy nor is it natural and that is why I need God in my life.
I know this has been long, but this is a big deal. I think it is because for the most part, you do get through the anger “stage”, but when deep grief has been a part of your life, it never goes away. You just learn to deal with it and that is why these are stages. At times, grief can rare its head again and you are back in the trenches with it. The dealing time gets shorter but the grief is always there. This is why it is so crucial to learn how to navigate through these waters.
Anger can easily get out of hand. We are to be angry and sin not. I still get frustrated and angry at times over my paralysis, but I know what to do about it to get through it. Job handled his wife correctly because it says he did not sin with his lips. Job and his wife had more children so I know his wife made it through it all okay. We will too. We must learn how to handle our own anger and how to handle it in others. I hope this will at least give a foundation to understanding anger in our grieving process.
I love reading your comments. They encourage me so! Thank you!!