“Why is she so………..angry????” Yup, you guessed it. The “She” referred to in that question was Yours Truly. It was posed to my husband after I had a rather memorable meltdown prior to the commencement of a small family reunion being held at our cabin during our summer vacation, only five short months since my sweet Samuel had died and then was born. Thankfully, I was out of ear shot at the time, as I am fairly certain that my response would not have been very constructive.
I had been quite wound up preparing for the trip and getting ready to host relatives coming to visit from overseas. The packing up had started at 7 am on the Wednesday and continued non stop until Saturday night at 11pm. We and our four children, our dog, our minivan with roof box and silver equipment trailer stuffed to the brim, left the following Sunday morning at 4 am. Yes, you read that right, 4 am. We traveled as non stop as one can with four kids, our youngest with us now being all of two years old, and arrived at our cabin at 11 pm Sunday night. “Epic” is the only word I have which effectively describes that effort. To say that I was exhausted seems obvious. We were all exhausted but we felt excited too. We were finally on holidays!
Upon arriving, we started the grand unpack. The kids needed some time to adjust to the new surroundings, and we began setting up our place to host the other families joining us. I should preface this story with the admission that I am a bit of a neat freak, and really wanted to make a good impression on the extended family visiting for the first time in 15 years. So, true to form, I was cleaning like a maniac. I can also be honest and say that my patience and tolerance for normal but annoying kid behaviour was waning as the day progressed. Ok, maybe it had waned. By mid afternoon I felt like I was living my own version of the movie “Groundhog Day”, doing the same series of mind numbing tasks over and over again. I had become a dirt fighting Tasmanian devil, whirling around with vacuum in one hand and wet mop in the other, ranting at full volume as I went. But I didn’t really think that my fairly long-winded grown-up Mommy tantrum about the kids tracking dirt through the house, on the brand new couch and across the throw rug all afternoon was that difficult to understand. When my four-year old reported to me that my two-year old had “done art” with felt marker on the couch upstairs, that was it. I blew a gasket!
Now it is one thing to blow a gasket. It is quite another to do so with witnesses, especially when the witnesses are your in-laws. It is probably fair to say that anyone would have had a hissy fit in the same set of circumstances, except for maybe Mother Theresa herself, and that even others there found the situation quite challenging. Unfortunately though, my rant went on and on………..and ON. My husband rather exasperatedly “invited” me to take a walk for as long as I needed, to pull myself together. Clearly the display was too much for him to mitigate as well.
As I walked along the beach, I reflected on what it was that was driving my intensity and marveled at why my family just didn’t seem to be very sympathetic. It seemed so obvious to me! Granted, I was upset and annoyed at the kids for constantly tracking dirt in the house, for their choice of art canvas, and most infuriating of all, their failure to listen to me. But it was more than that. I was driven to distraction, because while everyone else seemed happy and relaxed, I just wasn’t. No amount of cleaning and preparing for company would make things seem quite right. Because for me, the only thing that could really make me feel relaxed was impossible; my baby being physically there with me. It was the most frustrating, infuriating experience ever. That day, the dirt all over the floors and the felt marker on the couch gave me an outlet for that. But no one else saw it that way. It would have helped if I could have stepped outside of my overwhelming tirade for a moment, and been able explain that to them. I am sure they would have understood. But this is the other part of the grief journey that is really inconvenient. When you are grieving, communicating about your grief is just really difficult to do.
Most people can list all stages of grief published by Kubler-Ross, and acknowledge that these experiences are both normal and predictable. It is fascinating though how certain of those emotions are really more “acceptable” when it comes down to it, and these feelings are released from their cages for all to see. My experience demonstrates that truth; that sadness is by far the more popular of these two fraternal emotional twins spawned by grief. I am not sure why, although there is little doubt that witnessing an angry display can certainly feel like more of an affront. I am sure my family could attest to that. Maybe a grieving person seems more accessible if sad than when angry. Perhaps the vulnerability of a sad individual is compelling. Possibly people feel as though they can do something about the sad aspect of their experience, although they can’t. The sad feeling cannot be removed or changed or altered by anyone. Oddly, it can coexist with other feelings, side by side, even with happiness. I found this discovery very strange. And sometimes sadness can be distracted from for a little while. This gives the grieving person a momentary break from this emotion which makes taking in a full breath physically painful at times. But no, nobody can really take the sadness away. Yet somehow those who surround the aggrieved seem to feel more inclined to try to connect to the sad aspect of the grief experience than the angry one. Even my husband admitted this. He said, “You know, if you were curled up in a corner, crying, they all would understand and sympathize. But you aren’t. You are really, really angry. And it makes people uncomfortable.”
He was right. Sadness is the most comfortable emotion. It is more acceptable, even to me. Dealing with this part doesn’t require much thought. I am sad, so I cry. When I am desperate, I sob. (And by sob I mean a big horrid messy ugly cry that even your closest friend couldn’t bear to witness without shock and horror.) But this doesn’t surprise me. I have accepted that doing so is the way to deal with my sadness. When anger jumps into the picture, there is a whole different reaction. Even those close to the one experiencing profound loss seem to understand that anger has a place in this whole unfortunate experience. It seems most often however, they are even less equipped to accept this or to know how to deal with it than the person going through it. Let me tell you, I didn’t want to feel the anger. Not one bit. I rejected it as long as I could. I wanted peace, and acceptance. I’d have even chosen the desperate pain of sadness before I wanted the anger. It just seemed so negative. But guess what? The anger showed up anyway. I tried all of the constructive methods I could think of to deal with the anger. I went to spin classes, ran, locked myself in the garage and screamed my brains out. Then I went to counselling. It all helped, but certainly didn’t prevent the feeling from encroaching. And it still doesn’t. It didn’t prevent my all out display in front of my family either. I guess that is because anger is supposed to be there. It has a purpose in this whole experience too. And I guess I am coming to realize that maybe anger’s role isn’t so negative after all.
Since losing my baby boy, I have felt innumerable emotions. I know I am not alone in this experience. Desperation, heartbreak, frustration and hopelessness carry you on an emotional roller coaster which changes trajectory every other moment. But which feelings are really responsible for this upheaval? Sadness and anger are. The act of grieving seems to involve going through every variation and permutation of these two emotions over and over again. They are at the root of every twist and turn. And what I have come to accept, is that they both have a crucial and healing role in grief. Sadness and I are on good terms. We always were I guess. But finally I think I have learned to allow a place for anger as well. I have discovered that anger provides the energy which helps me to get up and keep fighting to live each day to its fullest, despite the loss I am enduring. It is the part of the process that seems to help keep me moving forward. Anger even has helped me to choose to see the good and the beauty, as it refuses to let the sadness take the limelight every moment of my day. Letting anger out is like releasing the pressure valve that seems to get installed as soon as you lose your precious loved one. Allowing a place for the anger to exist with my experience of grief has also helped me channel it in a less, shall we say, imposing way on those who surround and support me. Anger has in the end, helped me find a way back to moments of peace and surrender. How ironic is that?
By all accounts, the family reunion was a great success and the holiday was tons of fun. Eventually I was able to let go a little, and relaxed into vacation mode surrounded by wonderful people, our crazy kids and the beautiful island paradise where we are so fortunate to spend time together. Thankfully the effects of my outburst had limited impact in that regard. To be honest, I am not even completely sure how my husband answered the fated question in the end. I didn’t ask. I am sure he handled it graciously and with kindness. He probably said something simple and to the point.
Because the perfect answer to the question “Why is she so……. angry?” is actually very simple. It is, “She is grieving. It is just part of it.”