“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”―Mark Twain
One of the important stages of grief and loss that people don’t like to talk about is anger. Anger can be scary and uncomfortable. For some reason we seem to be okay with someone crying to deal with their loss, but we are very uncomfortable when that same person is going through the stage of anger. In her groundbreaking work on the stages of grief, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was one of the first professionals to discuss anger as a reaction to grief.
After my husband died several years ago, I remember an incident that I am not very proud of. I was just barely getting past the initial shock of what had happened and I was desperately trying to pull myself together enough to function. I needed a new car battery. I was so overwhelmed with normal every day activities and I had never needed to deal with car issues, that had always been my husband’s job. I walked into a busy auto parts store and waited patiently for someone to help me. When it was my turn, a very over worked employee asked what I needed and I explained that I needed a new car battery. After giving him the pertinent details about the make and model, he looked up the correct battery and went to go get it. He set it on the counter in front of me and I am sure my eyes were as wide as saucers, wondering what I should do with this battery. I was already near tears and there were several other people waiting behind me in line, but I asked if I could get some help putting the battery in. This tired grumpy employee looked at me, and the long line of people behind me, and said in a rude tone of voice, “listen lady, can’t your husband put this in for you.” I am not proud of it, but something snapped at that moment and all of my pent up anger exploded out towards this young man. I stared at him with a venomous look and shouted “No he can’t because he’s DEAD!” The crowd of people behind me got very quiet, this young man had the decency to look ashamed. I stood there with tears rolling down my face. Another employee from the store quickly walked up and calmly said, “I will be happy to help you.” He picked up the battery and followed me to my car.
I was ashamed at my outburst, even with his rude behavior, that young man did not deserve my wrath. It wasn’t his fault that I was a grieving widow, but he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. I know he learned a valuable lesson that day about making assumptions, but I also learned a lesson. Anger is a natural reaction of grief. If I didn’t try to deal with and acknowledge my anger it would come out whether I wanted it to or not. We cannot avoid feeling anger after a loss, whether it is a death or divorce or an illness or whatever you are dealing with. Not dealing with anger doesn’t make it go away.