Question from DV: My daughter died in a car accident on May 23,2009. My other daughter and I have our daily moments of crying, shouting, screaming, etc. And we can talk to others or to each other about her sister/my daughter. My husband, on the other hand, is not doing so well. He doesn’t really talk to anyone, he is so mad at everyone, primarily God. He expresses anger most of the time and seems to be getting meaner. I’m trying to give him his space as he grieves a little differently, but I am not sure if I need to keep suggesting counseling to him. Help anyone?
Dr. David Daniels responds: Dear DV, Thank you for your thoughtful inquiry. Having also experienced the shocking loss of a child in an accident, my heart goes out to all of you. The loss of a child is “all out of the natural order.” The pain can envelope us in one form or another. From your note, your husband sounds especially distressed. The stages of the grief process as elucidated by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in On Death and Dying of shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance/resignation represented a gift of understanding. However, we don’t all go through all of these steps or in the order she suggests.
For some of us anger can be enormous, for others virtually not core to the process. There is no one right way to grieve. There is nothing wrong per se in experiencing anger as anger represents the personal experience of violation of something important. We ask why my child, my loved one? Why did his happen? In an accident, we get judgmental and angry about alleged careless or reckless behavior that caused the accident.
Yet no amount of retribution likely will heal the anger because anger often serves to keep us from experiencing the hurt, the pain and sadness of grief of loss underneath the anger. When anger persists this often is true. We ward off the profound sadness of grief in this way.
Men more than women can believe that the sadness of grief is a form of weakness to be denied or covered up. We (men especially) need to recognize that grief is healthy and allowing in sadness represents strength. Even more significantly the sadness of grief profoundly lets us know how much we care and how the loved one lives on within our hearts and souls. Embracing our grief further lets us know that we need to live love as best we can each day.
None of us knows how long we or our loved ones have to live. It is likely to that your husband, DV, has regrets. He needs to open his heart up to himself and life. Then the sadness of grief can transform us, give us freedom to live more fully. Thus anger when it persists blocks this process of coming back fully to life for sadness which is resisted persists underneath the anger.
I want to remind you (actually all of us) of the basic principles in grieving. There is no right way to grieve as I mentioned. All of us grieve differently. Grief comes in waves, often unexpectedly. Grief is a natural process, not a disease or something to get over. And grief and life go concurrently hand in hand. We don’t grieve and then come back to life. The sadness of grief is not an illness to get over. In time its rawness lessens.
So here are my recommendations. Work at understanding your husband, keeping your own heart open. This does not mean agreement with his process. Encourage him to read this response to your inquiry. I hope that he will give himself time to reflect on the meaning embedded in his anger. It takes courage to open to the pain that is underneath anger. Likely this means opening to the sadness of grief and how the sadness lets us know we care. In opening to sadness we open our hearts to living more fully each day. Lastly, there are community resources for grief counseling hopefully near where you live.
Please let Open to Hope know how your family’s healing process is going. I would appreciate this and I’m sure others would too.
With warm regards, DavidTags: anger, grief, hope