When the Final Words Were Angry

I’m sure you have heard the marriage advice “Don’t go to bed angry.” Resolving spats before bedtime is the advice offered by almost any long-married couple. What happens when differences can’t be resolved? When the night comes when, through fluke or chance, the marriage ends through a sudden death and there are no more bedtimes together?

One couple had lived by that piece of advice their whole marriage, yet despite their love of 24 years, through college, children and careers the last words were full of venom. Bridget told me that she could not forgive herself for speaking harshly to Anthony, that she would give anything to take those words back. They spent the Saturday afternoon like so many other days, puttering around the house, deciding to tackle repainting the guest bathroom—a project Bridget had wanted to finish for months. Mid-makeover, Anthony had tripped on the paint can, spilling latex lavender all over the tile floors.

Bridget told him this was just like him, clumsy, and when he offered to go to the hardware store to replace the paint, she said it was typical for him to do anything to get out of cleaning up his messes. He apologized and offered to stay and clean, but she told him to get out. He left, and she scrubbed the floor, fuming. She finished up the floor, expecting him back any minute. She wanted him to find her there, on the ground, so he would see what a mess he’d made and feel guilty.

Finally all the paint was cleaned, and he still wasn’t back. She figured he was wasting time at the store, getting materials for another project, or checking out new lawnmowers they didn’t need. After an hour and a half, she went the deck to read, figuring if they were going to spend the evening painting she might as well enjoy the beautiful afternoon. She got lost in her book, relaxing in the gorgeous spring sunshine, and barely heard the sheriff knock on her door.

Bridget wondered if Anthony were upset about what she had said. If her words had contributed to the car accident. Once the shock had worn off, and the funeral planning and visits from family faded, she found herself dwelling on their last conversation. She wished she could have told him he was a good man, that she appreciated him working with her instead of watching baseball, that she loved the home they had built together, that she loved him. Instead her final words, “Get out!” woke her up in the middle of the night, sobbing and wracked with guilt.

Bridget began to heal when she cracked open her old journals, some she had written in since the beginning of their courtship. She cried over the memories of falling in love, and read through her entries from their early years together. She was surprised how many pages she devoted to arguments, how many tearful entries were devoted to parsing who said what, and guessing hidden motives.

When she looked back on their marriage now, she remembered the intimacy, the inside jokes only the two of them really got. She missed and remembered his hugs, feeling embraced and totally safe, like the whole world was just the two of them, and couldn’t remember any of these silly quarrels and blowups she’d gone on and on about in her journals.

She said, “After reading about all of those fights we’d had, I realized my final words were just part of living with someone, were normal, and not a final verdict on our love. Rereading my journals, I remembered how much he loved me. I realized if the situation were reversed, I would want him to remember all of sublime moments together—the birth of our sons, sunsets on Myrtle Beach, the moments we held each other up. Those final words were just, maybe, 35 out of millions. I will hold those millions in my heart.”

Bridget knows that the road to healing is a looping one, with no clear map. She sometimes finds herself on the same roundabout she did immediately after Anthony’s death, and when she does she says she tries to journal and do active grief work: “I realized that feeling guilty was sometimes strangely preferable to the black emptiness of grief. I had a focus for my anger—myself—instead of all this undirected rage at the universe, wondering why a wonderful man like Anthony had to die so young. Finally I realized that I could experience these feelings of anger, confusion, sadness, without hating myself. I am a widow too young, I have reason to be angry and bereft without adding self-hatred into the mix.”

Six Things to Remember

  1. Resolving grief takes time.  Research shows that the height of depression for loss of a spouse is 6 months and further resolution takes as long as four years.
  2. Journaling about your feelings can be healing.
  3. Joining a support group such as www.soaringspirits.org where others have also suffered the death of a spouse can be healing. Finding a community of others experiencing similar feelings can give voice to your emotions and let you know you are not alone.
  4. Telling friends or safe people about your guilty feelings can help put things in perspective.
  5. Recognizing that feelings of anger are normal can be a relief when a partner dies.
  6. Evenings can be lonely. Log on to www.opentohope.com and read articles, listen to radio shows and watch videos of others who have suffered loss and have again found hope.

Remember, we all make mistakes. It sounds cliché, but your loved one would not want you to feel guilty. Regardless of personal beliefs, in all of the stories of near-death encounters, I have never heard one where someone says they were intently focused on brief words of anger. Angels sometimes appear, but never have I heard of someone who replayed an angry text or fraught conversation in those final minutes or microseconds. Overwhelming love is the most common emotion, and the one that will be our guiding light.

 

Gloria Horsley

More Articles Written by Gloria

Dr. Gloria Horsley is an internationally known grief expert, psychotherapist, and bereaved parent. She started "Open to Hope" to help the millions in the world with grief. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Clinical Nurse Specialist, and has worked in the field of family therapy for over 20 years. Dr. Horsley hosts the syndicated internet radio show, The Grief Blog which is one of the top ranked shows on Health Voice America. She serves the Compassionate Friends in a number of roles including as a Board of Directors, chapter leader, workshop facilitator, and frequently serves as media spokesperson. Dr. Horsley is often called on to present seminars throughout the country. She has made appearances on numerous television and radio programs including "The Today Show," "Montel Williams," and "Sallie Jessie Raphael." In addition, she has authored a number of articles and written several books including Teen Grief Relief with Dr. Heidi Horlsey, and The In-Law Survival Guide.

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  • Gerry says:

    My husband died April 23 2017 of Osteosarcoma, one day he was fine and the next day he couldn’t breath! We were married 53 years, and I wish I could say they were all good but like most married couples there were ups and a lot of downs! I even divorced and remarried him, just knew he was my soul mate! I wish I could say good things about chemo but I can’t. Lester had a annual exam just the month before and passed with flying colors and the next month had stage 4 cancer!! The doctor said take him home and let him have his last 3 to 6mos with quality of life but Lester choose the chemo! From then on there was no quality of life, he did live a year in complete agony! There were trips to the hospital for chemo and trips back for those Neulasta shots that made him so sick! Trips to have transfusions, and more cause he was so sick! He couldn’t sleep in our bed for all the discomfort and I slept by him on an air mattress to be close to him. He got so bad that walking down a small step he broke his hip then it was a hospital bed, oxygen, catheter etc. he lost around 40 lbs, then from steroids and morphine and more pills he swelled up and couldn’t move! I took care of him for a year and the Dr said he could live like this for months! We had a bad day of me putting him into a sling to many times and put him into hospice house because I was so mad at him only because he was so sick and I was to tired, just for 5 days so I could get some sleep! The day before he died I told him I would be back in the morning, he died that night ALONE!! I’m having a terrible time dealing with that! I’ll have to live with that the rest of my life! God, I miss him and with the anger to my self I still know how much I loved him and still mad at him because he told me he would BEAT THE CANCER and I loved him so much I believed him! I know he’s resting in peace he suffered so much and I thank God for that, but now I have to find peace for me. Thank you for listening I think I really just vented but thank you for this web site!

  • While I didn’t shout angry words to my husband, I often feel like I didn’t do enough to help him. My husband was diagnosed with a terminal lung disease in 2015. He began using supplemental oxygen 24/7 and could no longer work. At 48 years old, he was miserable having to live like that. The disease progressed and everyday activities were challenging for him. His favorite phrase became, “I’m not going to be here much longer.” I wouldn’t allow myself to believe it as my husband had a knack for beating the odds. Years before we met a doctor told him that he’d be in a wheelchair within 2 yrs from an autoimmune disease he developed. That didn’t happen but the lung disease did. All the time my husband spoke of his imminent death, neither of us saw it occurring by way of a house fire. On December 17, 2017, that’s exactly what happened. I awoke to the sound of the smoke alarm and seeing his oxygen cord shooting out a fire that looked like a torch. Within minutes I got that cord out of the house and buried in a bank of a snow. However, I had no idea of anything else burning in the house. I got my 2 children away from the house and into my car, which by the grace of God I had left the doors unlocked to, and tried to get my husband to come off the porch and get in the car. He wouldn’t come off of the porch. He said he couldn’t. I hadn’t realized at the time that he didn’t have any oxygen on. We had an oxygen tank in the car but all of the stuff for it was in the house and I was afraid to go inside, fearing there could be an explosion–we had a ton of oxygen in our home. During all of this I had called 911. We lived the down the street from fire station. They were there in 10 minutes or less though it seemed longer. I thought my husband would be fine once he was in the ambulance and they got him connected to oxygen but apparently he suffered cardiac arrest as they were getting him the ambulance. His brain was damaged from lack of oxygen. Often I reflect on the image of him standing on the porch as the ambulance arrived and I see a relieved look on his face. I thought he was thinking what I was thinking, “Thank God the ambulance is here.” I didn’t learn until nearly an hour later, after I was cleared to leave the scene of the fire, when I arrived at the hospital that his brain had suffered sever damage and that he was on life support. I was stunned speechless. That was the last thing I expected to hear. I expected to be led to a room where his cannula was secured across his face and everything would be normal though everything had changed. I wonder if there was something I could have done. I wonder if I should have risked going back into the house to look for the regulator and cannula. But all I could think that night was we needed to get away from the house. It might blow up. I hate that my husband and I never got to talk about that night. He could never confirm for me the cause of the fire, likely from him smoking while using oxygen. I could never tell him, “See, I told you about smoking with that oxygen.” He never got to accuse me of being more concerned about our dogs in the house rather than him . We only had the few words we’d spoken to each other hours before the fire. That particular day we hadn’t said much to each other because he was mad at me about something but I wasn’t the one of us who held on to anger. During his illness he was always mad at me about one thing or another or just mad and taking it out on me. I just didn’t expect that to be our last weekend together.

    Nevertheless I am comforted that through all of our arguing and tension filled times in our relationship, we had just as many in which we expressed our love and appreciation for each other. Those are the times I try to focus on.