I am angry. I am angry with you, you and definitely you. I am angry at wind, snow and sunshine. I am angry at my job. I am angry at rules. I am angry about having to get out of bed in the morning and I am angry about having to get in bed at night. I am angry at mail. I am angry at traffic. I am angry at my house. I am angry at my cat. I am angry with myself for being so angry.
I knew that the stages of grief included anger; I was prepared for that. Anger at God, anger at my husband for unfairly leaving me alone, anger at medical science for never catching the subtle blip in his heart rhythm that took him in an instant. Those, I expected.
What I did not expect was this. This anger. I am angry at everything. Or nothing at all depending on how you look at it. When first faced with his death, I loved everyone. Every day was a gift; each person a treasure and I could feel the significance of every moment.
Now, I am full of undeniable rage. I want what I want when I want it. I want people to get it. I want electronics, pets, grocery store clerks, Jiffy Lube dudes, my bicycle, traffic signals, and fellow Ikea customers to just work correctly or get the hell out of my way. I am furious. I won’t throw a piece of perfect tiny Ikea furniture at you, but I might shoot a if-looks-could kill glare at you and then loudly huff myself out of that nightmare…er…store and go back for my mini desk another day.
The truth is this not typical “me” behavior, which makes this disgruntled energy very curious and foreign to me. Although my Irish-Italian heritage and fiery astrological sign would indicate otherwise, I am not quick to anger. And in those rare cases I find myself angry, I take deep breaths and respond appropriately. Appropriate. That’s me.
My husband was also of Irish-Italian heritage and had an angry streak. One of his habits was to nag me until I blew up. He would then (very annoyingly) rejoice that I was pissed and showing it. He loved a good fight. And I will always love him for that.
When my grief transformed from appropriate and thankful to enraged and irritable, I thought it was unhealthy. That perhaps it was a stage I needed to get through and then I would go back to the “appropriate” me.
Anger has gotten a bad rap in our society. We send people to anger management left and right, pointing out anger as the problem. Yet, anger is not necessarily the problem. We have been programmed to see anger as bad, so when we get angry we don’t know how to express it and tend to explode in crazy ways. We then feel guilty about our outbursts and vow to “stop being so angry.” Alternatively, we tend to stuff anger deep down, causing it to eat at us, ultimately leading to bitterness, resentment and chronic irritability.
Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.
~ Maya Angelou
I say, let’s practice being angry a little more.
Let’s agree to not throw furniture, hit anyone or hurt ourselves when we get angry. Let’s find a friend or pet to surrender our anger to, go for a jog, use a punching bag, write, practice lion pose, scream in the bathroom, our cars and our cubicles. There are appropriate ways to express anger. Anger itself is not patently inappropriate. Let us learn how to feel it, own it, express it and then send it on its way, so that we can be free of that consuming fire.
I know for a fact now that life is too short to be so damn appropriate all the time. I will honor my late husband, myself and everyone I know and love by being me—which includes getting rippin’ pissed sometimes and not caring if the world knows it—from here on out. I don’t want this to merely be a stage of grief; I want to learn from this and move forward feeling more, expressing more and being proud that I can.
So go ahead: give yourself permission to be angry. Anger is energizing. You might find it gives you just the motivation you need to fix the problem. Or, it can signal you to flee a situation in order to take a much-needed breather.
Begrudgingly, I will accept, honor and maybe even learn from my anger. I hope the same for you.
Liz Mosco, Ph.D. is a psychologist for the Department of Veterans Affairs. She is, more importantly, a human being.
Editor: Bryonie Wise