Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

November 2, 2012

A necessary stage of healing

— — I spent the last few weeks pissed off. Sorry if that word offends you. Sorry if my anger offends you. But if there is one thing I’ve decided to do during this process, it’s to accept, without judgment, whatever emotions suddenly attack. And sometimes I genuinely feel attacked by my own emotions, by my grief. It blows in quickly, swirling like a powerful tornado, leaving a path of destruction where there once was some small spindly structure of peace.

In the past, I felt gentle winds of anger that were quickly stilled by compassion and forgiveness. It took over six months to get there, but I finally got really mad. Anger is one of the accepted stages of grief. There are five: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They are “not stops on some linear timeline in grief,” says Grief.com. They are simply a framework, according to the co-authors of “On Grief and Grieving,” Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler.

I didn’t really care if anger was an “accepted” stage or not. I just knew I felt it. So, I chose to accept it. And I stayed in it. I settled in and bathed in it. I didn’t throw dishes or yell at strangers while behind the wheel. But I had long conversations with my daughter, who chose to leave us.

I was mad at her. Mad at God. Mad at the professionals who couldn’t read a crystal ball to tell me my daughter was definitely suicidal.

Mad at some other people who could’ve stopped what they were doing or done something differently. I was mad at myself for not seeing more clearly the signs or for failing to read her mind that day.

But mostly I was mad at Jocelyn for not stopping, and taking 10 minutes to think about what she would be missing out on in life. I was mad at the damage she left behind with her loved ones. I was mostly mad at her for not seeking the help she knew was so readily available.

Some people are uncomfortable with me being angry, especially when that anger is directed at Joc. But I think Jocelyn is OK with it. Jocelyn kinda liked her anger — it was a way she expressed her depression, which is common for some depressed people. She felt empowered by her anger, as if it could protect her.

Eventually, she discovered that wasn’t true. That might’ve been one reason she gave up.

I also think Jocelyn is OK with her loved ones being angry because she knows it’s because we miss her, want her back, love her. I think she couldn’t be hurt by my anger. Maybe she could observe it, maybe not. But I feel like it didn’t cause her pain

How would I know, right? I know it sounds crazy, but if you’ve ever lost someone you love, you know that it’s possible to feel them around you ... either because they are somehow there or because you are imagining it. But the feeling itself is very real.

In the past, I’ve felt her trying to rain down peace on me when I’m weeping in pain and sorrow. But while I sat in my “mad cave,” as I came to think of it, pouting in the dark, surrounded by dank and stale air, heavy rock overhead and claustrophobic misery all around, I could sometimes feel her poking me and prodding me, teasingly. As if to say, ‘Com’on, mom, don’t be mad at me. Please, let it go.’

Yeah, it sounds crazy. But if you haven’t been there, you really shouldn’t judge. And even if you have been there, the journey is so individual that you still really shouldn’t judge. Anger isn’t attractive. I noticed I was irritable, more rudely opinionated, more abruptly outspoken and brazenly unfiltered.

I felt slightly crazy. But I’ve read that is a normal part of grief, too. I tried to channel my anger appropriately. I worked out a lot, took time for myself rather than overcommitting. I kept trying to pray, even when I didn’t want to. I wrote stuff I wouldn’t publish — like this, for example. I even sneered at my daughter’s beautiful smiling face in photographs.

I called her stupid (something I would never do to the living) and rolled my eyes at her. I threw my arms in the air in disgust as I walked through the bedroom she had picked out in our new home where she never has slept. I would’ve much preferred to be mad that her clothes were all over the floor as usual. But I don’t have that privilege. 

Anger, Kubler-Ross and Kessler wrote, is a “necessary stage of the healing process. Be willing to feel your anger, even though it may seem endless. The more you truly feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more you will heal.” Finally, it did begin to dissipate. Finally, I crawled out of my mad cave and took a breath of fresh air. I forgave her. Again. But this time I had gone deep enough in to the anger that the forgiveness, the grace, felt deeper and truer.

I may someday be annoyed, maybe even angry, again. The stages of grief, as I’ve written before, are circles that you cycle in and out of. But I hope I don’t go so deep into it again. “The anger,” Kubler-Ross and Kessler say, “is just another indication of the intensity of your love.” The love is a more comfortable, peaceful and warm place than the cave, so that’s where I plan to end up.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who lives in North Carolina. Contact her at jdesmond@bdtonline.com.

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