There is expectation with grief. People allow for a certain amount of sorrow and weeping. But when grief struck me like a freight train with the stillbirth of my son, I was disconcerted to find that along with sadness and emptiness and tears, there was a shocking amount of anger. Not at first, when it was an effort to eat or sleep or perform the basic functions of life, but after some time had passed and the feeling of having lost any sense of control I had ever had snuck up on me like a feral animal. It surprised and scared me. When you are unfamiliar with grief and you picture it, it doesn’t look like this red-hot fury and intense rage.
It made those around me uncomfortable. It made me uncomfortable. But it demanded my attention, and it was almost a relief to feel something outside of crushing sadness. I didn’t always handle it in the best way possible, but I look back on the person I was then, and I understand. Every facet of her life had been broken by this pain. At first, she was shattered. But then she got mad.
There is nothing fair about the death of a child. If there is anything deserving of rage, it is this injustice. And so I raged. At first, it was unproductive and damaging. But there is something about anger that is often unacknowledged. Anger can give you strength.
Anger is energy. It gets crap done. My anger forced me to deal with facts. My son was dead. That was not going to change. It is still a fact, seven years later. My anger forced me to face that. I could have misdirected it. In fact, I know I did at least a few times. It was damaging and difficult and a part of the process. As damaging as it could be to others, I did the most damage to myself. I directed most of my rage inward, blaming myself for both the loss of my son and the chaos it brought into the life of my family. I didn’t always deal with it in the most healthful ways. But it made me remember that I was alive.
Suppression was not an option. Action was. I began to channel the anger into research and activism and service. I released it in healthier ways, screaming when I was alone in my car and punching pillows until my fists ached. I made apologies for the words I had flashed in grief to my husband.
I write this to let any of you who have anger as a part of your grief process know that you are not alone. Your anger is justified. There is an unattractive picture of anger as not acceptable. It brings guilt on top of everything else because your grief does not look like what is seen in movies. I say embrace your anger. It pulled me from inertia and into focus. It presented itself loudly and suddenly and it would not be ignored. You will be criticized for being angry, but all you have to do with it is understand it. Others may not, and that is not your problem. Safely express it. You are not the only one, and it, like all the other stages of grief, will evolve. You are not horrible; you are suffering. Your anger does not have to be destructive; it can be constructive. It is guarding you until you are ready, and you will be ready someday. It is a different manifestation of your love and grief, and the only way out is through.