Grief and anger are dastardly bed fellows… and are best kept apart whenever we can manage it. I had a very difficult phone encounter a few months ago and it bothered me enough to still be rattling around within me like something undigestible. It was from a grieving parent, Jane Doe, who was very obviously broken from her loss. The broken parts however were jagged- and from the moment I spoke my name and said that I was returning her call there was an edge to the interaction that was palpable. She had lost her only son to a drunk driving accident and she was angry at the world. No one understood what she needed. She wanted something from me… right that moment. My usual eloquence failed me because truly, I had nothing magical to give her…especially in the five minute allotment of time I had between clients in which I was returning her call. She was not my client. She was not suicidal. She was not homocidal. Technically I had no responsibility to her whatsoever. She was rude and insistent and demanding…. Would I meet with her somewhere so that we could talk? My answer came swift and clean. No I’m sorry I am not able to do that. Next came acidic laughter from her end. In a sing song voice she said, ‘ Fine just tell me your fees.’ At that point I had to end the conversation because my next client walked in. I said that I would call her back when I had more time to discuss this. Sarcasm floated out of the phone receiver, ‘ I knew you would blow me off. So and so said that you would be different because you specialize in death and dying- but she was wrong. You’re just like everyone else.’
I had to take a moment to compose myself before I walked out to greet my next client. Its not the first time this type of thing has happened to me… its just the most recent. Many of us have found ourselves on the jagged end of someone else’s grief. Most bereaved will visit this place, but it should be just a quick stop on the journey. Anger is a natural part of the grieving process- but when that anger becomes a weapon that the bereaved use to make their way through the world… that battle field becomes treacherous. The griever is metaphorically safe in their bunker of loss – because firing back at the bereaved is something most of us simply will not do. That does not, however, mean there are no victims. The first casualty is usually empathy; patience and the desire to be around the grieving person are often the next soldiers to fall. The grieving who deploy this weapon of anger with any regularity find themselves more alone than ever, and eventually the only one left to turn on is themselves.
Its a hard place. Sorrow cuts deep and our guttural reactions to loss can spring forth in a voice we did not even know we had.