Anger at the Person Who Died
Bob Baugher, Ph.D.
Newly bereaved people often report being ticked off at the world. Other people’s happiness can easily trigger their anger. If they see people having a good time, laughing, their reaction is, something like “Sure, they can live it up. Their life hasn’t been devastated.” On the other hand, if they see people sad, angry, or lethargic, they may feel indignant. They question, “What have they got to be upset about? They don’t know what real problems are!” Bereaved people often describe the world as cold, gray, and lifeless. Some doubt they will ever be able to experience real joy, and some are certain no one can match their degree of sorrow.
Anger at the Person Who Died
One of the most common targets of anger among bereaved people is the deceased person. This can be a difficult issue because the target of one’s anger is someone whom they cared for, who cannot defend themselves, and may have had no hand in their own demise.
Some of the reasons anger is directed at the deceased include:
When people go out of our lives, we say that they “left.” Some bereaved people report feeling angry that their loved one has left them, even when the death was not purposeful. Death by suicide often greatly intensifies the anger felt by those left behind.
The pain their death has caused
You may be experiencing some of the most intense emotional pain of your life. Some of the reasons may be: the finality of death--realizing that you will never see your loved one alive again, the manner of the death, events surrounding the death, the hardships this death has created for you, the hardships it has bestowed on your family, and the loneliness and emptiness you feel.
You may still have anger over things that the deceased person said or did to you or to other people. This can be particularly frustrating when the person dies before critical issues are resolved. The person is gone leaving you to still deal with the painful memories.
Not trying hard enough to live
Anger can enter into bereavement if you feel your loved one could have “tried harder” to overcome the eventual cause of death. You are vulnerable to anger when you believe the person could have won their battle against death IF she or he really loved you.
Did the person fail to do something that may have led to their death? For example, if the person died of a chronic illness or heart attack, you may be angry or disappointed that the person didn’t visit the doctor sooner. Or, if the death was sudden, you may have questioned whether the person could have done anything to prevent it
Behaviors that led to their own death
When death is by suicide, the survivors have a significant challenge in dealing with their anger at the deceased. The intentional taking of one’s own life leaves those who knew this person with unanswered questions, unfinished business, and lives shattered. Sometimes the person engaged in high-risk behavior that led to their unintentional death: reckless driving, use of drugs and/or alcohol, unsafe use of firearms, illegal activities, or fighting. Anger may be directed at the deceased person for not acting more responsibly.
Jealousy of their favored status
“The dead can do no wrong,” is one of the facts that make it difficult to feel anger at a deceased person. However, the saintly status into which deceased people are often placed can be cause for survivors--notably siblings whose brother or sister died--to resent the person. If it was a terminal illness, the ill person may have been the focus of the household. The neglect that the survivors felt may have turned to anger against the dying/deceased person. Such feelings may be difficult to admit. If you are experiencing such feelings, remember, they are normal.
There they are, a collection of factors that can contribute to feelings of anger. Let’s look at suggestions for coping with these feelings.
Look again at the contributing factors and ask yourself, “Which ones are related to my anger?” This will help you focus on specific issue(s) rather than just anger in general.
Next, ask yourself, “Who can I speak with about this?” What you need here is a good listener, someone who will not minimize your feelings of anger, someone who will just listen without judgment, someone who will not try to “fix it.” Who is this person? A relative? Friend? Counselor? You may need to guide this person in how they best can help you. Remind this person that their most important job is to simply let you talk.
From time to time, ask yourself, “What else can I do to begin to let go of my anger?”
Another question to consider is, “What would it take to begin to forgive this person?” Perhaps you’re not ready to forgive—maybe you never will be. Fine. Forgiveness is totally up to you. No one should talk you into it or out of it. You decide if and when to forgive. Maybe you will live out your life without ever forgiving or maybe you are ready to forgive at this very moment.
Finally, remind yourself the following facts: “I am alive. This person is dead. My job is to move on with my life and find ways to leave the anger behind.”
I’ve asked you a lot of questions in this article. Here is the most important one: Ten years from now, would you still want to be carrying this amount of anger? I didn’t think so. You decided to read this article because it seem relevant to your life at the moment.
Now, decide whether to take a step to do something about it or just put down this article and walk away.