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October 21, 2017 Brigitte Ganger

The Five Stages of Grief: Anger

The "&#%!@?!" stage

The Five Stages of Grief: Anger
It's normal to feel intense anger when a loved one has passed away. (Shutterstock)

Have you ever hurt yourself and gotten outrageously, ridiculously, hopping mad? If stubbing your toe or suffering a minor burn has ever made you flip your lid, you'll understand how emotional pain can provoke a similar reaction.


When I fall down and get a booboo, my anger doesn't make any logical sense. What am I mad at? The street? People who saw me wipe out? Myself? The rage comes out of nowhere, it's physiological. It's the fight, in a fight or flight reaction. So it goes when a huge emotional loss has occurred. First, we try to flee the pain (denial), then we ball up our fists and try to duke it out. Anger in grief is just as misplaced as wanting to hurl your tea across the room for scalding you.


Anger can be the most intense stage of all. Not only does it feel awful, it also makes you feel like a jerk after you've cooled down. Feeling angry is healthy, normal and important to the grieving process, but it's important not to lash out at others during this time. 


Don't


1. Play the blame game


Whether or not there are blameworthy people around—don't toss around responsibility for the death of a loved one like it's a game of hot potato. In the anger stage, you may feel more clear-headed and right about everything than you have in awhile. It may be the first time you've felt in control since the death. But that doesn't mean you are right or justified in blaming people around you. In fact, it probably means you are less competent to be judging others. 


Before lashing out, consider the following: 



  • Is it anger, or unbearable sadness?

  • Are you blaming others to assuage your own guilt about something? Is the guilt justified or contrived?

  • Is it the dead person you're really mad at?


2. Drink


There is a time and a place for alcohol during grief, if your drinking habits have previously been positive and healthy. But during a fit of anger is definitely not the time. 


After a loss, consider whether your drinking habits have changed or become unhealthy. A glass of wine won't kill you, but can give you a moment to reflect and refresh yourself. Limit the number of drinks you consume when you are in crisis, or make the decision not to drink at all. 


3. Ignore or downplay anger


Anger isn't a feeling that most people own. If they do, it's very rare to own it in a positive way. How is it possible to be open about anger, and deal with it in a way that reduces damage? Anger should not be avoided, minimized or ignored. Focus on directing your into something harmless or productive.


4. Resort to violence


It's never appropriate to become physically or verbally aggressive when lashing out in grief. Ever. 


Yes, you'll feel the urge to do it. But, when you act on anger negatively, you end up feeling way worse. It doesn't matter if you feel justified. There is always a better way to rage than hurting others.


Do


1. Be mad at the person you've lost


It seems odd—and irreverent—to be mad at someone who is dead. Whether you've been grieving for days, months, or years, it's likely that at some points your anger will be directed at a dead person. Perhaps they left you financially unstable. Maybe you feel they didn't fight hard enough to survive a terminal illness. Or left you with unanswered questions. Whatever the source of frustration, direct it at the real target—not innocent bystanders who were unlucky enough to be in your line of fire.


2. Get physical


Work out, sing loudly, write out your feelings, take up kickboxing or the drums. In my experience, positive outlets for anger are usually physical. For others, meditation, reading or connecting with others is better. Whatever you do, it's more satisfying to let the anger out instead of trying to rationalize it away. Though counterintuitive, simply trying to "calm down"—be it through meditation, reading, or pushing the anger deep, deep down—has never worked for me.  Unless you are a master meditator, meditating while angry could actually make you even angrier. 


 Be aware of what stage you are in, so you don't lash out at others. (Shutterstock)


If your anger isn't just misplaced lashing out (the road hurt me, not I'm going to hurt the road), and can be used as fuel for a bigger fire (I see some serious gaps in the mental health system and I'm going to change that), use it to impact positive change. This is a slippery slope into the bargaining stage.


Anger should not be avoided, downplayed or ignored. Focus on directing your rage into something harmless or productive.


Give yourself time and space for anger to blow over. Trust me when I say don't trust yourself right now. Instead, give everyone a wide berth—but especially yourself.


Put on your negotiation hat. Next we're moving onto Bargaining.

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