Monday, January 27, 2014

Apologizing for Expressing the Anger of Grief

[Reviewed and updated January 23, 2023]

A reader writes: In a few more days it will be ten years since I lost my wife and daughter in an auto accident. I have been in a bad headspace for the past few days and left a not-so-nice message for you in one of the forums on the Grief Healing Discussion Groups site, and there is no "take it back" button. So this is my apology. I should not have lashed out at you; it's just that you were there, if you know what I mean. Once again, I am sorry.

My response: My friend, I read your most recent post in our forum to be an honest expression of your feelings, so there is no need for you to apologize. Feelings aren't right or wrong, good or bad -- they just are. I would hope that one of the benefits of our online discussion forums is that they offer visitors like yourself a safe place to put your feelings. Like a journal, these forums are always there, 24 hours a day, ready to "listen" without judgment or reproach. I would not presume to tell you (or anyone else who is mourning the loss of a loved one) what you "should" or "should not" be feeling.

Neither would I presume to offer you advice, especially when it is unsolicited -- and you have not asked me for anything. In the message I had posted to you, I was offering Thomas Attig's Grief's Heart website and books merely as a suggestion. The site describes the work of philosopher and author Thomas Attig, who has spent more than 25 years listening to mourners, and teaching and reflecting on how Americans come to terms with loss. Among other things, Dr. Attig says that the most difficult challenge in grief is not "letting go" of our loved ones who have died but instead, "making the transition from loving in presence to loving in separation." To read an excerpt from his book, see The Heart of Grief: Death and the Search for Everlasting Love.

What caught my attention about his site (and what made me think of you) is his emphasis on continuing the bonds with our loved ones who have died. He suggests that sometimes survivors fear that when they accept the loss of their loved ones, it means they have stopped loving them. Many people who are unable to let themselves feel the full impact of their loss, find themselves stuck in wishing for the past and the return of a loved one. Consequently, there can be no forward movement and no acceptance of the reality of the loss.

I know from reading your earlier posts that you are afraid, but you do not have to do this difficult grief work all alone. There is no right or wrong way to do the work of grieving, and each of us must find our own way. But the passage of time will not heal your grief, my friend. It is what you do with the time that matters. I believe very strongly that the first step in coping with grief is to educate yourself about it, so you know what to expect and what tools are available to help you manage it. There is an abundance of help out there just waiting for you to find it. If you haven't yet obtained all the help you need, keep on looking! You might ask your primary care physician for a referral to someone who specializes in grief therapy or bereavement counseling, or try calling your local hospice or funeral home and asking for a referral. Check your local library, book seller or online bookstore to find one of the dozens upon dozens of books written about grief. (For suggestions from the bereaved themselves, see Grief Bibliography.)

I hope that you will continue to use our online Grief Healing Discussion Groups as one more way of obtaining the information, comfort and support you need and deserve as you continue on your own grief journey. In any event, please know that I am thinking of you, and I very much appreciate your writing to me.

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