How Grief Works
Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Food for Thought

 “Grief is like the ocean; it comes in waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim,” Vicki Harrison

One of the “currents” we may experience as we learn to swim is anger. It is commonly thought that anger is one of the stages of grief, but we now know that not everyone experiences anger in grief. The expression of anger in grief is a protest emotion to the loss of someone dearly loved.

What is anger?

Anger is a very complex emotion. It presents itself physically, emotionally, and psychologically. We are taught about anger in our families of origin. Often it is an emotion that is tolerated or stifled to various degrees. As children, we model what we observe and are taught how to self-regulate anger. It might range from slight annoyance to rage. Anger is a reaction to pain, loss of control, or a perceived threat or injustice to our self or someone we care about. One’s reaction will differ based on the perception of the threat. Our reaction can frighten us as well as others.

How may we feel and express anger?

There are many different ways and reasons we feel anger in our grief.

  • I am be angry because I was not told of the potential that death could occur.
  • I am angry because the person I lost did not take proper care of themselves.
  • I am angry because my life burden has increased since I am now alone.
  • I am angry because (fill in the blank) ________________________________.

Our response to anger can be healthy or unhealthy and can manifest itself in many ways. Here are just a few examples.


  • Defending yourself or others from injustice and making positive change.
  • Recognizing something is wrong and taking action.
  • Positively directing your energy from anger toward action, e.g., raising money for a cause, running a race, building a memorial, doing physical work, or participating in sports.
  • Forgiving what you believe to be an injustice.
  • Seeking out a clergy member, therapist, or professional to help work through angry feelings; greater understanding can help you move forward.


  • Lashing out or hurting others inappropriately, making them a target for your unhappiness or perceived injustice.
  • Ruminating about things that make you angry, resulting in physical and emotional harm to yourself or those around you by giving anger unbalanced weight in your life.
  • Over aggressively expressing anger that can hurt others, harm relationships, and threaten your job.
  • Excessive drinking, spending, eating, and gambling (poor decisions) that suppresses angry feelings and can cause irreparable harm to yourself and your relationships.
  • Turning anger inward, which can lead to depression.

How can we deal with anger?

The first step is to acknowledge our anger. Then we can begin the work to determine the source and find the tools to address our anger and express it in healthy ways. You may want to think about tools and people that have helped you get through other types of anger in the past. Perhaps you can reuse or modify those strategies to address your anger in grief.

If you are struggling with how to express your anger and move forward, or if it is getting in the way of a healthy productive life, it is time to reach out for support. Remember, anger is a normal human emotion and you are not alone. Call 800-332-1000 and press 1 or email to learn more about The SUDEP Institute bereavement support services or visit our Bereavement Support page to find other resources in your area.

How do you deal with anger? Share an experience, tip, or idea in the comment section below.

Linda Coughlin Brooks is the SUDEP Institute Bereavement Support Facilitator; she contributes regular articles as part of our bereavement support services. You can contact Linda at Watch for future articles and learn more about our support for bereaved.

Authored by: Linda Coughlin Brooks RN | BSN | CT on 7/2015

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