When you’re angry at someone who’s gone

5 min read

Important ideas about your anger in grief

  • Just as anger comes from pain, it also helps us through it.

  • Anger helps us process grief and come to terms with what’s happened.

  • Your anger is a bridge that connects you to your loved one.

  • Giving yourself permission to express your emotions and feel your anger deeply is healthy, and furthers your progress through the experience of grief.

As you come to terms with your loved one’s passing, your experience of loss might start to feel like too much. That in itself is a sign that you’re giving space to your feelings in a healthy way. Loss and grief are as intense as they are personal. You might feel strangely calm, wildly erratic, or tightly controlled. Or none of these, or all of them at once. Whatever you’re feeling, it’s normal, and a healthy part of losing someone you love. What might surprise you is that this also applies to the emotion most of us would prefer to skip: anger.

Anger is one of the hardest things to make sense of when we’re grieving. Of the stages of grief famously described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, anger is the one that can come at the most emotional moment: when we’re ready to feel the depth of our pain. Just as anger comes from pain, it also helps us through it—even when it’s directed right at the loved one who has died.

Anger as a force of good

It can be helpful to remember that your anger has no script. It could be directed toward your loved one today, but at god, or a system, or a traffic light tomorrow. Maybe your anger is wrapped up in your sense of loss. Say, if you believe your loved one could have or should have prevented what happened. Or if you had resentment that was never expressed. Or if they simply left the house without saying goodbye that day. Whatever it looks or feels like, your anger is a bridge that connects you to your loved one. You’re feeling it because of the fact that you love that person, not despite it.

While all the different experiences within grief are integral to processing it, anger is one of the most difficult feelings to express and to allow ourselves to feel. But there’s a lot of power in anger. When we’re feeling most lost, in a situation that feels unbearable, it’s a healthy way to take back some control. Right now, you can’t communicate with your loved one, but your anger can give some shape and focus to your pain. Don’t be afraid to lean in and give expression to your feelings.

Avoiding guilt

You can probably remember times when you were angry with your loved one while they were alive, but now it feels different. You aren’t able to talk with them, to hash it out. Maybe you’re afraid you’ll never stop feeling this way. You may feel guilty for feeling angry at all. As hard as it might be to see now, your anger is helping you process your grief and come to terms with what’s happened.

Just as you never need to apologize for crying, there’s no reason to feel shame about being angry. Social expectations can make this easier said than done. Expressing anger often drives people away, just when we most need support. Most of us were taught to manage and suppress our anger rather than process it in a healthy way. Ironically, trying to quash these feelings actually hinders our progress through the experience of grief.

Open up with a trusted friend or therapist, find a solitary place to scream, or do a tough workout to externalize the energy of your anger. You may find that the feelings are still there as time passes, but their ability to disrupt your life will lessen if you take stock of them and give them the space they need.

When anger is more than a stage of grief

It’s comforting to imagine that negative feelings toward a loved one will dissipate when they’re no longer with us, but just as your love remains, more complicated emotions stick around as well.

The intensity of your feelings toward the person who has passed is a bond you still share, a preservation of your relationship.

We mourn and miss and grieve the ex-husband, the estranged best friend, or the mother who preferred another sibling. You might feel that there were things left unsaid that would have repaired your relationship prior to your loved one’s death. Regret, anger, and love can blur together.

Just as you should try to avoid self-criticism about any anger you’re feeling, remember that every love is complex. The intensity of your feelings toward the person who has passed is a bond you still share, a preservation of your relationship. These feelings never fully leave us, but over time, it can become easier to focus on the love you felt, and find greater peace of mind.

Avoiding blame

Even if you know that feelings of regret, abandonment, and anger toward your loved one are manifestations of how important they were to you, it doesn’t make the experience easier. Give yourself permission to feel it deeply. Speak aloud or write to your loved one. Vent your questions, frustrations, and recriminations. Never hesitate to share your pain with your community, and give yourself the space to be angry. 

No two people experience loss in the same way, so there’s no normal way to feel the anger that is always a part of grief. Even if this anger is directed at the source of your grief, someone you cared for deeply, give it the attention it needs to breathe and express itself. An unexpected friend, anger is a bridge that spans one of the hardest times you’ll ever face. Let yourself be mad. Just try not to be too hard on yourself in the process ●