Anger and the Grieving Caregiver
Anger is one very difficult subject for the caregiver to face – to discover and discuss. It is a socially unacceptable emotion in general. However, dying disrupts the routines of daily living. It disrupts not only the desired and comfortable routines of behavior. It disrupts emotional routines as well. Suddenly, new routines are required in caring for the loved one who is dying. New feelings also spring up. There they are, unwanted, unwelcome, confusing, but present anyway. Something must be done with these feelings. How? What? Anger is a frequent answer. It is spontaneous and impulsive and perhaps frightening to the caregiver. Nevertheless, it is entirely human.
Anger must find a target. The first such target is the dying loved one. After all, he is the one who has forced the caregiver to make unpleasant and unwanted changes in otherwise preferred life routines. The feeling of anger against the loved one is usually intolerable for the caregiver. It is perceived to be shameful and embarrassing – certainly nothing to be proud of. If so, then, the anger may also be displaced onto others instead of – or in addition to – the loved one.
One such secondary target is often the attending physician or another medical professional. A perfect textbook example of anger displaced onto the doctor is offered by Dr. Monica Williams-Murphy, herself. It is clear, crisp, uncensored. She receives the ultimate insult that a nurse can hurl at a doctor. It is word murder.
“I had originally asked if there was anyone else in the family whom I needed to talk to [about the elderly dying lady] and the initial answer was, ‘No.’ But shortly after, an out-of-state daughter called identifying herself as the power of attorney and said, “I want you to take the DNR order off, because this means you won’t do anything to help her.”
I politely attempted to explain otherwise: “No, I actually had filled out a limited resuscitation order which directs doctors to do everything but place her on machines. And above all, we will help her to be as comfortable as she can be no matter what kind of treatment she is receiving.”
Her response: “Well, I’m a nurse and I don’t believe you.” [emphasis added] (click here to read original article)
In this regard, also, there is a reason why the very first order of the Ten Commandments states: “Thou shalt not kill.” That is a moral imperative. Anger is ubiquitous and potentially dangerous. If thoughts and words could kill (as every young child believes), probably all of us would be dead.
Anger is often viewed not only as shameful but also immoral, especially when directed against someone who is already dying. The caregiver frequently finds additional ways to deal with this awkward and inconvenient emotion.
Anger can be turned inward against the self, also. This happens outside of conscious control. It says, “You are a bad, bad person to feel angry.” Major depression can result from this turn against the self. It is not a healthy solution to anger.
Anger, however disguised, is moreover a common cause of guilt. Guilt in itself can cause extreme fear, panic – as though there weren’t already enough reasons to be scared!
Better to talk about it. Don’t wait till anger becomes a sickness. Don’t practice self-deception. Talk soon. Open up. Don’t be too afraid to do it. Talk about it with those who are patient and compassionate and able to listen without blaming. Choose to talk with people who see that anger is complex and painful and has emotionally logical reasons. And yes indeed, love and anger can coexist. Anger does not mean love is dead. Talk to someone who is resilient, who knows dying and surviving.
–Rea Ginsberg is a retired director of social work services, hospice coordinator, and adjunct professor of clinical social work.
Publication History: Originally published on the OKtoDie blog, June 18, 2013:
(image credit: www.michellehan.wordpress.com - "pieces of a broken heart" )