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I'm Not Angry


Date: January 7 , 2013

Home Page Tabs Title: I'm Not Angry

Posted By: TAPS

I’m having a tough time understanding why I’m not angry. I feel like I’m somehow betraying my brother’s memory by not being rip-roaring, chest-beating, sky-screaming bitter about his death. Maybe I just don’t have the energy it takes to be angry any more. Or maybe there is a huge fiery pit of angry flames a few miles down the road, just waiting to drag me in. (That scares me.) Or maybe I really did experience anger, but I defined it as something else? Search the word grief in any search engine, and you’re bound to see the word anger pop up. I’m just not sure what anger looks like for me. Or for you.


I'm Not Angry

~ Michele Marcum, Survivor

January 7, 2013

I’m not angry.  And that makes me mad.
If you’re confused by that, then that makes two of us!  Let me explain…

During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I’d been especially mindful this year of the gamut of emotions existing among those crossing my path each day.  There are driven shoppers, eager to snatch up deals with the tenacity of pit bulls, leaving nothing but empty shelves and harsh words in their wake.  There are the sweet, pokey shoppers who painfully ponder each precious gift selection, no matter how many carts are squeezing around the bottleneck their pokiness has unwittingly created.  And then there are those who grumble and grunt their way through the stores, cursing Santa and all his reindeer by name.  Holidays seem to bring out the best… and the worst… in people.
For a people-watcher like me, holiday outings offered an endless assortment of individuals to consider.  And I am a sucker for a great story.  But for those of you reading this, I would venture to guess that we all share similar less-than-great life stories with the same basic plot: someone we love died, and now merely surviving is preferable to actually living.  Basic survival depends upon only a short list of essential elements: eat, sleep, repeat.  True living, however, requires MUCH more of us.  It demands that we be involved, interact, get hurt, heal a little, move forward, reciprocate… get hurt again.  Quite frankly, real life is painful.
Ever been behind that person at the checkout who couldn’t find the item they were seeking?  And the clerk makes the mistake of asking cheerily, “Did you find everything you were looking for?”  And the shopper then proceeds to berate the innocent clerk for every inadequacy experienced within that store for the duration of its existence?  And you can do nothing more than stand there in shocked amazement, wondering “Wow… who peed in your Cheerios this morning?”  That shopper isn’t really upset about that elusive item that can’t be bought.  The reaction is really connected to something altogether different and much deeper.   I think there’s a little bit of that feeling burbling within each of us.  Label it whatever you want: depression, exhaustion, frustration, anxiety, defeat, whatever.  We’re all in this together.
And that brings me back to my original point.  I’m not angry, but I feel like I should be.  I feel like I somehow skipped a step in the grief process.  In the nearly eight years since we buried my brother, I have never once felt true anger.  I’ve never screamed at God or cursed the military.  I’ve never doubted that there is a reason of some sort hidden somewhere beneath my aching heart.  Mostly, I just feel sad.  Sad that he isn’t here to enjoy his children, sad that my kids don’t get to really know him, sad that my parents had to bury a child.  But sadness is not the same as anger and I often wonder if my lack of anger could be misconstrued as a lack of caring.
I look at all these people who have crossed my path recently and find myself drawing conclusions to questions that weren’t asked, providing logical reasons for their behaviors.  The lady who was rude to the cashier?  She must be dealing with a lot at home.  That guy who cut me off in traffic, only to be stopped by the red light just ahead?  He’s doesn’t want to miss his kid’s school program.  The kid who just rammed his cart into the back of me?  He’s excited to be helping his mom get the shopping done.  It’s all in perspective, I guess.  I just find myself cutting everyone some slack, and I’m wondering if some day, I might just cut myself some while I’m at it.
So I guess that’s the main point of this post.  I’m having a tough time understanding why I’m not angry.  I feel like I’m somehow betraying my brother’s memory by not being rip-roaring, chest-beating, sky-screaming bitter about his death.  Maybe I just don’t have the energy it takes to be angry any more.  Or maybe there is a huge fiery pit of angry flames a few miles down the road, just waiting to drag me in.  (That scares me.)  Or maybe I really did experience anger, but I defined it as something else?  Search the word grief in any search engine, and you’re bound to see the word anger pop up.  I’m just not sure what anger looks like for me.  Or for you.
My challenge for all of us this new year (yes, I’m talking specifically to myself) is to forget the labels and simply just be.  Tell the story, but remember that there really is no ending when one is loved.  Grief is a messy process that doesn’t come wrapped in a neat package.  It’s what’s inside that counts the most.  I pray that we all find peace and compassion tucked within.


I am so glad that someone has voiced their lack of anger as I have been dealing with since the death of my son. I can only hold the person that made the IED that killed him...and noone else. I know he was captured...and I had a GREAT amount of satisfaction knowing this. But not once have I blamed God...the Marine Corp...or any that were with him. I've been dealing with all my emotions as they come since the grieving process began and I am grateful to read I'm not the only one that feels as you do.
Thank you for this!!

Proud Gold Star Mother of
Cpl. John Corey Tanner, USMC
KIA 8/29/07
Albu Hyatt, Al Anbar Province,
Posted by: Melanie Tanner at 1/7/2013 11:28 AM

Kyle, I love your piece, and I thank you for writing it. Your concern about NOT feeling angry probably stems from the popular fiction that normal grief occurs in so-called stages, one of which supposedly includes the stage of anger. The stage model was embraced by the public following the publication of Elisabeth-Kubler Ross's ground-breaking book, "On Death and Dying," way back in 1969, and it's still considered gospel today. But in the last 40+ years, a wealth of research has been done, focusing specifically on bereavement, loss and grief. We now know that grief is the normal response to the death of a loved one, and it doesn't happen in neatly ordered "stages" as such. Most of us who specialize in grief counseling prefer to think of grief as the personal experience of the loss, and mourning as a process (not a single event) that can affect us in every dimension of our lives: physical, emotional, social, spiritual and financial. One problem with the stage model is that when people like yourself don't experience one of the stages (such as anger) they think there's something wrong with them, or, as you describe, they live in fear that "there is a huge fiery pit of angry flames a few miles down the road, just waiting to drag me in." Please let go of that fear. You sound like a wonderfully empathic individual who's learned some valuable life lessons in the wake of personal tragedy. Good for you! You might find this post to be of interest, "Is Anger One of the Stages of Grief? http://j.mp/zVUhp5
Posted by: Marty Tousley( Visit ) at 1/7/2013 12:47 PM

Like you, I have never felt anger for the death of my son, SPC. Justin Johnson. We lost him almost 9 years ago to a IED in Iraq. I'm still proud of my son and what he stood for. I miss him everyday and sometimes feel like I can't go on but I know he would want me to so I do. As I have shared with other parents who have started that new chapter in their lives, no one does it the same. Just because that is how I feel and what I do, doesn't mean it is the only right thing.
Posted by: Jan at 1/7/2013 7:37 PM

I lost my 29 year old son almost exactly one year ago...He was a proud Marine who spent three tours in Iraq which left him with severe PTSD and a TBI. We had no idea about the TBI until we requested his medical records following his death. Curt was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps 5 years ago. During this time he struggled daily from the flashbacks, anxiety, insomnia, anger, road rage and general confusion that these ailments produce. He was being seen at the Dayton VA Hospital and treated for PTSD but NEVER was treated for the TBI. I seriously don't think that he ever KNEW he had a TBI. It was only mentioned once in his post-deployment briefing. He was never, ever treated for it. He would deploy for 9 or 10 months, spend 2 or 3 months stateside and then return to Iraq, all while struggling with the PTSD and more debilitating, the TBI. On the morning of 1/3/12, at about 9:00 a.m. he sent a text to his family and friends that he felt he could no longer live a normal, healthy life...the PTSD, alcohol, and all the symptoms that went along with having endured three years of war had taken their toll. He was the light of everyone's life; no one ever thinks about him without seeing that beautiful smile and those big green eyes. He loved the outdoors, he worked hard, he owned his own home, he was a son everyone would want to have. Unlike those above, I'm angry as hell. I'm angry at the Marine Corps. for not treating the TBI and for not notifying him OR his family of that physical wound, and I'm angry that they sent him back home to us with these horrifying symptoms of which we knew nothing about how to handle. I feel that his death was totally avoidable had someone at the VA reached out to me, his mother and his emergency contact. On 11/25/12, his last appointment at the VA, he told his therapist of his impending feeling of doom. He didn't think he was going to live much longer. He could no longer drive without road rage, he couldn't sleep or eat, he self-medicated with alcohol and pot, everywhere he looked he saw reminders of Iraq. He carried an unbelievable rage around with him everywhere he went. He couldn't stand the site of a middle-easterner. It would throw him into a wild rage. These are all the things that were quoted in his medical record. To me, a nonprofessional but a person who has raised two children and feel I have some COMMON SENSE, why would a therapist let him drive out of that parking lot after he had just told her that he is afraid of hurting another driver on the road because he cannot contain his road rage; he had no tolerance for BS. Six weeks later, my son was dead by a self-inflicted shot gun wound to his chest. He left a note apologizing to all of us; he felt that he had let us down; he wasn't the person he was raised to be nor ever wanted to be; he hated hurting all who loved him. Apparently he had spent 1/1 and 1/2/12 alone in his home looking at family pictures that he had accumulated over the years. He lit a candle on his coffee table and carried the loaded gun around for two days waiting for the "right moment" to take care of business. I cannot bear to think of my son being alone and in that situation for those long two days. As I am an hour away from his home, you can only imagine what was going through my mind all the way there: "Curt, my baby boy, please, please be there when I get there. We will get you the help you need. Why didn't you tell us how badly you felt?" all the while thinking of what a crappy mother I must have been not to have noticed his suffering. When I pulled into his street, the first vehicle that caught my eye was the Coroner's van along with several police and fire vehicles. No ambulance. I knew in that instant my precious son was gone. I dropped to my knees in the snow covered street and screamed the loudest, saddest scream that I had ever heard come out of a human being....A police officer helped me to my feet and tried to help me put my coat on. At that very second, my motherly instinct kicked in: I had to get to my baby boy. He lie there all alone with no one who loved him to hold him, kiss him, be there for him. Tragically, the police officers would not let me in his home. I regret that to this day. I wanted to be there for my precious son. I wanted to see him, hold him, talk to him, smell him, all of the things I would never be able to do again.....for as long as I wanted to. I supposed the officers thought they were doing me a favor by not letting me witness this horrific scene but I wouldn't have seen it as horrific. My son lie there alone, had passed, and of all people he needed, it was me, his mother. I never got the chance to ever hold him in my arms again. I wanted to hold his hands, kiss his forehead, run my hands through his hair, caress him to me....for those were the last moments I would be able to do this. The police whisked us away to a neighbor's house for what seemed hours. They removed him from his home and we did not see him for two days...he was held at the morgue in Montgomery Co. and then transferred to the funeral home. The next time I saw him, he was lying in a casket in his full Dress Blues, just as though he was asleep. I could not hold him, I could barely touch him, I could barely reach him to kiss him goodbye. I wanted to hold his hands; they had gloves on him. I wanted to talk to him and tell him what a wonderful, fun son he was and how I felt privileged to be his mother. He was the light of my life. Now he rests at the Dayton National Cemetery where he worked so hard to provide a beautiful, peaceful resting place for all of his fallen brethren. He is buried between two young soldiers, also 29, who were KIA; one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Ironically they were all born between March and May of 1982....His final resting place is at the top of a small knoll in the middle of the cemetery under a beautiful tree. It is breathtaking to say the least; a mini Arlington Cemetery, where he requested to be buried. He asked that all of his work buddies take good care of him when he arrived there and that he would always be there to keep his eye on them making sure they were carrying out all of the beautiful projects he had in progress. There is not a minute that goes by that I do not think about Curt and what might have been had that therapist made a call to me that day when he finally had the courage to reach out for help and bare his soul. Would it have saved him? Would the end have been the same only further down the road? I have pledged my life down to my last breath that our returning Veterans and their families get the care and treatment that they so deserve and so need. So....if you are asking me if I am angry over the loss of my son....I must say that I am.....not angry at him but angry at the bureaucratic BS that let him down....Proud Marine Mom, Jody Merrill
Posted by: Jody at 1/9/2013 3:48 AM

Jody, my heart breaks for you. The story you’ve told is quite different from mine, and yet most likely similar to those of many other survivors. Sometimes the only thing more brutal than anger is pure honesty. Thank you so much for sharing your story and for having the courage to be honest! I don’t know you personally, but after reading your post, I feel like I do. You sound like an AMAZING mom who will change how the world views (and treats) PTSD and TBI. I am so very sorry that Curt’s concerns were not addressed, and I’m angry that we, as a country, let our soldier down. The next time I am anywhere near Dayton, I will make it a point to visit your sweet son’s grave and pay my respects personally. Until then, please know that I hold you and your family close in thought and prayer. Your anger is justified. And the impact you make on everyone who reads your post will be significant! (((Hugs)))
Posted by: Michele at 1/17/2013 11:25 AM

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