I'm Not Angry
Author: Michele Hiester Marcum
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.