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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

How My Daughter's Death Taught Me
The Meaning of Life

 

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CHAPTER SEVEN: DEAR ELISABETH

I screamed and cried and pounded until I was exhausted, and then I screamed and cried some more. I screamed for Kristen. I cried for me. Kristen had suffered, and Michel was suffering for not having her. We were both in pain, and I could do nothing to change this. I bellowed out the anger at my helplessness in having to accept this. I hated God for taking her from us.

While everyone did this "grief work," as you called it, the room overflowed with so much pain and so many tears, I thought I was in the saddest place in the world. But hours later, there was a lightness and peace that felt good. Elisabeth, pounding on the log worked well! What a freeing feeling it was to release this anger in a safe way where we only got a few blisters on our hands. By the last day of the workshop, the room filled with laughter and a sense of relief at shedding the heaviness of repressed pain. The cancer didn't leave and a loved one didn't return, but there was a newfound strength in going forward.

I learned that I didn't need to attend a workshop to work out these agonized feelings. Anger would last a long time, and later, in the privacy of my own home, it helped if I ripped up telephone directories or screamed into pillows.

Confronting anger was the most important step I took in coming to terms with grief. A huge weight was lifted — a weight that seemed to have been confined to my chest. I had been smothering in my grief, my emotions. For the first time in months, I could breathe. I could actually feel the air fill my lungs, and my body felt light.

It wasn't until then that I realized how heavy my chest had become. The build-up had been occurring gradually over the months following Kristen's death. It was at your workshop that I appreciated the power of this emotion and the importance of letting it go. One person at the workshop later told me that when he first saw me sitting in the circle, I was encased in a dark cloud. Now I could see how the anger had been devouring me. I couldn't enjoy a sunset or a walk in the park. I had become resentful and bitter, and a black cloud followed me wherever I went. Releasing the anger could not bring Kristen back, but it did help lift my despair, and allowed me to go forward. I never want to feel that suffocated again.

My experience taught me firsthand why in grief there can be such anger. How natural it is to feel angry when one's dreams and plans are suddenly interrupted by death. I had felt until then that I was somewhat in control of my life. Yet the irony was that I had absolutely no control over what mattered most to me. I now know that until one understands death, one cannot understand life. Everything changes at death's door.

Later, while studying to become a psychologist, I discovered how much more difficult it was for women to express anger than men. Women more frequently get depressed instead of angry. Depression is a normal and natural part of grief, but it can be so exhausting and paralyzing that you feel like your life is over. I have found in my experience as a psychologist as well as a bereaved mother that depression does decline once we give ourselves permission to express anger.

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