As of yesterday, it has been exactly 11 months since my dad died. At this time a year ago, I was deep in the middle of the worst time in my entire life, and I couldn’t really even share my story with the people around me. We were waiting, praying and hoping beyond hope that the truth that was starting us in the face wasn’t going to happen. A year ago I was in shock, angry at the world, at God and the universe and wondering how my dad, a man who had bested a large brain tumor only one year before, could possibly be dying. I wondered why, and how could we stop this from happening and what did we ever do wrong to deserve this? I pled and I bargained and I screamed at the sky. Why? Why my dad? Why now?
I was angry, so very angry, and I wondered why he would have been allowed to make it though the brain tumor only to be ripped away from us by cancer a little more than a year later. It felt so wrong, so unfair, and so very, very cruel. My dad said that it was his bonus year given to him by God, but I questioned in my own head just what kind of god could be so cruel to offer someone that time only to take it away when things were going well.
I cried, more than I have ever cried in my life. Hot tears of anger and frustration and grief for all the time that we wouldn’t have together. I don’t think that I have ever been so mad in my life, and there were days when it was a wonder I didn’t snap and completely lose my crap. I was sad, yes, but the worst was still to come. I walked around all day, carrying this secret, this horrible, awful thing that was eating me up little by little. My anger was intense and I felt like I was being ripped off. Big time. I hated everything in the universe, I hated god and I hated the medical system.
It is hard for me to say that out loud. I don’t know if anyone, aside for a couple of close friends and my husband really knew how angry I was. It was all I could do to contain it most of the time. Here I was trying to keep everything together for myself, for my dad and my mom and my sister and my husband and son. I am an angry crier, so there were a lot of hot, scalding tears. I felt raw, as though someone had just rubbed me on a giant cheese grater and then sprayed me with lemon juice. I wanted to try and enjoy the time we had left with dad, because we didn’t know how much more time there would be. Every second of every day I waited for a call, one that would shatter my heart into pieces. I was afraid. I didn’t want to be, I wanted to be the bigger person, the strong person, the rock. But I couldn’t. I felt like I was crumbling and that the world as falling in around me and I didn’t know how to stop it.
No one ever talks much about the anger that comes with grief. I thought that I was crazy, that there was something wrong with me and that I was grieving wrong. I didn’t understand how I could be grieving while my dad was still alive. I didn’t understand why I felt like a pressure cooker just waiting to blow. I didn’t realize that anger is a normal part of the grieving process. The bargaining, the frustration, the fury. All of it is ok, yet I felt alone in these feelings. Yes, I knew that other people felt upset and sad, but it felt like I was the only one who was ANGRY. I wanted to kick walls and hit things and scream. I was pissed.
Even as an adult, I had not really envisioned a life without my dad in it. I saw him being there to see Q compete in his first gymnastics meet, to be at his first concert, to see him graduate high school. I saw him there to be a part of his wedding and teach Q about his Filipino heritage. I saw more summers at the beach and more winters at the mountain. I saw a whole lifetime, decades more time, watching my parents get old and become great grandparents. I didn’t see it coming.
We were cheated. There is no other way to say it. How could you not be angry about that?
Why am I sharing this with you now? I’m not sure. I feel like it paints me in an awful light, but I also wish that someone had told me that it is normal to be angry when you are grieving. Obviously you don’t want to physically hurt anyone, but it’s OK to go and take your frustrations out on a punching bag or in the gym, or to lock yourself in a room and scream until you can’t anymore if you have to.
Grief, and the feelings of grief, can really reduce us to a primal state. How often do you see or hear someone howling with sadness, animal like in their pain? It reminds us that we are not in control, and are really at the mercy of the universe. If you are anything like me, that out of control feeling is difficult to handle, and for me, the desire to have control over my situation is a coping strategy. I hated myself for feeling this way, yet I couldn’t stop it from happening either.
I wish so much that someone, or something had told me that what I was feeling wasn’t wrong, and that there isn’t just one way to mourn. That it’s alright to be angry or sad or numb or just feel how you feel. Together, when we talk about it, somehow, it seems a little less crazy. Please remember, though, you are never alone, someone else has been there.