by Barbara Fane, LCSW, BCD
Death causes grief.
It’s overwhelming and painful. We all want to help ease the pain of a family in their time of loss.However when they’re consumed with grief, people don’t always behave rationally, especially if the grief is due to a suicide. A loss by suicide generally presents a more complicated and traumatic grief process which can be fraught with so many heightened and confusing emotional reactions. Coupled with the deep sadness and grief we normally experience when we’ve lost a loved one in death, there is another, unexpected, emotion that sometimes emerges when a suicide has occurred. That emotion is rage.
Feelings of rage in a suicide death are not uncommon and are usually produced from a perception of “rejected love.” A person we love has left the world without warning, by his or her own hand, abandoning loved ones, friends, and family. The unwillingness or inability of the suicide victim to reach out to others is brought into the forefront. Many unanswered questions loom.
“Why? I loved him. He knew that!”
“How could she leave me?”
“What did I do to deserve this?”
“I knew something wasn’t right but never expected this.”
For those left behind after suicide, normal anger about the unfairness of death can explode into rage. Rage at their lost loved one. Rage at family members. Rage at God. Rage at themselves.
The rage directed at themselves or others is fueled by an overwhelming need for the impossible — a need for things to go back to how they were. The depth of rage may be frightening in its intensity, not only to those witnessing it, but also to the one experiencing it.
If you’re faced with this type of rage from a friend or loved one, the best way to help is to listen. Listen without judgement and resist the urge to quell his or her rage. The ability to express this rage is actually a necessary step to diminish the rage and is a first step toward healing. It is far healthier to express grief, even in rage, than it is to suppress it.
For those who have lost a loved one to suicide, the behavior and feelings listed are common. For those experiencing rage, however, these feelings and behaviors occur more often and are magnified.
- Anger — out of control and all-consuming anger
- Aggressiveness — aggression that is impulsive and out of control
- Destruction — destroying items with monetary or sentimental value
- Fighting — starting and getting into fights
- Substance Abuse — overindulging in drugs or alcohol
- Violence — threatening to hurt or kill others or him- or herself
- Emotional Problems — difficulty concentrating or making decisions, lack of motivation, depression, sleeping too much or too little, eating too much or not enough, low self-esteem
How Can You Help?
Before you can help a friend or loved one who is experiencing this type of rage, you must be sure you are safe. If your loved one becomes physically violent, leave and get help.
If you’re confronted with an angry (non-violent) outburst:
- Remain calm
- Listen without judgement
- Do not become confrontational
- Focus on your friend or loved ones feelings, not his or her behavior
In addition to family and friends who are available to help ease the pain, there are others who can help.
Therapists who specialize in grief counseling and traumatic loss are available for individual or group counseling. One-on-one, a counselor can help those who grieve understand and move through their rage. Group counseling connects those who are dealing with the grief of a traumatic death with others in the same situation. Telling their story and sharing their feelings with others who understand is a highly effective way to work through the rage and anger of their loss.
BARBARA FANE, LCSW, BCD
THERAPY and COUNSELING SERVICES