The Beast Inside

I have been wrestling with an ugly beast. For a while it bided its time, pacing behind bars, gathering strength until finally, a few days ago, it broke free.

I’ve always thought of myself as a relatively calm, mild-mannered person, but this week my anger was unleashed. I have wanted to hurl plates, kick the cat and find a tall lonely spot to scream at the sky. No one has been safe from my rage. Not the call centre workers I am endlessly on hold to, nor the friends and loved ones dipping in and out of our pain. Not even Matt. Quite frankly, I have been angry at the world and raging at the seeming unfairness of this situation: it just wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Last week I read On Grief and Grieving by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, which details the author’s infamous ‘five stages’ model of grief. Anger is one of Kübler’s stages, and while I welcome the idea of ‘progression’, I do not find the emotion an easy companion. Anger feels like a misdirection of my energy – a negative descent into the realms of self-pity. I am horrible to be around. My broken heart is leaking venom. I am no longer the wise old lady tending her garden that I wrote about a few weeks ago, but rather a petulant, self-absorbed teenager, stomping resentfully through this new life. Or, in my lowest moments, I’m an embittered old crone sitting alone in the twilight of her life, muttering profanities at the universe. Whoever told me it would get worse before it gets better was right. Dammit.

The counsellor who teaches me about mindfulness tells me that anger is a valid emotion. Who wouldn’t be angry? She reminds me to be gentle with myself – to be self-compassionate and kind. And frankly, even while I rage and berate the unfairness of Matt’s death and its impact upon our family, there is still the small, defeated voice in my head whispering: Why not us? Why not Matt’s death?  We were not so very special … and the only thing we can be certain of in this life is that death will claim us all, at some point. Perhaps it was better this way – to lose love while it was still whole and beautiful – before damage could be done – before we could hurt or disappoint each other?

Still, when the red haze descends, it fills me up. It threatens to pull me apart at the seams and it needs release. Writing helps a little. I am filling pages of my journal with scrawled words, my hand cramping around the pen. And I think that’s why I keep posting here, too. At other times the urge to flee the house is overwhelming. I put my trainers and headphones on and head outside to stimulate some serotonin. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Running was something Matt loved and so it brings its own kind of pain – not just the pain of physical exertion but an emotional response too. To feel my heart pounding in my chest and my lungs burning can serve as a reminder of how alive I am when Matt is not. So when the running fails, I sit instead. I have a secret spot, a sheltered slab of sandstone positioned beside the harbour where I can watch the sunlight playing upon the water, the ferries navigating their way between stops and the dragonflies skimming the waves. It’s hard to appreciate beauty when you long to share it with someone whom you no longer can; but it’s still beauty, and the tears always dry – eventually.

Then, unexpectedly, a moment arrives as it did yesterday morning: my children sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast, me packing my son’s lunchbox and trying to hold back the tears that had begun to flow. I’d thought I was being discrete, but the kids must have noticed my distress because, wordlessly, they left the table and came to hug me; and for just a minute we were a three, adrift on the kitchen floor, clinging to each other in a fierce bundle. It was quite a moment. Powerful not only for the fact it reminded me how amazing they are – so young and yet so full of empathy – so full of their father’s love – but also because it felt for a fleeting second or two that we were no longer a three – but a four again, wrapped in Matt’s strong arms. And let me tell you, it’s hard to sustain the anger when a moment like that comes along and melts you to your hard, bitter core.

 

dragonfly

 

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30 comments

  1. Hannah, your candid accounts of coping at this heartbreaking time fill me with hope and inspiration- to be a better person, and to go for the things I dream of. I can’t imagine what you are going through but I am so humbled by your decision to share at least part of it with the world, and I am sending you good wishes. I loved your novels both very much, but this writing, the stuff that comes from such a deeply personal place, shows how truly talented you are.

    All the best,

    Emily

  2. You know, feeling anger may not be a bad thing. I’d like to feel angry. It would be a change from the monotone emotion of all-pervasive sadness I’ve experienced since my wife died. Embrace anger over emptiness.

  3. I’ve not commented before but I’ve been following each post as you describe your journey through grief. As I read them, my respect for you as a person and as a writer grows each time. I have no words of comfort to offer—I wish I did—but from what you’re describing, you know what you and your family need most and you’re doing it.

  4. Hannah, your words are so deeply moving. They are cathartic for you and provide such insight to us into a world that none of us wants to visit but a world that we all undoubtably will, in one way or another. Shout at the world, at the page, at the ocean if that’s what you need to do in this moment. The burden of the deep pain you describe must seem unbearable and almost paralysing at times and all the while there is the continuance of the ‘everyday life’; the making of lunches, the school run and tending your children’s physical needs and their grief. I feel honoured to bare witness to your feelings on your loss and grief and of the special moments with your precious children. I hope that knowing people, albeit people you don’t actually know, care about you and your kids and want to be there for you, to help and support you, helps you in some small way. Sending hugs. Shell.x

  5. I have yet to feel anger. My main emotion is guilt for feeling I did not do enough in my husband’s last days. My mind burns with the what-ifs, if I had only knowns, maybes and also the why us?! After 5 months I still feel he will come in the door anytime.
    Great post, by the way!

    1. Thank you, Deb. I was given some advice early on in my grieving process to try to focus less on the ‘why?’ questions – why us? why Matt? why this way? etc … but more on the ‘what?’ – ‘what do I need right now, in this moment, to get through. It’s so hard to refocus like that when life feels so tough, but I do find it has helped me at times. I know what you mean about feeling as though they will still walk through the door any moment … I am in that place too. Take care. x

  6. Oh Hannah, I don’t really have helpful things to say or words of any comfort but keep writing and keep sharing your thoughts. I hope it will become easier and wish you, as ever, much love. X

  7. Oh Hannah, That rage is needed. As ugly as it is and as shaken as it may leave you once it passes. It is needed. (For now, not forever) Perhaps the tricky part is to have an outlet to the rage that will do no harm and not frighten your children and friends. Shortly after my husband died I had a sudden flash of rage so powerful that I picked up a big tire – one I couldn’t normally lift – and threw it with such force for such a distance that it damaged the side door of our van. That door never opened or closed properly afterwards. I’d bent the frame. Seriously out-of-control behaviour. The worst part of that episode was that one of my sons witnessed my total loss of control. He needed me to be strong. He’d just lost one parent, he needed to know his other parent was a reliable source love, comfort, normalcy. That flash of raging anguish and pain brought me literally to my knees. I was horrified at myself, ashamed too. There had to be a better way to enable that fury to pass through me without causing harm. But it can’t be denied. Its like a volcano and it will not remain bottled up indefinitely. We, each of us, find our own way through the land-mine field of rage. Acknowledging its existence is a step closer to emerging safe and whole on the other side. I developed a strategy to recognize the early signs, acknowledge the rage, then calm myself through meditation until it passed. I was pretty hopeless at the beginning but became better as time went by. Practise makes perfect and I had lots of practise. At first I found it hard to trust that calmness would address the boiling inner turmoil. I realize as I write this that I haven’t felt any rage now for several years so I guess the strategy worked. You will seek and find one that works for you as well. During your moments of calm you will discover a way of accepting the beast’s arrival, acknowledging its presence, then enabling it to depart without tearing you apart. Take care.

  8. Dear Hannah, I’ve been thinking about writing to you for a while – a friend told me about your blog (she’s the mother of a friend of yours), so I looked and read and was amazed at your articulacy at such a terrible time – I really hope it is helping you just a little bit?
    I’ve been widowed twice, once when only 29, with a 2yr old and a baby on the way, and again 8 months ago, after losing my beloved man to a foul brain tumour…….so I can empathise so strongly with all that you are feeling, and only wish there was some comfort I could offer you – I can only say that it WILL get a little less painful, and your children will give you the reason to keep going – rage is good too, although hard to bear – have courage, and take whatever help is offered you – people who care for you don’t know how to help, so anything they can offer you is helping them as well as you
    I send you all the hugs in the world, and my thoughts xx

    1. Thank you, Saranne. I’m so sorry you have experienced the pain of losing a partner twice. How cruel. Thank you for reaching out to me. It is comforting to hear that it will get a little less painful in time. I hope you are going OK. Take care x

  9. What an extraordinary woman you are, Hannah. From the other side of the world I think about you often and reflect on what a shining example you are of the human spirit – angry, flattened, humbled, all-but destroyed – and yet fighting. I can’t even imagine your husband would have been of you. You are a wonderful writer and, seemingly, a very rare human being. Take good care. X

  10. When I started reading your post, I thought, well of course she’s feeling anger, probably even rage. Just reading your words telling your personal story has made me, a total stranger, so sad and so angry at how unfair, how tragic, how random your husband’s death is. And yet I’m also puzzling about how “ordinary” this situation is. Funny how we construct our own little world and somehow believe we have control over keeping it the way we want when really we don’t. I’m also guilty of not completly grasping the fact that everyday, people’s lives are turned upside down by sudden news of death, illnesses, disability… I’d be the first one to say “it wasn’t supposed to be this way”. Thanks for sharing with us so candidly, I look forward to your beautiful words and feelings and send you good vibes from over the ditch.

    1. Thank you, Maurine. Isn’t it strange how we all secretly believe it won’t happen to us, that we have control? I know I felt that way. Thank you for reading and commenting here. It’s lovely to hear from you.

  11. Dear Hannah

    Oh I do know and recognise this feeling!!! And you expressed it so well – the red haze that descends but even more so that it needs releasing! I know of feeling so totally at the mercy of that anger when before I could count on my calm demeanor. I would never go so far as forgetting myself and explode in anger! It is ugly and let’s admit who wants to be or look ugly? It is scary – a new angle, a new me that I do not want to be! But then I also recall my pride and to some extent arrogance thInking that no matter what I would not succumb to anger. I was better than that! Only to be taught that one lesson that I was not different… I am after all a human being with strong feelings. I easily laugh and easily cry so why not getting angry? The anger does not define the person I am. A psychologist also taught me that it was ok to be angry and let the anger free. Hannah have you ever observed a pressure cooker? How the steam steadily escapes? Have you thought what would happen if it did not have the valve to let the steam escape? Same happens with anger – be glad – that you have a valve to let your anger escape. Yes, there is no denying it may require fine tuning, but you have that at your fingertips! You can decide how and when you want to let that anger escape (screaming in a closet when alone or buying cheap second hand crockery to smash are so liberating). The alternative is that you suppress the anger and it could internalize and turn against you, sneaking up and wrapping itself around you! Trust me that is much much worse! As long as you do not hurt anybody (which you won’t) and real friends know why you go through this dark night of the soul moments, give yourself permission to be angry – it will pass. And on another note, it will enrich your writing because you have experienced and acquired an understanding of human emotions when in deep pain! Yes be kind to yourself – there is a season for everything – so continue and immerse youself in the beauty of this world – the sweetness of your children’s smiles, the heady scent of a beautiful rose or the agonising beauty of a new dawn as the sun rises on the horizon! I truly believe these will be like a healing balm easing and soothing the anger and pain! And you will find that once in a while you will feel that embrace or presence again! Warmest regards Monika

    1. Thank you, Monika. What truthful words you write. You have encouraged me, on this bleak Wednesday morning, to stop feeling sorry for myself for a little while and go and find the ‘beauty of this world’. Thank you x

  12. In grief, whilst we embody so many thoughts and feelings, none the less of guilt, frustration, anger, disappointment and the passage of time, what’s important is what the person whom we are missing, said, not how they sounded in voice; what they did, not what could have been; how they loved and how they were loved in return.

    Find solace in the midst of woe from these thoughts.

  13. Hannah as usual your words move me ❤ In my experience it is not the anger that you should fear but the bitterness. Don't let it harden your heart or blind you to your many blessings. Keep writing, keep venting, keep talking and perhaps more importantly give yourself the space and time to heal xxx

    1. Hi Yolanda. Yes, the bitterness is awful – worse than the anger. I really don’t want it to eat me up. I’m trying very hard not to let it harden me. Thank you for your reminder and your kind words.

  14. That was an amazing post. The gift you have to put your feelings and journey to words is a beautiful one. In your pain you have not lost that. And that is bringing hope to so many others whose journey of darkness is smothering. Thanks!

  15. Hannah, I’ve been meaning to say hello and although I don’t know you Emma Knight has spoken about you a lot when we’ve seen each other. I was (am) so sorry to hear about what’s happened to your family. I did say to Emma that if you ever wanted a chat then I’m always around but I wanted to say it to you firsthand too. You describe feelings I rememer and often still experience so well. Reading about you running and thinking about you finding a place to escape is like reading about myself. Anyway, I just wanted to send my love. Ben x

  16. Dear Hannah, I’ve just started reading “Secret of the Tides” and thought I would look you up online. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. Your post brought tears to my eyes. I can’t even imagine the pain you must be feeling. Hopefully the writing and the passing of time will help to heal your heart. Sending hugs your way.

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