More than two years ago my father died. His death was the long slow decline of old age. It was as if over time his body gradually stopped working. Over the years and months, we sat with him, shared stories with him, cared for him as the end came closer.
He planned his funeral nominating music and the party that would follow. We talked about how he wanted Mum to be looked after.
But we never talked about how much we would miss each other. Instead we argued!
We argued about his wish that I did not speak at his funeral, because he didn’t want me to be a sobbing mess up there in front of all of those people. Mumbling something about seeing that happen at other funerals, and it always being so hard for him to watch, the anger flared.
Out of love he didn’t want that level of distress for me, nor for others in the crowd.
All too painful!
But you see life is painful.
And in this case, it was the beauty of our love for one another, which I desperately wanted to speak about.
If we think about anger as often being a secondary emotion, designed to shield us from the pain of experience.
We can see what was happening here.
It was all too painful to share how much we would miss each other and to face the unknowns of death. So instead we argued about whether or not, I would share this truth with others after he was gone.
How hard it can be to be with love, loss and the unknown.
Everyday in my work as a therapist, I sit with people facing the pain of life. And yet when it was my turn, it was not beyond my awareness of how I was struggling to be with the truth of my own father’s dying.
Culturally we are discouraged from meeting pain, but is that, to deny ourselves the opportunity to experience the exhilaration of meeting life?
In the end we were able to recognise what was happening and we settled on being close to one another. Our bodies knew the language of our relational experience.
Next time you experience yourself or someone else being angry, perhaps wonder if there is possibly a deeper emotion here that is hard to be with?
Consider these stages:
- Opening – to the possibility of uncomfortable emotion
- Acceptance – give permission for it to be there
- Compassion – making space for the foibles of our humanity
- Connection – opening to deeper relationships with self and other
And in doing so you may come in contact with the exhilaration of meeting life.
In those last few minute as he exhaled his last breaths, I finally found the courage let him go.
His death was raw and in its truth quite beautiful.
Finding the space to sit with the pain and beauty of life and death, there was no longer anger, just love.
Anger is an important emotion, it can tell us a lot.
When you next experience anger, I invite you to give it permission to be there and in your sitting with it, ponder whether it may be telling you something more.
What is your anger telling you?
(Sarah Sacks is a Wholebody Focusing Oriented Therapist, who works from her practice in St Kilda East, Melbourne. Taking a holistic approach to counseling, Sarah works to empower her clients to find their own unique path to understanding.)
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