Anger and Bargaining: The Journey of Grief For Parents and Families Who Have Children With Special and Unique Needs

A young woman screaming uncontrollably while isolated on a black background

I can’t really recall when my experience with grieving moved to a place of anger.  I can, however, remember why.  I was resentful, I was angry and I was pissed that by no choice of my own I was being forced to depart from the life that I dreamt that we would experience as a family towards a life that was now an undesired reality after the diagnosis of our son with autism.  If there was anything in life that I had mastered, it was being angry!

As much as I loved my son, the pain and the anger were very real and it managed to feed into so many different areas of my life.  My work, my friendships, my relationship with my wife and even and especially in my relationship with my sons.   It is difficult to even write this as I recall that part of my life.  So much was happening at that time, our son was non-communicative for the most part, he was frustrated that we couldn’t understand his basic needs and wants and to make matters worse, that was the period of time when he became aggressive and destructive of our personal belongings.   Dining ware, drinking glasses, bowls, light bulbs, televisions, laptops, tablets, etc. it didn’t matter what it was nor how we attempted to safeguard him and our belongings it all was at risk of being destroyed.  I was not enjoying life.

I sat in my office at work, there was a knock on the door and in walked a man who I have much respect for.

“You have a minute?”

“Sure”, I replied.

Gil proceeded to take a seat in one of the chairs in my office and then asked,

“So how are you doing”?

Well, that was one of those days that he caught me in one of my not so pleasant moods.  This dear man who came to be one of my most treasured mentors in life sat and listened without saying a word for what seemed to be 10-15 minutes.  I proceeded to go down the laundry list of everything that was not right in our lives.   And in a calm, loving and yet direct fashion he spoke,

“John, you appear to be angry”

“What?  I am not angry!”

His words were initially received with resentment that he would even suggest such a thing until….I started to cry, I mean REALLY cry.  The tears kept coming and coming and coming .  They wouldn’t stop.  I knew Gil was right.  Through a broken voice I shared all the hurt and pain that I had accumulated for such a long period of time.  He affirmed his depth of love for me and then asked,

“Do you think that just maybe a therapist might help?”

Well, I wasn’t so sure about that option.   We talked further about it and I agreed that I would look into it even though I was very reluctant.   I was comfortable with my anger.  I was content with being pissed about all that we had experienced in life, especially in regards to our journey with our son.   I did shortly thereafter develop a relationship with a therapist and was able to come to terms with my experience with grief.

Anger is one of those things that in our culture has come to be known as a destructive force, an undesirable emotion.   There is no doubt that anger can translate into action as expressed in unhealthy ways through abuse, neglect, and violence (emotional and physical).   Anger at its basic level can be a normal and healthy emotion that is a reflection of a wide variety of experiences in life, it is especially true to form in our experience with grief after losing something that we once had which no longer exists.  Anger is a part of who we are, it serves as a survival mechanism, when discharged it can calm us, it can energize us, motivate us and help us solve the challenges that we face.  When utilized effectively it can be a catalyst for discovering more about ourselves and others and ultimately empower us to collaborate with others to accomplish a common goal.

Lisa Goyette and I (founders of Celebrate Hope) are very intentional about “normalizing” the experience and emotions of the parents and caregivers who we work with that have children with special and unique needs.   One of the most harmful things that we can do for ourselves and others is to label such emotions as “bad”.   What we feel and what we experience is real.  The only way of moving through the pain that we experience is by being truthful, open and honest about what is.

As we have said all along with this series on grief, the journey of grief is just that, a journey.   It is a journey that is unique to each and every one of us.  There is no right or wrong way to move through grief, it is what it is and it is your journey to take.

Next week we will continue our series as we write about “Depression, Reflection and Loneliness”.    Be sure to check out our website at http://www.celebratehopellc.com. You may also reach us (248) 330-8493.

Email here  facebook