Something’s gotta give – If you stop up a boiling tea kettle, it’s gonna blow its cork

From my journal dated May 20, 2002:

Ohmigosh!! I messed up so badly today. I threw a glass of milk at the wall!!  What a stupid thing to do! It’s just not like me!! I never do things like that! Freaked Jenna out. Thankfully she was nowhere near! Gotta get a grip! What is the matter with me??? Such a knee-jerk reaction to a really stressful situation. [Explanation of stressful situation omitted.]

I’m just so mad. I’m mad at this stupid kid that killed Jason. How could he kill Jason and then just walk away? I’m mad at all these people who leave us so alone to handle everything by ourselves. I’m mad at God for not protecting my precious boy when I’ve prayed since they were born for Him to protect our kids. Why didn’t He protect Jason? He’s omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent. I have trusted Him without question my whole life. I have tried to serve Him. Why didn’t He protect my precious boy? Why were Jason and Alina at that very place at that very moment? A few seconds difference and they would still be alive. Why didn’t God protect them? I trusted Him! Why didn’t He protect them? Why??? I don’t understand!!!

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Anger is a typical reaction in grief. In their book, The Grief Recovery Handbook, J. James and R. Friedman state that “grief is the most powerful of all emotions…also the most neglected and understood…by both grievers and those around them.” (p. 3)

The authors use an excellent example [in Chapter 8, “Short Term Fixes”] of a boiling steam kettle with a cork in the spout – the cork representing misinformation concerning grief, not being able to talk about emotions, or lack of support. As we try to control our emotions inside the kettle, the steam continues to build. It reaches a point of explosion or blowing the cork, which can lead to anything from untidy to disastrous results causing even more damage.

For me, I have always been the one to be strong, to support and take care of everyone, to solve problems, to help and not make demands. I see both sides of the coin and can understand both sides to a situation. As a teenager, it seemed like my mom used tears as a manipulative thing sometimes [although I later realized she just carried her emotions more on the surface than I did], so I determined not to do that. I determined that people would never see me cry and that I would not use tears as a tool to get a reaction from someone else or to play on anyone’s emotions. As a result of my personality and known behaviors, when Jason died, I tried to continue to operate as I usually did, to be strong, to handle my emotions myself, to try to support my family.

But I wasn’t strong; I was broken and heartbroken. I couldn’t help anyone – not even myself. I couldn’t solve anything. I had little support and felt like no one wanted to hear or could deal with my strong emotions. I asked for help and had very little response. I didn’t want people to see me fall apart or cry. I kept pushing things down, trying to stay in control. I was so frustrated, though, so mad, hurting so badly. I didn’t understand anything. My framework of understanding and coping was gone.

I found out, quite dramatically, that it’s very important to find a healthy outlet for grief, one where I felt safe and comfortable in dealing with my strong emotions of grief, with my anger. I couldn’t ignore my emotions; I had to deal with them. I tried to figure out some healthy outlets. I wrote in my journal, my thoughts almost exceeding my ability to put them on paper quickly enough. I wrote ferociously sometimes. When something was bothering me, I would grab my journal and write, sometimes for more than an hour at a time. My journal became my listening ear. I read. I bought and checked out scores of books from the library on grief, trying to find understanding and a connection or common ground with other bereaved parents who had walked similar paths. I walked. I cried. I gave God a piece of my mind when I was driving alone in my car. I figured He was big enough to handle my anger.

I can’t say I was always 100% successful or that my anger went away quickly, but that situation made me very aware of the fact that I needed to find a healthy outlet for my emotions. It was not good for me or for those around me to keep pushing them down. If you keep a boiling kettle corked, it’s gonna explode.

James, J. and R. Friedman. The Grief Recovery Handbook. New York: Harper Collins, 2009.

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