It took me several years to acknowledge the residual anger that I had following the diagnosis of my husband with brain cancer and his eventual death. I was a young widow with two young children and the life that I had envisaged was no longer possible.
I had layer upon layer of anger that I resisted expressing. It felt like a deep undercurrent buzzing through my bones and blood.
To vent my anger, frustration and hurt, I created an imaginary monster – A Monster of Circumstance.
I stored a lot of anger away in my “Parking Lot of Postponed Emotions“. The circumstances of being a cancer carer and then young widow/single mother frustrated and hurt me.
Occasionally I made a quick angry comment to a close friend or displayed my discontent with a steely glance. But mostly I refused to be angry and said things to myself such as:
” I will not be angry. I will remain calm.
Anger is not constructive.
Anger is selfish!
I will not break! I will not let all these circumstances overwhelm me!
There are lots of people with far greater loads!
I can’t take this anger out on anyone! That would not be fair.
I am not the one with the terminal illness. I am not a young child. My anger, my pain and needs can wait.
I will not ask Why me and Why us? I won’t rally against the “unfairness”. I know that everyone encounters difficulties and challenges in their lives.”
These comments made rational sense but eventually the deep undercurrent of anger started to bubble inside me seeking attention. I was agitated. Holding it together was taking all my willpower and restricting me from feeling other emotions. It was preventing me from being present and patient with my children. I was unable to enjoy and feel gratitude for the small moments of wonder that each day provides.
Following a discussion with my grief counselor, I created an imaginary Monster of Circumstance and started to write a letter to it listing all the challenges and circumstances that particularly riled me.
Creating an imaginary being , a monster, meant that I could direct my rage at “someone”. When I ranted at the monster, if I was selfish or self righteous it did not matter. It wasn’t a friend or a family member. I could show my most vulnerable unreasonable self and it would not judge me. It would not disclose my secrets or be hurt by what I said because it was imaginary.
Here is an excerpt of my letter:
Dear MONSTER OF CIRCUMSTANCE
Would you just stop?!? No matter how many tests and obstacles you keep throwing me at I am still going to do my best. But gee – Do you really have to keep adding on all these layers! Will you just back off? When are you going to back off?? I will keep on getting up and be as PATIENT and CALM and LOVING as I can. I will no longer hold a space for you in my heart.
Let’s make a list of things that you keep throwing at me!!
- My son has significant speech delays and still finds it hard to make some sounds. It was so hard to understand him in those early years. He developed his own sign language to communicate. It made it hard for my husband to understand him. Come on … my husband was struggling with terminal cancer and trying to make the most of his time with his son – was that fair? It made it harder for us to enjoy catching up with friends because we had to translate for our son. And didn’t my son already have enough anxiety and trauma in his life surrounding him with his father’s illness?
- Communication challenges due to brain cancer! Not only did my son have speech problems but my husband also had challenges with speech, communication, reading and writing. (His cancer was in the parietal lobe of the brain). He struggled to recall words, or to physically say words that he COULD think of. He lost his ability to get a sentence out of his brain and into text. He could think a thought but could not independently write messages on card or text messages. He couldn’t get his brain to work to read so he tried to remember stories from kids books so he could “read” to the kids but in fact he was using his memory. It was SO hard to watch him trying to overcome those challenges. It was so hard to be patient when no-one in my house could effectively communicate!!! And then my father would come over to visit and he has early onset Alzheimers so his short term memory and conversation was also hard to follow!
- My daughter is allergic to nuts and at risk of Anaphylaxsis which is a life threatening condition. Every time we went anywhere we needed to be vigilant about food – to make sure that people did not serve a cake or a salad with hidden nuts or peanut butter sandwiches. Didn’t I already have enough round the clock anxiety? I was already on edge watching my husband in case of seizures which is entirely possible and probable when someone has swelling in the brain. We were warned that we should assess the risks of a seizure if
- my husband went swimming (if he had seizure could we pull his six foot four frame out of the water?)
- if he was walking and carrying the kids or pushing the kids in a pram on a steep hill he could have a seizure and injure himself and the children. If I left him alone to look after the kids (when they were under four years of age) and he had seizure – what would happen?
- My husband’s focus and main attention was to survive the treatment, maximize his time and love with the kids and enjoy light relief with friends. He had little left to give to me as his wife. That hurt. I understood but I missed him! I also felt unable to raise some of my feelings and expectations with him because I was constantly aware that brain cancer can impact cognition, personality and emotions .
All of these challenges succeeded in rattling me and still do. Go on throwing those spinners and curve balls at me but you know what??? I will just keep telling you to b#ggar off. I will feel the anger that you create and I will ask it to leave. Then I will go and find the joy and sunlight in my life. Don’t expect me to store anger next time you make life difficult for me. I’m wiser now.
Once I wrote the letter I felt lighter. I was surprised at how long my list of gripes was – there were many more items!
As I reflected on my letter and my anger, three insights came to me.
- My life WAS tough. I recognized that I needed to be more COMPASSIONATE to myself. It would become a new mantra to practice. Permission to care for myself and take life easier.
- I could see that the challenges I still faced were preventing me from living life the way that I had envisaged. I could not live how I had dreamed and I also could not return to my previous way of life – before children and before bereavement. The challenges were here to stay. I was a single mother, my children needed support with their developmental challenges and my parents needed support with the diagnosis of my father’s illness of Alzheimers. I needed to LET GO of how I thought life should be and ACCEPT how life now was.
- I needed to practice forgiveness. Forgiveness of myself for the times when I was angry, perhaps distant or not as patient I would have liked to have been. And forgiveness to my husband – understanding that his way of focusing his love and attention on his health and our children was also a way of demonstrating his love for me.
The letter was a great release and provided a new level of awareness of the importance of self compassion, letting go/acceptance and forgiveness. (Potential topics of future posts!)
After the letter I felt more comfortable expressing my anger at further obstacles and circumstances by sharing my thoughts with dear friends. Friends whom I could trust would listen without judgement and with compassion.
And if my friends weren’t available – I would quietly berate the monster of circumstance and tell him that no matter what he threw at me – I would continue on and enjoy life!