By Kim Longden
One evening during the recent Memorial Day weekend I took a walk through our neighborhood. It was noticeably quieter than usual—many houses empty and closed up as people were gone on holiday excursions, a visible sign of life getting back to normal. Rather than being glad with this realization, I detected a recently recurring feeling of anger well up.
I’d been experiencing similar feelings the past couple of weeks while seeing posts on social media of people doing things that weren’t possible a year ago due to pandemic restrictions. Alongside my joy for friends celebrating milestones and family events were unexpected feelings of anger and resentment. And, after months of thinking about how nice it would be to walk into a store without seeing everyone masked up—it was becoming a reality and I’d just been, well, irritated.
Why? Why the anger and resentment? Why this irritableness?
Recently, the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death came and went. Around that time I read a Next Step Community blog post on practicing noticing what I’m feeling and inviting Jesus into that experience, whatever it is—even if I don’t know what it is.
I began praying about these unexpected emotions, which up to that point I’d been pushing aside and trying to ignore. Soon afterward, I was running errands and listening to a radio station airing a full day of programming on grief. I found myself sitting in a parking lot overcome with sorrow hearing the stories of loss that were shared. It was identifiable sadness over my mom’s death I was feeling at that moment, and I realized this feeling was tied deeply to the other unexpected emotions I’d been experiencing over the past couple of weeks.
And that’s when it hit me: these feelings of anger and resentment I’ve been having at things getting back to normal—could that actually be grief?
I’ve noticed that grief can be covert like that—it doesn’t always present itself in an obvious, “I’m sad because my mom died” sort of way. It sneaks in at the corners and can show up in other emotions.
When my dad died six years ago, I had such uncharacteristic outbursts of anger that I didn’t know what was going on. For some reason throwing down my cell phone was a physical way this anger manifested itself.
(This also happened to be when Apple had its most fragile iPhones on the market—remember the ones that were glass in the front and back? Let’s just say we can now laughingly refer to this as the “mommy needs an OtterBox” phase of my life.)
At the time, though, it was scary and disorienting. It wasn’t until a few years later when I attended a grief group after losing our pastor tragically in a car accident that I began to learn more about grief and how it rears its head in sometimes unexpected ways.
Losing my mom during pandemic restriction strangeness a year ago in many ways delayed my having to deal with the natural progression of everyday life resuming without her. After her funeral, life went back to the weirdness we were living in at that point, not back to “normal.”
Now, a year later, resuming “regular life” forces the reality that there will be no holiday cookouts or family milestone celebrations with mom. Life that was strange for everyone last year will continue to be strange for our family because mom’s not here; we can’t go back to normal-life-with-mom as we knew it. Enter: grief showing up as anger and resentment.
The elation of seeing people grocery shopping without masks is overshadowed by the fact that I can’t have my Friday night Aldi runs with mom. Enter: grief sneaking in as irritableness.
Being able to connect these feelings of anger and irritableness with grief has been a good small step. It frankly helped me not feel so much like a jerk at being inexplicably angry at seeing what I deem to be good things happening around me.
Understanding where my feelings are coming from has allowed me to give myself grace, and ask for grace from others.
In the past I avoided learning about the grieving process because I didn’t want to feel like I had to fit into some kind of pattern or become stressed that I was “grieving wrong;” I wanted to organically let grief just happen.
I also grieved alone because it’s hard to share feelings and actions that make no sense. “Yeah, my husband just repaired my fourth cell phone screen because I keep throwing it down in fits of rage” or “I’m mad at everyone for getting back to living normal lives after being cooped up for a year.” These just aren’t easy things to be transparent about.
However, learning about the nuances of grief and the benefits of grieving in community after our pastor died helped me better understand the unexpected feelings and behaviors that can come into play after experiencing loss. Reading an honest blog post about leaning into feelings helped me lean into mine rather than just shove them aside as something too embarrassing to deal with. Listening to someone on the radio share how he punched himself in the face after his son died consoled me knowing that grief does weird things to others as well. Hearing other people’s stories has helped me better understand mine.
Sharing our stories isn’t always easy, and I’m thankful for those who have been bold in talking about the hard stuff. This is what Christ-centered community is all about—God comforts us in our troubles so that we can comfort others with the comfort we received from God.
Most of us have suffered loss in one way or another over this past year—separation from loved ones, milestones that got achieved without the usual fanfare, weddings that got downsized, trips that got cancelled, the many ways life got turned upside down, and to various degrees a loss of the pre-pandemic definition of “normal.” As we eagerly look forward to moving on with life, we may also experience some unexpected emotions tied to grief over these losses.
When we better understand what we’re feeling, we can pray—and ask others to pray for us—more specifically, inviting Jesus into the process. “We follow Jesus better when we follow Him together.”
I’m learning this, real time as I navigate the waters of this season of grief … I am not alone.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4