Written by Clara Hinton
When a teenager dies, often the circumstances of death have been accident related. Perhaps your child was driving way too fast, and had a fatal car accident after you warned him time and time again about speeding. Maybe alcohol was involved. You talked to your child, thought you got through, but your daughter went underage drinking and was a passenger in a car. Your daughter was the one who didn’t make it out of the accident alive.
There are any numbers of accidental situations that can occur with teen deaths. Often, a parent’s first response following shock is a very deep sense of anger. A parent will often replay the situation over and over again in the mind, growing angrier each time. “How could my child forget to use the seatbelt? Those were the last words I said to him!” “She promised me she would stay away from that drinking party, and she lied!” “He knew the tires were bald, and yet he still chose to speed on the wet roads. He knew better!”
Grief and anger go hand in hand, yet there is a tremendous burden of guilt for the angry parent. If anger is vocalized, there is a feeling that we have somehow cheapened our child’s life and have done harm to his memory. So, most often, a parent’s anger is shoved under the rug where it festers and collects other grief emotions that will eventually complicate the grief.
What can a parent do when such unrelenting anger is felt toward the child who has died? The most obvious thing to do is to recognize and validate the fact that you are angry. Anger is a real emotion, and one that you will feel many times over during your walk through grief. There is no reason to feel burdened with guilt for feeling angry. Instead, accept the fact that anger is part of your grief, and know that it takes a lot of work to rid the anger that grief brings about.
Talk to a friend, your spouse, your Pastor…someone who can lend you a listening ear. Tell that person why you are angry with your deceased child. You are now faced with an out of control situation, the death of your child, and you are feeling out of control with your escalating anger. Often, talking confidentially to a friend about why you are angry will help relieve a great deal of the building emotion of anger toward your child. What you are feeling is a normal reaction to a situation over which you had no control.
Probably the most healing exercise of all you can do is to write your child a letter. Tell your deceased child exactly why you are angry with him. “I loved you so much! I’m so angry with you for drinking and driving. You know we talked about that hundreds of times. And now you are gone. All I have is your memory. You’ve cheated me out of so much joy!”
Sit at the gravesite, or some place that holds special meaning to you and your child, and read the entire letter aloud. Cry. Scream. Cry some more. Do whatever it takes to release the anger. Then, when you are finished, take the letter and burn it, bury it, or tear it up and float it down a river, watching it disappear before your eyes. As you do this, you will feel the beginning of your anger to subside.
By vocalizing your anger, you will be able to work through it and move on to more healing aspects of your grief work. By participating in a symbolic ridding yourself of anger, you will release a lot of your anger and guilt, allowing you then to focus on the positive memories of your child. This is one more step forward in the journey we call grief.