A story of grief by a man and a boy

polite anger

I’ve always loved that moment that goes a bit like this when you get to know someone new:

“When’s your birthday?”


“Mine too. What month?”


“MINE TOO! What date?


“NO WAY! Mine’s 12th.”

“We’ll have to have a joint party.”

Well it doesn’t go like that when someone dies. The feeling of coincidence is still there, but all the joy and excitement is sapped. The beer runs dry. Cocktails are out the window.

I’m slowly getting to know strangers whose husbands, wives, children, parents, siblings or friends died within just a day or two of my wife. Some under strikingly similar circumstances. I guess this may be a helpful thing in the long run because we are able to support each other through our grief with shared stories and experiences.

I’ve been chatting with a woman whose husband was taken tragically the day before my wife. She introduced me to an idea that I now call ‘polite anger’. I’d written about how the anger phase of grief hadn’t really hit me so far, something that I know some people find difficult to comprehend, especially given the circumstance of my wife’s death. But then this new friend, with whom I’ve created a distant bond that I’m sure (in the nicest possible way) neither of us ever actually wanted, said something to me that make me re-think rage.

‘Perhaps we’re not angry in a typical way’, she suggested. ‘We all see anger as shouting and rage. But maybe we are angry that the future we were hoping for has gone. Perhaps we are going through the anger phase after all, albeit in our own mild mannered way.’

She hit the nail on the head.

I realised I’m not not angry, I’m just not angry in a particularly angry way.

But I do get upset when I see a car speeding outside my son’s nursery, I just don’t shout as I stand on the pavement shocked by the driver’s lack of respect for human life.

I get quietly pissed off when people in shops ask me if I’m having a nice day, but I decline to comment rather than furiously telling them to fuck off.

I get frustrated when I drop my son’s breakfast all over the living room floor the morning after his dinner met the same fate, but I just roll my eyes rather than scream because I don’t want to scare the person in the room who’s done nothing wrong.

I get affronted when I get emails that ask nothing more than, ‘How are you doing?’, like I should be able to say something positive by now.

I get displeased that I can’t sleep even though there’s nothing to be awake for as my son snores quietly next to me.

I get irritated when it feels like I can’t seem to get anything to go my way, even though I know that life owes me nothing just because so much has been taken away.

I turn sullen in an instant and the feeling last for days. I understand that this long drawn-out state of mind can be the heavy hangover of just the briefest moment of happiness.

So perhaps I am politely angry after all. Perhaps I’m calmly cross. But just because I’m not enraged, furious, resentful or incensed doesn’t mean I’m not grieving the way I should.

It simply means I’m doing it my way.

And that’s the only way I know how.

7 comments on “polite anger

  1. Lucille
    March 6, 2013

    Keep the faith; you’re doing good, my friend!

  2. Paul R
    March 6, 2013

    How are you? was the most dreaded question for six months or more. At first I tried to ignore it, then I just used an “as good as can be expected.” Later, my grief counselor suggested that I think of a response each morning, based on how I was doing that morning.

    Some of the responses I used:
    Not very well, can you just sit with me for a few minutes.
    Kind of lonely, do you you have time to talk.
    Pretty bad actually, if I disappear for a good cry will you cover for me?
    Not to bad today, but you didn’t want to meet me yesterday.
    Just making it through the day.

  3. Tracy
    March 6, 2013

    Totally relate to you… Big hugs. Xx

  4. bereavementbuddy
    March 6, 2013

    Being told on a daily basis to….. BE STRONG!!! That is what made me angry!!!!

  5. Nicki Pettitt
    March 6, 2013

    So true Ben. x

  6. lesley
    March 6, 2013

    Perhaps we should do a leaflet of what not to say to people who have suffered a bereavement. I have been amazed at some of the things people have come out with. How can it be ok to say that my brother (who took his own life ) had everything to live for or to suggest that it is suprising people commit suicide when there is so much help available for people with mental health problems ( he was on a waiting list to see a psychiatrist ).also dont compare your 85 year old dads death from natural causes with the death of my brother. And dont tell me I am lucky to have so many good memories of all the things we did together.i dont want just memories!!! I could go on and on but wont!!!

  7. Jet Black
    March 9, 2013

    Trying to find the time and head space/mental clarity to respond fully to this and other posts. Your writing may be helping people in grief through death, like yourself, but it speaks to so many other griefs too, like dealing with an incurable cancer. Thank you for your honesty and eloquence.

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