Thinking Out Loud: Unexpected rage

John T. Catrett III
ONHL Hospice chaplain

Death causes grief. It's overwhelming and painful. Most people want to help ease this painful transition for a family member in their time of loss but most people don't always behave rationally. And, what if the grief is due to suicide or murder? These are unusual death circumstances and can be filled with heightened emotional reactions.

Coupled with deep sadness and grief, there is another emotion that sometimes needs to be dealt with especially during these types of deaths, and that is rage that can result. Rage is simply defined as an intense form of anger. When you experience someone in a state of rage, or you feel rage yourself, does it seem simple? No. It’s complicated with many layers.

This feeling of rage from suicide or murder sometimes produces a perception of "rejected love." When a person leaves this world without warning, with the use of self-harm, abandoning family, friends and co-workers, a level of unwillingness to connect to others on the part of the suicide victim is brought to the forefront. Many unanswered questions loom in both cases. "Why?” “I loved them! Didn’t they know that?" "How could they leave me?" “What were they thinking?” "What did I do to deserve this?" "I knew something wasn't right but never expected this.” “Were there signs that I ignored?” “It’s my fault for not being a better (father, mother, sibling, spouse, friend, fill-in-the-blank)!”

For survivors, the sense of injustice about the nature of the death can turn the anger of grief into rage. Remember, anger is not right or wrong, good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate. In fact, rage often relates to a desire to restore things to the way they were before death. The persons to be most concerned about are the ones who do not experience rage in these situations. If there is no emotion, then they are possibly boiling inside and could explode later.

The rage displayed may be directed at the person who died, spiritual faith, immediate family, or at someone they believe caused the death or could have stopped it. The bereaved may even be frightened by the intensity of his or her rage. Be willing to listen to what they feel without judgment and do not try to diminish the anger, for it is in expressing rage that it begins to lose some of its power. Ultimately, healthy grief requires that these explosive emotions be expressed, not repressed. They should quickly lose their strength.

Signs of rage

Some of the feelings and behaviors listed here may naturally occur in anyone faced with the tragic situation of suicide. However, people with rage will experience them more frequently and to a greater extent than what would be expected.

● Feelings of all-consuming and uncontrollable anger

● Threats of violence against oneself or others

● Always getting into fights and/or hurting others

● Destroying things of sentimental or monetary value

● Impulsive aggressiveness that seems to come out of nowhere

● Thoughts about hurting or killing self or others

● Trouble with concentration, motivation, or decision-making

● Drug or alcohol abuse

● Feelings of depression, worthlessness, apathy, or low self-esteem

● Frequent trouble with law enforcement

● Changes in sleeping, eating, or sexual behavior

How to help someone who suffers from rage:

● If you are close to someone who experiences rage, it is important to make sure you are safe. Never stay with someone who becomes physically violent.

● If someone has an angry outburst, it is important that you try to remain calm.

● Express concern for the person with rage and listen to what they have to say without being judgmental or confrontational.

● It is best to focus on the feelings that a person with rage is experiencing rather than focusing on their behavior.

In addition to being surrounded by family and friends to help ease the pain when someone is suffering the loss of a loved one by suicide, support groups are some of the best ways to help survivors of traumatic deaths. In a grief group, survivors can connect with other people who can share their experience firsthand. They are allowed and encouraged to tell their stories as much, and as often, as they like in a safe environment.

Unfortunately, suicide happens. A close family member, friend, or loved one leaves this world quickly and sadly. They leave us too. There is a void in our hearts and lives! We must learn to cope with all of the pain and emotions that happen during the grieving process. What do we do if we begin to feel angry with the deceased? Feel guilty for it? No. Never! Realize we are human, blessed with an array of feelings and emotions that runs deep in our heart!

John T. Catrett III is chaplain for ONHL Hospice. He can be reached at (918) 352-3080 or