Anger is short-lived madness. ~Horace
May 18, 2007 8:33 PM   Subscribe

How can I deal with anger/fear over a senseless death?

A friend of mine passed away this January after being in a coma for over a year, caused by some jerk who was actually shooting at someone else. I only knew him briefly, but he did a lot of things for me that were especially generous and kind, no strings attached. After he died, I did all the normal teary, talked to my family and friends, offered my condolences to his family, and wrote about it.

I thought I was through grieving, and felt that I should be over it - after all, he wasn't a family member or even a close friend. However, I keep thinking of him from time to time, mainly of how the whole thing sucked (he was about to be married, as well), and I get worked up into these scared/angry states where I have terrible thoughts of failing to protect my family/friends/pets from some random act of violence. I'm kind of like Ms. Lynnster, as in when she feels lonely or scared, and no one listens because they're so used to her being in charge and in control - I've tried to talk about these feelings to others, but they either laugh them off or change the subject. "Oh, you'd kill 'em, no one would dare, " or "Why would you imagine that could happen? You're going to jinx yourself. Come on, where are we going for lunch?"

I snap out of it after a bit (bit=1-2 hours), because I know it's not logical, and I'm not really a pessimistic person - but what I'd really like to do is to stop thinking of his death every time I think of him, because it triggers these irrational emotions, and because I want to remember better times with him. I've tried to do it on my own by replacing negative thoughts with good I'll do something altruistic, and I'll say to myself, "That one's for you, Fred." It helped a bit, but the anger's still there.

Any suggestions? I've lost family and friends, BTW, but through "natural" deaths - not like this one, which I consider a delayed murder.
posted by Liosliath to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Life, she is a tough.

Do you have a priest or other religious leader? If not, or perhaps even if so, find a good therapist. This is normal, and you will get through it, but sometimes these things take a lot of time. The more unfair often the more time it takes. Bad luck is random, really. Yet the unfairness of it, well that is often the hardest part to overcome. You need to find someone you can talk to about this, and really talk to.
posted by caddis at 8:43 PM on May 18, 2007

Oof. Sorry to hear this. As I guess you can figure, I can empathize. A friend's boyfriend died tragically by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge a few years ago and even though he wasn't a super close friend or anything, due to some of the circumstances it really hit me personally on a surprisingly deep level. In some ways, it affected me more than it logically should've... and I'm only now recognizing how much in retrospect. Like with your situation, it was very confusing and hard to talk to people about... since, as you say, it wasn't like he was a family member or anything so people didn't really understand why it would get to me. Not to mention that I'm supposed to be so tough that things aren't supposed to get to me in the first place.

Anyhow, moral of the story is that I can definitely relate. Hang in there... definitely peruse the advice from my thread, because there was some very helpful and good stuff in there. And there's a lot of great support to be found from the people on AskMe, which may be a relief for you in & of itself. Sometimes just writing the question here can help. :)
posted by miss lynnster at 8:48 PM on May 18, 2007

Timely - my friend's friend was killed mountain climbing yesterday, and I have no idea how to deal w/my friend. I'll keep reading this post, thanks.
posted by tristeza at 8:57 PM on May 18, 2007

It sounds like you've been handling the grief about the loss of your friend in your in an appropriate way. The problem is that his death taps into the fundamental realization that really bad things happen in the world and no matter how hard you try you can't always protect yourself. So in some ways, it is not irrational to be afraid. Your specific fears may be exagerrated but the sense of danger is based on the real life experience of your friend.

So, I suggest using your strategy of replacing negative thoughts with positive ones but focused on danger and lack of control rather than on your friend. Maybe the Serenity Prayer (fix what you can, accept what you can't and wisdom to know the difference) Or next time just say "I know the world is dangerous. I'm doing the best I can so now it's time to live my life and not let fear control me" Anyway, the actual words need to be the ones that make sense to you but I hope that gives you a different way to think about it.
posted by metahawk at 8:59 PM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Grieving takes however long it takes. Don't say "it's been six months, I should be over it by now, especially since I wasn't even that close to him." It's okay to think of him and get a catch in your throat. If he's still around somewhere, I think he'd be happy he made that kind of impression on you in such a short time.
posted by kindall at 9:00 PM on May 18, 2007 [3 favorites]

cognitive therapy might help you break these negative mental habits, if you think they are really interfering with your life.

alternatively, you might try visiting his grave. tell him your problems. repeat as necessary. you might feel better.

alternatively, you could visit the person who killed fred and talk to him. you might even try to forgive him. by embracing the specificity of this person and this action, you're demystifying it. the reason you're afraid for your self and loved ones is because it still seems totally senseless to you. what's next? pianos falling out of the sky? spontaneously combusting baby carriages? in your mind, the rules were broken. by making some sense (if not perfect sense) of this guy and what he did, you'll be able to comprehend it better, have more control over the information. this is a hard thing to do and i wouldn't envy you the task, but it's something i would hope i would be able to do in the same situation (although i don't know if i could).

and finally, don't stress out about it. you are grieving, you know. don't be afraid that it's inappropriate to grieve this long--fred was a good guy to you, a bright spot, and you have every right to mourn his loss. grief does run its course, and you should acknowledge it.

you might want to pick up a book on grief (elisabeth kubler-ross wrote the seminal book on the topic) to help you understand what you're going through.

and finally, hang in there. it should abate after a while, after you're ready. just recognize that it's happening when it's happening and ride it out as best you can. like my friend in childbirth said about the contractions--she got through them by holding on one breath at a time.

it gets better. good luck. be patient while you heal. be at peace. fred would be proud of you.
posted by thinkingwoman at 9:05 PM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Life can be so tough sometimes. I really empathize with you, and it sounds like you are dealing with the grief and anger better than a lot of other people would have.

Sometimes it's almost harder to deal with bad things that happened to those who we are not particularly close to. If it's your immediate family, say, not only do you have more support from others, but it's seen as normal to have the kinds of feelings you are having. Many people just don't realize that the impact can be just as profound when it's not so close, and it makes it even harder when they dismiss your feelings because of it.

More than 20 years ago, I had two classmates that died within a year of eachother. One was hit by a logging truck that ran a red light, the other died of a heart defect that could probably have been attended to if his parents hadn't been Jehovah's Witnesses (no opportunity for bloodless surgery anywhere local). Neither of the two of them was a close friend, but their deaths hit me very hard. It was years before I could think about them without getting a little angry and anxious - to the point of distraction. I still get a little anxious when thinking about the, to this day...

Like some others have said, give yourself some more time to grieve. He was worth it.
posted by gemmy at 10:07 PM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

I am so very sorry. I read the news article about your friend, and it really is senseless and tragic.

I think you might have unreasonable expectations for how long it should take to get over a friend's death. No matter what anybody says, there is no "normal" length of time grieving should take. It takes how long it takes. And, honestly, that sort of a seneless, terrible, sudden death seems like it would be particularly shocking and upsetting on so many levels. Give yourself permission to feel what you feel. Don't listen to the voice in your head that says you "should" feel a certain way, or people who tell you to chill out.

I do think therapy is probably a good way to go. I know that grief counseling seems like something you should only need to deal with someone very close to you - but that's really not the case. You need someone who isn't going to judge you to talk out your feelings with. I think sometimes you have to accept and explore your feelings to move past them.
posted by tastybrains at 11:37 PM on May 18, 2007

A friend of my parents died in the WTC on Sept. 11 - I'd been close with his daughters when we were all kids and we all still vacation together. It hit my mom pretty bad - she'd known him since they were 16 - but it absolutely floored me, even though I would not really describe our relationship as "close." I think part of it had to do with being on my own in another country at the time and the fact that you can't read the paper or watch the news, ever, without Sept. 11 being mentioned at least once. It was everywhere after it happened and you really couldn't get away from it.

I had a lot of really bad dreams the following year about his dying and burning buildings and I'd get really maudlin about it, especially if I had been drinking. If I were you I'd avoid the booze because it did not help in the slightest.

To be honest the only thing that has helped is time. I'm still sad about it, of course, but I don't think about it every day anymore. At the time I probably should have sought some therapy just so I'd stop freaking out about it - like I kept imagining what his final minutes must have been like, which really freaks me out to no end - and the bad dreams probably would have stopped a lot earlier than they did. It may just be a relief to talk to an impartial party about it.
posted by sutel at 1:34 AM on May 19, 2007

Don't even indulge the feeling that you should be over it by now. What would over it even look like? My last boyfriend died a year and a half ago and sometimes I'm not even sure that I believe yet that he died. But, it took more than a year for me to talk or think about him without crying. Be kind to yourself and grant yourself the time to find peace. It really, truly just takes time. Let time do its thing and in the meantime, know that what you're feeling is normal.
posted by loiseau at 4:52 AM on May 19, 2007 [3 favorites]

I am wondering if your anger/frustration is caused by two things; first the actual untimely death and secondly, the randomness of it all. Its quite frightening when someone you believe is quite capable is taken from you - then add this randomness thing....yikes. You realize how fragile life is. I think that is where you are at.

Loiseau said to not set a time line. That is sage advice, because I believe you are responding to this on a number of levels. Each level will require its own time to heal.

I can't help you other than to say remember that life is a series of random events that happen to us while we are making other plans. Don't deny your frustration, anger or feelings of protectiveness for your family. Were I in your shoes I would most likely react the same way. But don't let this randomness translate into helplessness or inhibit you or your family from living your lives fully. To do any less would would not be respectful of Fred.

My sympathies go out to you and the family members of the victim.
posted by fox_terrier_guy at 7:39 AM on May 19, 2007

First, trying to quell an irrational feeling with rational thought is logically pretty ineffective, and generally causes a lot of stress. I'd give yourself permission to feel whatever it is that comes up for you. Then find a safe way to express it. Physical exercise is good. Journaling might help. Or immersing yourself in some project.

I'm like you and Miss Lynnster in that people rarely see my vulnerable side, and are surprised to find out that I don't have my shit as together as I appear to. But, their image of me is almost always my own damned fault. You're going to have to disregard their reactions as they get used to the "new," honest, tender you. Over time, if they're really your friends, they'll see that you're being sincere about your feelings. If they're really your friends, push this along and tell them you really need their support, and they're being jackasses when they make light of your suffering. Anyone with any sense can understand why you've been shaken up by this, regardless of how invincible you've appeared in the past. Break down the walls with your friends. You need them now for support.
posted by desjardins at 8:14 AM on May 19, 2007

Something I learned that may be useful is that powerful, unpleasant emotions are essentially forces of nature that cannot be controlled. Instead, you have to learn to experience them, to feel them, to let yourself be fully aware of them... and then let them flow past you.
posted by kindall at 10:17 AM on May 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

Grief is not rational.

There is no time schedule for grief, no period in which it should be over. There is nothing that should be about it - it just is what it is. If you still feel like crying after six months, a year, two, more, then you need to cry.
posted by rhapsodie at 8:14 PM on May 19, 2007 [4 favorites]

It sounds as though when you think of your friend your thoughts always revolve around his sad end. It seems worth trying to add into the mix some celebration of his life. Consciously remember the good times, be glad he lived, be glad you knew him. Fnd a photograph of him happy and try to bring that image to mind when you think of him -- "this is how he was". Think about some sort of memorial that emphasised the positive -- donate some books to his old school, set up a celebratory meal with his friends, whatever.

I don't know if a good self-defence course would help or hinder at this stage. A good one should emphasise how rare these events are, and give you more feeling of control, but it might serve as a regular reminder of your loss. Again positive thinking may help -- "at the end of this I will be better able to cope with the unexpected".
posted by Idcoytco at 12:39 AM on May 20, 2007

Grief happens. Anger is normal, and it is part of the process. Feeling like you have finished grieving and finding out this is not so is normal.

I've tried to talk about these feelings to others, but they either laugh them off or change the subject.

This is average.

I want to remember better times with him

Write a letter to someone in his family about the better times you remember. They will be happy to read it.
posted by yohko at 12:43 PM on May 20, 2007

Thanks, helped just to get that off my chest, and have reassurance that I'm not some hyper-sensitive wacko for still grieving. As I was reading all these posts this evening, I started to get choked up (thanks to kindall, thinkingwoman, and gemmy!), but this time, I just let myself be sad, and it was over a lot quicker.

I'd like to mark all of them as best answers, but I have some idea that it's not kosher here at AskMe, so I'll just choose the ones with the advice I kept re-reading...

Just FYI, in case people check back in - his family lives in Morocco (and that's where he's buried), so I may try to track down his mom at some point and tell her what a great son she raised.
posted by Liosliath at 4:59 PM on May 21, 2007

Just reading this question for the first time, and I wanted to add a couple of thoughts:

Sometimes it's almost harder to deal with bad things that happened to those who we are not particularly close to. If it's your immediate family, say, not only do you have more support from others, but it's seen as normal to have the kinds of feelings you are having. Many people just don't realize that the impact can be just as profound when it's not so close, and it makes it even harder when they dismiss your feelings because of it.

gemmy, thank you for writing this. In the past year I've come to realize how true this is, and have had to learn that it's okay to feel profound grief about the loss of people who I knew, but was not especially close with. When I was younger I thought that the amount of grief I felt should be in proportion to the closeness of the relationship, but it turns out that this isn't always true. There are so many things that factor into how we react to a loss. Slowly, I'm learning that, no matter how I feel about a loss, my feelings aren't "right" or "wrong." My feelings are what they are, and they are appropriate.

I may try to track down his mom at some point and tell her what a great son she raised.

Liosliath, I think this is a great idea. In the past year, I've done this twice, and both times it helped me a lot.

In the first case, I wrote a sympathy card to the family of a guy I graduated from high school with. He and I hadn't talked since then, but growing up we were both sort of like "friendly outsiders" at school. He was always nice to me (when so many kids weren't), and he stayed true to himself (we all know how hard that can be during adolescence). He was kind and genuine, and I wanted his family to know how much I appreciated their son. I never heard back from them, but I hope that what I wrote was helpful in some way. This friend, by the way, committed suicide, and it sounded like it came out of nowhere. The way he died is part of what affected my grief about his loss, given my own battles with severe depression and my (prior) decision to pursue a career in mental health services research (borne out of my own frustrations with the horrible inadequacies of the mental health "system" here in the U.S.).

Losing someone, whether close or less so, involves so many different things for each of us who are affected. That's why I believe that our individual reactions are what they are - let yourself be genuine. If it feels right, be genuine with the family of that person.

One more anecdote - recently, a friend of the family was driving a tractor from a field back to his farm; he was hit and instantly killed by a semi driver who wasn't paying attention. Again, although I wasn't super close with this person, the circumstances of his death were horrifying and it was hard for me to deal with (still is). Again, I sent a card to his family, and talked about memories of time I'd spent with them on their family farm. I told them how, in retrospect, those experiences had helped me appreciate what is beautiful and increasingly unique about life in a small farming town. I live in a huge city right now, and this has given me a perspective on those experiences (that many people from there never have). His wife wrote me back - a really touching note about how much she appreciated the card I sent, asking me about "life in the big city," and (most strikingly) talking about how she has tried to deal with the loss of her husband and best friend.

To sum up, reflecting on my unique memories of time spent with the person and writing a genuine note to the families of the people who have died has certainly helped me deal with these kinds of losses. These are the kinds of things I could never say in person, but taking time to think about just why the loss of someone has hit me so hard seems to help. Then, I open up my heart (cheesy, I know) and share my thoughts with the family. Somehow, this is different than simply sending an "I'm-sorry-for-your-loss" sympathy card. Maybe it's more like sending an empathy card?

This does not get rid of my anger and fear about senseless deaths, but this approach to remembering and really stopping to think about why I'm feeling what I'm feeling has really helped me cope. I know you said you've done "all the normal things," Liosliath, but maybe what I've written here about what I do in similar situations will help.
posted by splendid animal at 1:54 PM on August 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

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