This story seeks to increase awareness and understanding of the unique needs of individuals diagnosed with life-changing illness or injury and their families by providing insight into the life of a man as he went through diagnosis and treatment of brain cancer (Glioblastoma Multiforme - or GBM).
I recently came across this quote by Maya Angelou: “Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.” That started me thinking about what the difference is between bitterness and anger.
The dictionary defines bitterness as a state of being angry, hurt, or resentful because of one’s bad experiences or a sense of unjust treatment, and anger is defined as a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.
Hmmm. I’m not sure that helps me.
I think there definitely is a difference; it seems like it’s ok in society to be “angry” but not to be “bitter.” Maybe they start out the same but end up differently: anger can be expressed and, in theory, decreased or eliminated, and bitterness stays the same or gets even worse over time.
I’m still not sure which one I am at this point. Maybe both. I want to say I’m not bitter about my dad’s illness and death; I’m not so self-absorbed as to be unaware that illness and death happen to someone (and someone’s loved ones) every minute of every day. I get that our story is unique to us, but it’s not really unique. I’m still mad, but I’m trying to get it out, to turn it into something productive if that’s at all possible, to look for a Silver Lining in all of this, to count my blessings in addition to feeling the burn of the anger. Hopefully that puts me in good standing in the Anger vs. Bitterness contest (Have I mentioned that I’m a tad competitive?), because it’s really all I know how to do right now.
Someone asked me recently what it is that I’m so mad at, besides the obvious loss of my dad. For me, it’s also the statements that people make, to me, to others, and in general, about cancer, death, and grief. I don’t know why that infuriates me so much, but it sure as hell does.
Someone I know recently posted a link on Facebook to an article about how people should take control of their destinies with healthier lifestyle choices. The author even went so far as to imply that those who did would – you guessed it - avoid cancer. Um, no.
I had to duct tape my hands together for a few hours to keep from typing a blistering response to the posting. I realize that kind of stuff is meant to be helpful, I really do, but speaking like that author did and then seeing people give him credit for putting out info like that (Thanks, Captain Obvious!) pisses me off. I want to yell, “You don’t know what you are talking about!” It would seem like this would translate into me feeling protective or advisory towards people who say things that I now see as ignorant and uninformed: “Be glad you don’t know that no one is safe!” but I don’t; I’m just mad. Mad that I have to know that claims about how cancer can be avoided are ridiculous and that I have to know that there are no guarantees, even when we follow “the rules.”
It also upsets me when people try to shut down grief, presumably because the emotions or memories or perspective of those that are grieving make them uncomfortable. Sorry!
I spent lots of time running with my dad when I was a teenager, and he was always a better runner that I was. Sometimes when I was lagging on a run, he would speed-walk beside me in step with my slow-jog pace. Every time he did that, it made me mad. I felt like he was taunting me and that he didn’t understand that I was just having an “off” day. Most of the time, I responded by speeding up my pace, maybe in annoyance and maybe even to get to the end of the run faster so I could dodge him for awhile.
I feel like something similar happens fairly often in the grief process for me these days, not with Dad of course but with lots of other people I know. So what if I’m at a slow-jog pace in grieving? I tell myself they can walk alongside me (or away from me!) if they so choose, but I cannot let myself speed up the pace in response to what they are doing, feeling, or thinking.
I hope that I can just go about my business, wading through my own grief, without that anger entering into any more relationships than it already has. I need support, or, failing that, peace and time. Like that expression we heard so much as kids, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” except I want to substitute the word “supportive” for the word “nice.”
I want to push through the Red Door of anger; I want to focus on feeling fortunate for what I had and what I have instead of what I have lost over the past year. I want to find a way to, as we say in the South, make sense of this mess!
I hope that I can keep myself together, especially through the next few months when the one-year anniversary passes for Dad’s diagnosis, surgery, last birthday, last holiday season, and for the time when he went on ahead.
I hope the anger burns clean. I hope I don’t get stuck in this process. I hope I can keep my perspective and avoid bitterness.