Death-rage and what to do about it
try to avoid the TILT
I have a group of old friends who attempt to meet annually. We have done this for more than thirty years. One of us opted out of life this year and the grief over the unexpected loss of this vibrant soul is knocking our group about like an old pinball machine. Remember those? If you shook it too hard it would announce “TILT” and stop working.
Our friend group is tilting. The absence of one person of 65 we see annually affects every interaction: since some of us spent more time with them, on phone calls or weekly zooms, these are hurting more obviously than the rest of us who simply looked forward to interacting on an annual basis. And there is a spouse to protect. Everyone is supporting someone else, while also dealing with their own grief.
It is a microcosm of the pandemic.
One of us who is immunocompromised recently posted on our group thread that they were considering attending the memorial (in Florida) and the rage that is flying around is spectacular. Rage at Florida, at anti-vaxxess, at airlines, at the lack of certain knowledge, at the lack of safety, at each other for not stopping each other, for not protecting each other — the rage comes from shock and the sadness, and is directed at everything but the real source: this unanticipated, sudden death of a friend.
Or maybe even deeper: the fact that anyone can die at any time. Yes. That’s the real rage.
Our friend was healthy and young, a new runner. Ran a half marathon during the pandemic and had planned another. A traveler, planning trips and having them canceled, and trying again. A professor who just won tenure. A spouse both loving and beloved for decades. A devoted pet owner. A published author. A ready smile for everyone. A foodie. It is inconceivable.
Anyone can die at any time, and that feels desperately unfair.
It occurred to me, when sharing my own pain with people outside of my friend-group, that this whole planet is overloading with this same emotion.
All of humanity, globally, is dealing with death-rage. We are all confronted, (unless we are pandemic deniers) with the very clear fact that any of us can die at any time, and this is infuriating.
So what do we do with this death-rage? What does a person do with anger that has no tangible target?
- Allow connections to happen. The loss of my friend has reconnected me to a terrific guy I knew in childhood. We discovered this mutual friend, this mutual tragedy. We made the quite-open decision to reconnect. It is helping.
- Talk to strangers. When I am asked how I am doing, I no longer respond “great” when I’m not great. If I have a minute, I will allow a stranger one slight layer deeper into my emotional life. This is a sea change from how I have behaved since I was a kid, and it turns out, most strangers and almost all acquainances are compassionate. I’m not suggesting you dump all your problems on random humans, but when we spread out the sadness it helps to accept it. And we have more in common with each other than you think.
- Listen to everyone. In scratching the surface of emotions with acquaintances, it turns out they also open up right back — all of us seem to have chasms of pain that we are struggling to address. I can’t tell you how good it has feels to be able to listen. It is almost as if opening up to listen and support others actually strengthens the part of you that is fragile. I was very resistant to this, thinking that I had my own problems to confront and didn’t have space for the problems of others — but in conversations in elevators, on covid testing lines, over zooms and chats, and even on phone calls with customer service, I have discovered that humanity welcomes connection. It turns out that being compassionate is a conditioning activity. It makes you stronger to be generous with your attention.
Guess it is like the bean plant left in the closet — if you shut yourself away with your pain and your death-rage, you shrivel and lose vibrancy. If you do your best with the resources you have, it is possible to grow through our collective pain — we just have to acknowledge that others have pain as well.
None of our anger has a tangible target. We have lost so many people over these past few years that it is actually statistically impossible for you not to know someone who knows someone who has lost someone dear. So let’s all be there for each other.
The etymology of Pandemic = from the Greek for “All People.” Remember that and share your compassion. Perhaps it will help you heal your pain.