Caregiver Perspective: Stages of Grief – Anger
When you first suspect your loved one has MS, you tend to find ways to deny it. Lynn kept saying his doctor had ruled it out. I kept saying, “Are you sure you’re telling him everything?” When he said, “Yes,” I would accept that as true because I wanted it to be true…denial.
Then, the day came when all the tests were back and there was no denying the fact he had MS. By that point, he had significant symptoms he had been denying which I no longer could. By late into the evening hours, he was doubled over, unable to stand upright. He would fall easily; drop things. He was too exhausted to eat and he loved to cook and eat. We would go to the beach for him to fish and he would find reasons not to go out but to stay in and rest. So, I knew well before the telephone call what the diagnosis would be.
I quickly moved from denial to anger at that point. I would not play his game anymore of pretending the elephant in the room wasn’t there. I was furious with his primary care doctor. Why hadn’t he been able to see what was going on before Lynn got so bad? He had a family history of MS for heaven’s sake. Was he a quack? I was ready to report him to the Board of Medicine for being incompetent. Then, I realized that the problem might not entirely be the doctor’s fault, it might be Lynn’s. Lynn was so sure he could NOT have MS or rather, he would refuse to consider the possibility, that I suspect he hid his symptoms. He has even acknowledged as much to me since. When I realized Lynn’s own refusal to face the possibility, I was angry at him.
Being angry at Lynn brought about all sorts of conflicting emotions.
(1) I was supposed to be his support system while he adjusted to the news he had MS BUT inside I was saying, “See. I told you so. You didn’t have to have gotten this bad but would you listen? No! Now look at you.” Of course, I could not say that, but it’s what I was thinking.
(2) Its politically incorrect (not to mention futile) to be angry at someone for being sick. We, as a society, look in horror at someone who is angry at someone for being sick. How can they be so heartless? So, we don’t show the anger externally…but it’s there. This “disease” has now put the one who has it in a place of greater significance. No longer is the playing field even, but now all decisions will be made based on the impact of the disease. Being selfish by nature, that doesn’t always sit well with me. I resent when I can’t do what I want to do because of the “disease.” I’m not the one who is sick but I’m the one who has to fix everything so that he can be as comfortable and as well as possible, even when my own health might suffer.
(3) I became angry because I didn’t want my life to change. I liked being able to go into work, go out, sit and read, go to bed when I wanted, eat out, lots of things that were going to change. This emotion I struggle with a lot now. I have no “me” life or at least it’s very limited. I go into work away from my caregiver responsibilities once a week. That’s my only time away from him other than a quick trip to the grocery store, pharmacy or library. Nowhere else do I go…and I get tired of that. I see a movie advertisement and I want to go see it, but I can’t. I know that I have to wait till it comes out on DVD and then I’ll only see it if it’s something Lynn would also like to watch and if we watch it, we do so as I feed him. Very rarely do I have time to just sit and watch a movie (or anything for that matter) on TV. I used to LOVE to read. Now I feel guilty if I skim an article on the internet because I know that will put me behind in all the things I need to do. (I get around this one though by listening to books on tape from the library…great escape!)
(4) I’m angry that I will not be able to retire to the “good life” we had planned. The house we had started to build sits idle with a completed foundation and likely will never become a home. All our spare cash goes to buying organic food, supplements and equipment to meet his medical needs. We cannot travel because he cannot tolerate it. I can’t get an aide or assistant caregiver because they are too expensive full time so I must work and do his care on my own. If I were to retire (I’m almost 58) then we would not have enough money to continue to support his health as we do now and he would likely get worse. So I have come to the conclusion that I will have to work until I die or become disabled myself and can no longer go on.
(5) I’m angry for all the events I miss. I want to go play with my grandson at the park, go to my parent’s home for family reunions, attend a conference at work, go to the Christmas cantata, attend church regularly, go places, do things; see people and I can’t. If an event is not at hour home, we don’t get to attend because Lynn cannot tolerate being out for very long and it’s difficult to get a caregiver that doesn’t cost anything when most of my “backup” caregivers are at these events themselves.
There is much to be angry about. I’m not angry at Lynn. I’m angry that he has MS. I’m angry that this monster has invaded our lives and there is no getting rid of it short of death. I’m angry that as hard as we work to make him feel better that 6 ½ days out of 7 he feels terrible. I’m angry that he can’t help me. I’m angry that he can’t share in the joy of playing with our grandson. I’m angry that he can’t sing at church or play the drums or accompany himself with his guitar because he was SOOOO good at all these things.
I’m angry that I can’t fix this. I’m angry that I have to watch him suffer. I’m angry that he needs me so much and I’m angry that I can’t give more. I’m angry….
But not always. Just sometimes. Just when I don’t get enough sleep, or I feel sick myself and can’t rest, or I’m still going after being up for 20 hours and haven’t finished everything that must be done yet. Sometimes, on occasion, but not always and not for long. I’ve worked though this stage of grief most of the time but it comes back to visit every now and again. Doesn’t last as long or hurt as deep as it used to and I know better now how to cope with it when it visits but it’s a stage of grief that we need to be healthy. We have to go through it or we would not survive to keep going.
Embrace your anger. It’s healthy and necessary to help you cope but don’t get stuck in it. Get help if you feel you’re getting stuck. It’s easy not to move on because there is energy in anger and sometimes you need that but it’s unhealthy to stay there. Remember, it’s just a stage and this, too, shall pass.