Of anger in a pudding of grief

Dear parents and carers, dear Central Primary school community,

We are six or something weeks into the lockdown. On some days, it may feel like we have barely begun; on others, it may seem we have been in this state for an eternity. All of you, parents and carers, have done a wonderful job at working with and spending time with your children and loved ones—and this is evident from your tweets and the emails that have been pouring in. I, for one, am sometimes a bit slow at responding, largely because, together with a few other teachers, I am still in school and often more exhausted than I would usually be after school when I return home. But I know I speak for all my colleagues when I say that we love seeing your updates. They testify to your ability to persevere and keep the smiles on the faces of your children, and this will help them pull through this crisis. From the bottom of our hearts—thank you.

That said, I am beginning to notice something in myself and in the community around me, and I wanted to share it with you, because I think we need to be on our guard and be ready to recognise the signs and combat them with healing, kind words and positive strategies:  I have noticed people out and about becoming more aggressive, more irritable with one another; I have stumbled across  heated and even rude discussions and comments on social media; I have seen more (and minor!) quabbles break out between children; and I have noticed, in myself, that there are days when I feel irritated and even angry at things which would normally never irritate me.

That is not me, and I believe what I see around me is not “them”, either. So what is going on?

Perhaps, for some of us, certainly for me, the reality of the pain and the hurt is now truly beginning to kick in. The novelty value (if ever there was one!) of having extra time at home or giggling about social media as a means for communication is wearing off;  the new routines to which we are subjected are becoming cumbersome, to say the least; the statistics are hard to bear; and the sense of loss we all feel about so many things is intensifying, burrowing itself into our hearts like a subtle but powerful and damaging parasite.

So maybe people’s – and my own -irritation is actually that proverbial anger part of the grief cycle (the latter, I hasten to add, has never felt like a cycle to me; more like a pudding of emotions, in which anger is a powerful ingredient that pervades all others like yeast). That anger is easily buried when we try to hold it together, but sometimes we do so at our own peril. After all,  anger can be a manifestation of grief, and if we do not express it, share it, cry it out, it can fester and hurt ourselves and others.

Think of a sparkling water bottle; if you keep the lid tightly shut and the fizz buried inside it,  and shake the bottle over and over, eventually the lid will fly off and the entirety of the liquid will come spurting out in an uncontrollable way.  It will spray those around indiscriminately, and no matter how fat your thumbs 😊, you will not be able to stop it from flowing.

Pain and anger are like that fizz–if it is not expressed in a healthy way at the time when it takes its rightful place in the grief cycle, it will find its way out of the bottleneck of your soul at other times: an angry word; impatience; a grumble at a neighbour or passer-by; over-eating; crying fits…….. This may be now (and I believe we are beginning to see it in some people already), or, worse yet, it can be in months and years to come. But it will out. It is not for nothing that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is so damaging and painful: because anger or crying outbursts occur suddenly and violently after being bottled up inside, sometimes for months, even years, and others may then not recognise the deep, historic pain that sits behind those feelings. It can be the loneliest, saddest place to be.

You may have started to notice signs of anger or irritability in your own children. Maybe a child who is normally even tempered and lively has become easily wound up or, perhaps worse yet, subdued and quiet. Maybe your children are struggling to find the words to express how they feel. They are likely to be more at risk of feeling pain and expressing it to you and to each other through anger or lack of kindness. They may be at risk of recklessly spoken words on social media, so this may be a time for being even more cautious than usual on social media. I know I have to be right now, and I am an adult, supposedly able to control my emotions and my reactions to the emotional onslaughts of others. 

You may perhaps also have noticed those feelings in yourselves. As adults, we have perhaps been too good at “keeping calm and carrying on”; trying to hold it together for our own sakes and for the good of those little people around us. I salute you all for remaining strong for the sakes of your loves ones, but perhaps, as adults, we need to now allow light to shine into the darkest corners of our own hearts, minds and souls, allowing that light to identify our own grief. Perhaps we need to permit ourselves to voice our hurt, perhaps even to the children, at an appropriate time. Sometimes we think that not sharing our sadness with children protects them from it.  However, they are incredibly instinctive and astute, and often sense when we, too, are hurting. Not understanding why we are down or sad can leave be worse for them, because they feel left out or confused and do not understand the vibe they are feeling.  

So, rather than allowing ourselves or our children to lash out in irritation or even anger because it seems easier than admitting the pain-let’s allow ourselves and our children to be open, name the hurt and have it out. The tears may flow but the weight will lift and we may end up being kinder and more loving towards ourselves and one another.

We are all thinking of you and are so privileged to work and share with such a wonderful school community. You, parents and carers, and your children, are an often forgotten group of heroes in these confusing times but we notice and celebrate you all.  I will try, over the next day, to help find you some resources to help you have perhaps emotional discussions with your children. They will be important, even if the lockdown is loosened tonight, as we all need to digest what has happened.

For now, be kind to yourselves—and all good wishes for strength and joy to you all

From Miss Rieger (Year 4 Class Teacher)

Permanent link to this article: https://central.herts.sch.uk/of-anger-in-a-pudding-of-grief/