When I was young, my mother and I lived with her parents. My grandfather was a kind, strong, and loving presence. My grandmother was quick to anger, quick to hold a grudge, and not afraid to let you know it. She had a chip on her shoulder a mile wide, and she’d let you know that too. Her childhood on an oklahoma farm was filled with abuse from her stepmother, neglect from her father, and was constantly told she was trash compared to her half siblings. Life had crafted her to be a tough, hard, emotional woman.
When my grandfather died I was 15. At my grandfathers funeral, one person after the next came up to me and told me how much they admired him. They admired his strength, his presence, his attitude towards life. They appreciated that he was always willing to lend a hand and would never ask for anything in return. My own father had divorced my mother when I was 2, and he stopped coming around to see me when I was 10. My grandfather and Uncle were the primary male role models that I had around me. My grandfather was my rock. He kept our family together.
And when he died, my grandmother fell apart.
My grandfather was the staff from which she stood tall and journeyed with her as she walked through life. Now, that staff was gone, and she found that she couldn’t stand on her own. Without him, she felt like everyone was trying to take advantage of her. Without him, she felt as alone as a person can feel surrounded by others. Without him, her toughness, her strength, her emotions, all of the things that my grandfather loved about her, became poisoned by his death. She became this paranoid, very angry woman.
Before he died, the family was by his side. I remember waiting outside of his hospital room when he called me inside. He laid there, thin from cancer, a shell of the man he had been. He was going to die. My hero. My rock. Was going to die. I stood there next to him, 15 years old, and he took my hand and asked me to promise to look after my grandmother. “Take care of her,” he told me. “Promise me that you’ll take care of her.” I looked down at him, scared, in shock, trying to be strong like he had been, “I promise Grandpa.” I told him. “I’ll take good care of her.” Those were the last words we spoke to each other.
“I’ll take good care of her.”
As time progressed, she became worse. She had always struggled with depression, and now, along with the paranoia and anger, her life became a daily fight between crying to herself in bed, and yelling at me. My mother had moved out. She had her own issues. I was living with my grandmother, helping her get around, pushing her in her wheelchair, taking her to her appointments, shopping, helping her around the house, etc. I had become her primary care provider, and she resented me for it. She hated that I could leave and see friends. She hated that I had a life outside of our home. She constantly accused me of being ungrateful, plotting against her with others, or stealing from her. She called me every name in the book. She would let loose her anger and frustration on me, and I took it all, because I had promised the man who meant everything to me, that I would take care of her. And I did for more than 15 years.
And then dementia started to peek it’s way out of her.
I tried to tell the rest of my mother’s family what was happening, but no one listened. It got to the point where I just could not do it on my own anymore, and no matter how much I asked for help, they wouldn’t. I don’t know if they thought I was just complaining, or that they didn’t want to take on the responsibility themselves, but I soon came to realize that as long as I lived there, they weren’t going to help her. So I moved out.
Having spent 15 years taking her emotional abuse, you would think that I would have stayed as far away as I could from that kind of toxicity. Yet, the human mind is a peculiar thing. Instead, I gravitated to a woman who, in a lot of ways, was just like my grandmother. She had a lot of anger, prone to emotional outbursts, and was controlling. Then we got pregnant, and I started to to try to mitigate her anger and keep her calm, just like I had done for years with my grandmother. I’m not saying I was a saint in the relationship, I made mistake, I had moments of anger. When a relationship ends it’s never just one persons fault. I spent 16 years with her.
More than 30 years of my life, spent trying to deal with another person’s anger. First my grandmother, and then my ex wife.
Now, when I’m faced with anger from a loved one, regardless if it’s directed at me or someone else that I love, I begin to have flashbacks of my grandmother or my ex. The associative part of my brain kicks into overdrive and I become withdrawn, frustrated, and filled with despair. My depression kicks up and starts telling me all of the negative, hurtful things I was told in my past. My strategy is to meditate, and to not allow the others negativity to infect me, but that doesn’t always work. It’s a fight within myself every time.
What I learned from both relationships, is that anger poisons the self, more than it does the intended. It creeps in, justifies itself, and destroys empathy and compassion. I knew, coming out of those relationships, that I never wanted to let the misfortunes in my life, shape me into an angry person. Anger is an emotion that calls you to action. Dealt with in a healthy manner, it should always be short lived. When we hang on to anger it changes us. Instead of yelling at the things that make us angry, it’s always better to evaluate our expectations, and find understanding.
Today I’m fortunate to be in a healthy, loving, understanding relationship where we talk about our issues and don’t allow anger to fester. We keep honest and open dialogue between each other at all times. She has taught me more about myself then I ever could have imagined. When we do get angry, we talk about it and try to resolve the issue. We don’t yell, and if needed, we take time out to cool down, and then come back to the discussion.
My relationship with anger is touchy and one that I will continue to work on. Hopefully, with patience, kindness to myself, and the support of those I love, anger won’t dominate my life the way it has in the past. And if you have issues with anger, I hope that this little piece will allow you to be patient, and kind to yourself, and help you with your relationship with anger as well.