The Friendship Doctor

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The Angry Widow: How Can Her Friend Deal With Her?

I have a friend who lost her husband about a year ago. She has also lost most of her friends through her hostile behavior. Read More

Anybody who doesn't know an angry widow raise your hand.

The angry widow is a common personality. People like to use anger to control, vent and feel sorry for themselves. It's understandable that when one experiences the loss of a spouse one will feel down and maybe angry, but when the anger lingers there is more going on.

As Irene Levine suggests the anger might be about depression, or perhaps it might be about asserting control over others, or another option is that the widow was angry all her life but her anger was tempered by the husband who has since died.

Most of us aren't trained professionals nor do we know a person well enough to render a diagnosis. Those negatively affected by a widow's anger do have a few options. Obviously, suggesting counseling is a great idea, but what happens when the counseling suggestion makes the angry widow even angrier?

I have had to do this recently so I speak from experience: There comes a point where one might sit the angry widow down and tell her to her face that the anger program is getting old and that everybody is sick and tired of it. One can tell angry widow to find some hobbies, get out into the fresh air, enjoy life and get a new attitude. Otherwise, her collective group of friends are going to start keeping their distance.

So far so good, worked like a charm.

From Experience

I lost my husband of only a year and less than half, when I was only 20. While the "we must preoccupy our friend and help her move on and distract her" plan of action is a noble sentiment, she may need some more alone time. I tried to to stay away from people. There were times I lashed out and it was mainly because people were not giving me the space I needed, nor the time to heal. Everyone wants you to get over it in the time it takes to get over a cold, and it doesn't work that way. It takes year(s), and in more than a few. I am 25 now and I am much better, but there are times when I struggle, time when I'm antisocial. Depression after a loss like that is NOT abnormal, and if she's lashing out, maybe it's because she doesn't want everyone sticking their noise in her business. I did not. If you are worried about her, let her know you will be available if she needs you, and leave it at that. She's a grownup. Let her decide how she wants to grieve. It's not rocket science.

If anyone told me to "get

If anyone told me to "get over it", I would punch them in face. I do mean literally. That is the ugliest, rudest thing you could do. No one has been stupid enough to say something like that to me.

The difference

There is a big difference between wishing to be left alone to grieve and the angry widow demanding people visit with them so they can rage, hurl insults and accuse people of heinous acts toward them. Boundaries sometimes need to be defined vigorously.

Maybe best to say "This is

Maybe best to say "This is obviously not a time when you want me around so I'll give you some peace and give you a call tomorrow. Call me if you need anything though." Bereavement is so tough and can make people very angry and sometimes the person doesn't realize they are transferring their anger on to others. Also do some web searches about bereavement so that you understand it better.

There is no "getting over" a loss but people just learn to adapt to the version of a different future. This adaptation process is different for everyone and can be lengthy with acute periods of grief occurring with "triggers" eg a song, birthdays, or even years later at the birth of a grandchild/great grandchild or when another loss happens or burden is added.

If the behavour is really bad though, you have to be direct and say you cannot take the misdirected anger any longer. This is better than just walking out of her life unannounced. Many bereaved report that their friends have "just walked away" - this is very bewildering for them.

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Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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