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When Grief Turns Into Rage

Twice in the last few months I have encountered grief as rage. Both were in the setting of the cardiac arrest of individuals who were already very ill. One was aged, with severe, end-stage heart disease. One was of middle age, but with metastatic cancer and on hospice.

In one instance, family members became angry because we did not leave the body in the ER for eight hours so that everyone could come and pay their respects. (Which I always thought was the purpose of a funeral home.) 

In another, a family was angry because we did not allow everyone back into the room during the resuscitation of their cancer-stricken loved one — a resuscitation the family insisted upon, and which required rescinding hospice status. From observing their demeanor, their presence would have caused total chaos.

In both situations, there were screams and threats. One woman said, “You bring the supervisor to me and I’ll mess her up!” In another, an angry (intoxicated) son paced, clenched his fist, shouted and said, “I’ll show you something, yes I will.”

In the hospice case, the dear hospice nurse had spent the entire day with her patient as drunk family members actually threw things at her (to the dismay and disappointment of the dying).

I understand grief. I get it. It’s overwhelming and painful. We all want to help ease the transition of the family in their time of loss. But when it transforms into physical threats, into rage directed at the staff of the hospital, then it crosses the line of propriety.

We have so abandoned manners, decorum, decency that some will doubtless opine that it’s not up to me to judge how someone feels grief. Perhaps, but being threatened does not make me more sympathetic. And feelings need not morph into violence, or the threat of it.

Most tragically, however, this behavior by adult children entirely dishonors the memory of the family they purport to love. I would be cut to the quick if I thought my children were acting that way as I lay dying, or after I had died.

We have expectations as a society. And one of them is that we do not, in our grief, threaten to harm those who have done their best to help. It’s less than childish, it’s beastly. And I will not allow myself, or my staff, to endure it anymore.


*This blog post was originally published at*

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2 Responses to “When Grief Turns Into Rage”

  1. Part of the problem with this scenario is that people are not offered any sort of end of life counseling along with their loved ones before they are too far along. Such emotional assistance could very well serve to limit the uncontrolled behavior of those who are not equipped to handle the emotional stresses of experiencing a loved one pass away. Part of health care has to be treating the families rather than just enduring their presence.

  2. Scott says:

    So sorry you’ve encountered difficulty in your work dealing with the emotions of people whose loved ones have died under your care, Edwin. You find these people “beastly”? I find your views embarrassing. As a fellow doctor I’d like to suggest you find another line of work, away from human beings who feel emotions.

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