The first couple of days in the presence of my older sister, our first time interacting in a decade, I did a lot of listening. I listened to a lot of surface chatter. No emotional content. Nothing about feelings. She talked often about things from our childhood, memories of my dad’s bizarre behavior. I continued to hear a lot of talk about my dad. On one of these occasions I asked her, “how did you feel when dad died?”
That question was all it took. The heavy and closed gate around my sister’s heart opened up. She said, “I thought when he finally died I wouldn’t be angry anymore. I thought the anger would go away, but it didn’t.” All these years my sister had been feeding the angry beast. In her anger she had become emotionally detached and closed off, disconnecting from the family. As I listened to my sister, I heard how much she’d been struggling with her anger, how much suffering she had brought into her life by feeding the angry beast.
When my dad died, my sister had very little to say. She did not attend my dad’s memorial service. I wasn’t surprised, but at the same time, it seemed very cold hearted and cast a light on her emotional detachment. As my sister talked and I listened on this recent visit, she told me that she didn’t want to attend his service and chose not to come. Why celebrate the life of a man who caused people so much pain and suffering, especially his family? To her, not attending the service was an act of rebellion, one last chance to stick it to him and say, “you were a horrible rotten father and I hate you.”
The sad thing is that in choosing not to attend my dad’s service, my sister brought even more suffering into her life. Attending the service might have been an opportunity to start healing wounds, to face the angry beast inside of her, and finally begin to put the beast to rest. As I described the service to her and told her that in fact we were quite honest about the way my dad was and did not shy away from talking about the pain and suffering he brought into our lives, I could hear sadness and remorse in her voice. She didn’t say it, but I could feel her regret that she didn’t come and that she missed out.
I get anger. I have been there. I have also felt anger and hatred toward my dad. Anger is how I survived my childhood. The irony is that my dad was an incredibly angry man. He acted out in anger and did and said so many hurtful and damaging things. His angry beast corrupted the purity of his heart. Anger can serve us, it can help us to survive great suffering, but it can also hurt us, especially when it turns into a beast inside of us and we feed it long after it served us. That kind of anger will eat us from the inside out. Listening to my sister, I heard how this had been happening within her. Her angry beast was getting out of control.
Fortunately for me, I put my angry beast to rest a long time ago. A spark of it lives on inside me and always will, but I don’t feed it and so it doesn’t stir and eat at me. Instead of disconnecting from my family like my sister did, I stayed connected and involved. I was there during a lot of very difficult family transitions, especially as my dad’s health and mental state declined. By staying involved, I learned a lot about what things had been like for my mom as a wife and a mother. I developed a lot of compassion toward my mom. We reflected back on my dad’s decline and really began to understand how his mental illness made him a monster. Seeing my dad’s decline also helped me to forgive him, to understand that even though he seemed rotten to the core, that it was the disease and the rage of the angry beast inside of him. Somewhere within my dad, under the layers of anger and illness, existed his true self, a self of goodness and love.
Showing up as a member of the family afforded me many opportunities for healing. My heart hurt to see my dad, who had once been so physically strong become so weak, losing strength in his body, losing control of himself and his mind. Underneath all my anger, I felt a genuine love for my dad. Rotten as he was, this was my dad who provided for me and took me camping and fishing and taught me how to ride my bike and made me and my siblings weed the giant family garden and pick and snap green beans. This was my father who I wanted so desperately to be proud of me, to hear him say something positive about my achievements and successes, to receive some kind of praise. Though my dad wasn’t able to say it to me, he was proud, bursting at the seams proud. A young man my dad had worked with came up to me at my dad’s service and said, “so you’re Bobbi Jean. Your dad couldn’t stop talking about you and all that you were doing in your life.” What an amazingly healing gift I was given, the gift of my dad’s love and pride.
I am sad that my sister missed out the healing opportunities that had been available to her if she had come to my dad’s service, but her heart wasn’t ready. Thankfully, she is now on the path of healing and getting the help she needs to put her angry beast to rest. I am grateful for all that my sister shared. I am immensely grateful that she *finally* opened up and spoke from her heart. I learned so much from listening and gained so much insight into her pain and suffering and saw what has been going on within her all these years – an epic battle with the angry beast. I alluded to her detachment and the many years that had passed between us. I told her, “I haven’t been angry.” In the moment I wasn’t angry, in the moment I forgave, but as I reflected back I realized I have been angry. I haven’t been feeding the anger I once had toward my dad, but I have been feeding anger toward my sister. Beware! the beast can have more than one head!!
May my story, and especially my sister’s story, serve to inspire each of you to look inward. If there is an angry beast within you, I encourage you to be courageous, to look the beast in the eye, and finally put your beast to rest. There will likely be much pain to face and challenges to work through, but if you stick with it, you can prevail, and where anger once stirred and raged in your heart, you will instead begin to feel the seeds of peace and love, gratitude and compassion, grow and blossom in your heart.
From the depths of my heart, I support you in your efforts to find peace and feel love.