Dear Maria,

My stepson, who is married and lives in another city, recently tried to commit suicide. After several tenuous days in the hospital, he is recovering. My husband has been very sick and has his own serious health issues. We were already exhausted when he got the call about his son being near death, and to come quickly. My husband and I traveled to see him and spent several days there, which was very hard on us. I’m relieved that things are getting better, but part of me is so angry at my stepson for doing this. It has been a terrible strain on his already struggling dad. I know I should be more understanding. How can I get past this anger?


Sorry I Smashed that Window

Dear Sorry,

I’m sorry your family is dealing with so much right now. Health issues never come at a convenient time, and crises in general don’t schedule themselves well. Your husband and you have enough on your plate as it is. Then add to it the son’s emergency, and you’ve got an overdose of anxiety, stress, grief, and fatigue. I’m not sure there’s any one way to handle this well. We move into crisis management mode, and do the best we can.

Please know that your stepson was not able to consider anyone’s feelings in his decision. People who attempt suicide are in the lowest of low places and in so much pain they only seek relief. The darkness is so vast they do not factor in the impact their actions will have. Worse yet, they may even feel that their loved ones will be better off without them. This isn’t something he did to his family.

His family, however, deals with the repercussions. Your anger is understandable. You’ve reached a breaking point of your own. Your husband’s situation demands your attention and concern, and also brings up other feelings like fear, grief, and anxiety. During this time, stake a claim on radical self-care. Identify 3 to 5 things you must do every day to remain healthy and calm. Your list might include: extra sleep, healthy foods, exercise, prayer or meditation, journaling, etc. Commit to doing these things daily. Put off everything else. Your world will shrink as you say “no” to other people and commitments. That’s okay for now. Your primary focus must be on your own health, and on providing care for your husband. Depending on the level of care he needs, a home healthcare company can give you a break a couple of times a week. Check into caregiver support services in your area. Hopefully, your stepson is getting the counsel and care he needs, so your husband and you can rest easy and not be on edge anticipating another emergency.

Please give yourself a pass on the anger. Feelings are neither right nor wrong, and they give us insights into our own needs. Acknowledging your anger is a brave and healthy step. As Julia Cameron teaches in her touchstone work, The Artist’s Way:

Anger is fuel. We feel it and we want to do something. Hit someone, break something, throw a fit, smash a fist into the wall, tell those bastards. But we are nice people, and what we do with our anger is stuff it, deny it, bury it, block it, hide it, lie about it, medicate it, muffle it, ignore it. We do everything but listen to it. Anger is meant to be listened to. Anger is a voice, a shout, a plea, a demand…. We are meant to use anger as a fuel to take the actions we need to move where our anger points us. With a little thought, we can usually translate the message that our anger is sending us.

She continues:

Anger is a tool, not a master. Anger is meant to be tapped into and drawn upon. Used properly, anger is use-full…. It will always tell us when we have been betrayed. It will always tell us when we have betrayed ourselves. It will always tell us that it is time to act in our own best interest.

I hope your husband is feeling better, and his son continues to improve. Above all, I hope you will do all you can to take care of yourself. Sing this anthem when the anger rushes in: