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Apr 2017 by PCI College

A eulogy for anger.

by Mike Hackett

A eulogy for anger.

 

I was recently asked to deliver a eulogy to the memory of an angry man. Though receiving such a request is a great honour, it is also risky business. Risky, because as a therapist and a person, I have worked for a long time to develop a robust sense of personal integrity and the practice of congruence in my work as a therapist and as a person. So, what happens to integrity and congruence when the social convention of 'say nice things' in a eulogy arrives with the recognition that one's lived experience of the person who has passed is far more complicated? At those moments, it feels like saying nice things is an act of betrayal of the truth, a sacrifice of one's own story on the altar of social convention.

 

Human beings, especially at times of profound, sudden loss, in their shock and sadness, will cling to positive memories almost as a person lost at sea clings to anything which will similarly keep them afloat. What then happens to the other side of the story? It seems to get relegated, re-written, ignored or forgotten in order not to betray the memory of the one who has passed or to avoid inflicting further painful memory on those already suffering. Let the past lie. The problem with this all too understandable attempt to re-write history is the loss of the opportunity to name the inevitable mix of light and dark in all of us and begin some process of integration at a time when it feels like life has suddenly disintegrated. In polarising memory as all good or all bad is to be incongruent because to glorify a person is to set up an impossible standard for younger ones who hear the legend of the good and the great and simultaneously betray the lived experience of those most affected by their anger and aggression. To vilify the person is similarly to betray his memory, his humanity, and tarnish the positive experience of those who benefitted from his charity and beneficence perhaps leaving them wondering how they could have been so duped by a confrontation between public and private persona.

 

So, instead of polarising, of risking integrity and congruence I decided to speak initially of the man, but mostly of his anger and put reflexivity to work for everyone gathered. What follows is an extract from the words I spoke.

 

"... In our own individual way, as we reflect on his passing today, we will each consider the personal ways in which [Jim] touched our lives and the lessons we may learn from him.  For me, when [Jim] was angry you definitely knew about it, he could be a tough man, passionate about his views and values and very tough on those who loved him. Anger is a powerful emotion and one which can damage by breaking down but also inform as to what is most difficult for us to accept. But in his anger, what I respected most about [Jim] is that though the red mist may descend, his rule was to never go to bed angry. And in this vital rule which he lived well, is the kernel of a valuable lesson. If we can accept that love is always present and forgiveness always possible we both receive a wondrous gift.  We release our need to hold the past's power over us, and afford us a moment to choose our relationship with our anger. Indeed, isn’t that in many ways, the role of a father, to teach his children how to be better people and to make ultimately better choices? Perhaps this is the great legacy of the man..."

 

Despite my nerves, my anxiety (I allowed no-one to read the eulogy in advance of my delivery) I seized my congruence and anchored in my integrity. It was a humbling and transformative experience. In the sharing of a story, of naming the past, of looking beyond the story into what it can offer, there was a relief palpable in the church. I was relieved.

 

As therapists, we are challenged all the time to live true to our own being to help another who has split off from themselves so that they can find acceptance in the world. The millstone of the past weighs heavy around the neck of many a client who enters our rooms, encumbered by their story, resentful and angry at the past (or defended from it) and those who inflicted hurt upon them.

 

Therapy is a process, an unfolding, a releasing and a realising. We unfold our past and see it for what it truly is, part of our story which shaped us into who we now see before us. A releasing of the burden of resentment, freeing us up and creating space into which we can plant fresh experiences, acknowledging that we are more than our history tells us we can be. A realising that I am the master of my future with every choice I make today and every day from today. And therein is the gift of therapy, the gift of living authentically and being congruent.

 

And so, if we shift focus back on ourselves for a moment, the self that shares the room with our clients, we notice that our own stories are ever shaped by theirs. The overlapping fields of lived experience mixing and crashing together at times and at others not connecting at all, the ebb and flow of being. Our challenge though is to make some decisions for ourselves in those sacred moments. To reflect on our own integrity and congruence and decide what we may need to eulogise so that we can anchor to our own integrity and remain stalwart in our own congruence in life and in the room? We everyday eulogise for what within ourselves we need to lay to rest.

 

Mike Hackett, April 2017.

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