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Anger (A continuing series on grief)

Every grief book I’ve read talks about the stage of anger. Some authors assert that everyone goes through every stage, but to varying degrees. Others contend that people don’t necessarily go through each stage or in a specific order.

All that to say that I’ve felt anger infrequently… so far. But when I have, the intensity is like the bursting of a dam.

Elli had sat on a waiting list for 6 years to receive something called a waiver. This is a Medicaid assistance program for individuals with disabilities who live within families who earn too much to qualify for Supplemental Social Security and Medicaid. Waivers support families who desire to keep their special-needs child in their home. Doing so is extremely costly and bone-wearying and unsafe without the help of in-home aides and/or special equipment. And without help, most families eventually have to place their loved-one in an institution for the mentally or physically disabled. (Those institutions freak the living daylights out of me — all I can think of is how vulnerable our Elli would have been to abuse and neglect. No matter how exhausted I got, I never once considered placing her in one. I’m sure some homes are run by genuinely caring and excellent people, but I’ve just heard too many nursing home horror stories.)

Our state has a handful of different waivers, but this is the one that Elli needed, that we needed to care for her in our home – in her home. It provides a medical card in addition to financial assistance for such expenses as installing ramps into a home, modifying a bathroom to be wheelchair accessible, and buying the equipment needed to safely lift and move an adult-sized person by yourself.

We learned in July of last year that Elli was finally finally being awarded this waiver. The waiver would go into effect mid-August. It would allow me to hire someone to help me get her ready for school in the morning. This was a tremendous answer to prayer, as I had been wracking my brain for a strategy to safely and sanely manage two different bus schedules and pick-up locations plus four young children each morning.

The waiver also provided funds to properly modify our van for a wheelchair. Actually using the funds for this specific task proved extremely difficult though– I ended up spending hours researching how waivers were handled throughout the state, making multiple appeals, calling my state rep to state government, and finally making my case before a panel in our county. They did eventually agree in our favor, after a tremendous expense of energy and time and frustration.

So, one weekend in October, Scott and I drove our van about 6 hours away to a company that lowers floors and installs ramps.

Then. The next weekend. Elli died.

She had the waiver all of a month and a half.

When all that smacked me in the face one day, I felt anger for the first time in this whole grief process. Blinding, red-faced, fist-clenched, can’t-breathe, whole-body sobbing anger.

What was the point of that, God? Why would you make us wait for so many years? And then, AND THEN put us through that whole crappy appeals process to get the van modified for NOTHING? What kind of cruel joke was that?

But even in my rage, I could sense a still small reminder in my soul pointing out that the work I did to win our appeal would change the way our county handled things like this for every other family. That I might have been the only parent in our county with the time, energy, and knowledge to do the research and make the case that could change their minds. And that other children and other parents would enjoy an easier and more family-friendly process now.

Thinking of that didn’t take away the anger altogether or immediately, but it did throw water on the fire.

The other time I encountered anger occurred within our dealings with our life insurance company. We had tried to purchase a policy on Elli a few different times, but her health history always precluded that. We finally learned about something called a “rider” which could be added to one of our own policies. We were told it would cover all of our children, no questions asked, and could be converted into individual policies for each of them, no questions asked, when they reached 18. It was as good as we were going to get. We felt reasonably confident that the several thousand dollars it would provide would cover the funeral, burial, and final medical bills we anticipated.

Then, when Elli died, we uncovered much deception. They had removed Elli from the rider without notifying us. After months of appeals, retelling our story, channeling our inner detectives to find the agent who sold us the rider in the first place, and finally threatening a media smear campaign, they agreed to pay the meager amount.

But the whole thing felt like rubbing acid into a fresh, open amputation. It made the unimaginable pain hurt even worse, and I hadn’t thought that was possible. And we were both angry. (I feel it necessary to point out that Scott never gets angry. It takes something like this situation to drag that emotion up to his surface.)

I have learned that being angry is a choice. I don’t like to be angry, I don’t like how it feels, how it makes my stomach churn, how it makes everything I do seem more frustrating, how it affects my family. And even in the face of injustice (real or perceived), I have a choice with what to do with that emotion, with whether I take my frustrations out on others or take them to God.

In these two scenarios, I think that part of the anger I felt towards our insurance company was what the Bible calls “righteous anger.” It was an appropriate reaction to their deceit and irresponsibility. It also gave us both strength and determination to keep after them.

The part of my anger that became vengeful? Not so much. (In case you are concerned, I have let go of that anger. The company finally did the right thing, so we’re moving on.)

The anger I felt about the timing of Elli’s waiver… I don’t know. The whole thing still doesn’t seem fair, but I suspect this is one of those “Who are you, finite human, to judge what is and is not right in the big picture?” situations. I do know that this is another situation in which I have a choice. Mostly, I choose to not think about it. I know, because I’ve seen little starts of this in myself before, that if I choose to nurse and coddle anger towards whomever, it will turn my soul into a wretched bitter shell. God help me stay far away from that path!

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