When it comes to things of the heart, many men don’t even know what to ask for. It is also true, many men don’t ask for directions. Is it a sign of weakness to ask for directions or help when it comes to matters of the heart? People often ask: “Why aren’t there more men in support groups?” Often women complain: “My husband won’t talk to me about our daughter’s death.”
As a man, you may resent these generalities. To say that all men don’t express their feelings or talk about them is as inaccurate as it is to say that all women are comfortable expressing their feelings. There are, however, some ways in which men and women deal differently with loss. Why is that?
A lot has to do with how men are socialized or “brought up.” As a man you may remember your parents telling you to “stop crying, because big boys don’t cry!” You may have painful memories of other children laughing at you and calling you “sissy” if you were crying. This socialization of boys leads to many expectations of them when they grow up.
Men are expected to be in control of situations and to show confidence while looking after others. Men are taught to be more concerned with thinking than with feeling. A man is expected to be the courageous one, the one who will figure out how to get through a difficult time and to lead others through it. Men are seen as the ones who can bear the pain without giving in to it. Like Moses in the cartoon, most men wouldn’t think of asking for help. Or would they?
Both men and women are affected by our cultural avoidance of death and grief, but this avoidance has a different effect on the two sexes. A woman generally has an easier time in dealing with death. She probably has a system of support in place in which intimacy is the key word.
Think of it for a moment. At the time of death, it is usually the women who plan what the person who has died will wear for burial, the women who order the flowers, the women who plan, prepare and carry out the reception afterwards. The men in the family often continue to work as long as possible before the funeral. They miss out on much of the “work” that helps women begin the grieving process.
How do some men respond to a death?
- Remain silent . A man will often withdraw and not talk about how he is feeling.
- Engage in solitary mourning or “secret” grief . He may not tell fellow employees or neighbours for fear of revealing his feelings and appearing vulnerable.
- Take physical and legal action . Often a man will say after an accident, “I’m going to sue!” Others may become involved in organizations that will work towards eliminating the cause of their loved one’s death. Frequently men hide their sorrow in anger.
- Deal with their loss intellectually . A man will often spend a lot of time trying to understand how the death occurred and what impact is will have on him. He will translate raw emotion into a rational, but often detached process of determining what, if any, changes he needs to make in his life.
Helpful hints for a man who is grieving
This may be one of the most painful times of your life. You may experience emotions you have never recognized before. These emotions may be more intense than you have ever known. Allow yourself the privilege of expressing your feelings. You don’t have to be “brave.”
Learn about grief. What will you experience? How long will it take to get through it? How can you help yourself? How can others help you? The grieving process has the potential of being a time of personal growth and discovery.
Men tend to be task oriented. You and other men in your family could look after an appropriate memorial for the person who has died. This could be a donation to the university the person attended or any organization that was of special interest to the deceased. It may involve planting a tree to commemorate the life that was lived.
Explore the possibility of a support group . Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but of self-awareness. The number of men attending support groups is on the increase. Meeting with the group facilitator before the group begins will give you a good sense of what is expected of you and what you can expect.
Above all, look after yourself. Regular exercise, proper nutrition and sleep are important. This is a time for you to reflect on life, to reevaluate and recreate your life. Take time! Don’t be impatient with yourself or the process. It is a time to explore your spirituality. Listen to your heart. In time you will live and laugh again.