Two years ago, when my husband of thirteen years was killed in a vehicle accident, I found myself feeling helpless and carrying a brand-new set of fears about my teenage sons. My twin boys, who were fifteen years old at the time of their father’s death, handled the entire situation much differently than myself and my daughter. They only missed two days of school, choosing to immediately delve back into their regular routine. While my daughter and I held each other and cried, they displayed little emotion and almost seemed annoyed about our lack of restraint in showing our grief.
I interpreted their actions as a denial of what had happened and a resistance to deal with their emotions. Over the last two years I have come to understand that there is a big difference not only in how adolescents and adults deal with grief, but also how males and females deal with it. Slowly, I have realized that there was not anything innately wrong or harmful about their behavior; it was different than mine and confusing for me to watch, but not inherently wrong.
There are numerous things that factor into losing someone so close to you. One minute your loved one was there, the next minute they are gone. You feel shock, numb, and so much pain that you can not put it into words. I was enduring the pain of losing my best friend and companion, and they were trying to process that they would never interact with their father again while on this earth. I wanted so much to protect them for what had happened, but that was literally impossible. Right away, I was worried about how they were handling (or not handling) it.
Among the issues I noticed surrounding the loss of my husband was that from day one, people were unknowingly putting pressure on my sons that just was not helpful in any way. I know without a doubt that they were trying to help and carried no bad intentions toward our family, but it is my belief that their words did more harm than good. We heard things like, “You guys have to step up and be the men of the house now”, and “I know it’s hard, but it’s time to grow up and be men now; your mom needs you”. I believe that this put an unneeded pressure on my sons. We were all very aware of what was happening to our family and that our lives would be changed forever. They were stressed enough without people adding pressure. I use my own story as an illustration because during my research about how men grieve, I have come to see that men are fixers, they see asking for help as a weakness, and they want to seem strong. They will often bury and ignore feelings in order to seem strong and in control.
Haley Grissom - The Hope & Healing Place Volunteer and Blog Contributor
During my years of leading a grief support center that was much like The Hope & Healing Place¸ I observed two things about grieving men:
1. Men were much less likely to attend our support groups than women.
2. Many of the men who did attend would indicate that they were only there because of someone else. They had given in to pressure from their wife or felt they “had to attend” for the sake of their children or grandchildren.
I remember a guy who, during the intake process at our grief center, almost begged to be allowed to sit in his truck in our parking lot while the kids attended their group meeting. (No, we didn’t buy it.)
But, most of the men who do attend grief support groups eventually (some sooner than others) begin to realize the benefits, open up to their group, and end up contributing in positive ways to the support of others.
Take the guy who wanted to sit in his truck, for instance. He got into the support group process so fully that he willingly appeared in our center’s promotional video, telling others what a benefit it was to him and his daughters.
There were other men who overcame their hesitation about the grief support group process and returned as group facilitators – sharing what they had learned and experienced with others!
While many men are more private about sharing their feelings, often we guys need just the right setting to allow us to open up. When I “make my rounds” as the staff support guy (ie: corporate chaplain) at Street Toyota and Street Volkswagen, I often find that some of the men are more likely to open up to me about life’s challenges when we are “doing” something. We may be looking under the hood of a car in the shop when they start talking. Other guys will tell me, “Let’s take a walk” and do their talking while we walk around the back parking lot of the dealership.
I vividly recall a family intake meeting where the woman told us, “I don’t know that my husband will attend the support groups, but if he does, I know he won’t say anything.” You see, he was a “tough guy” in the eyes of most – working in law enforcement and in the military reserves. Sure enough, he said nothing in the group meetings for weeks, allowing his wife to do their talking. That is, until the evening when each group member had the opportunity to make a memory box. Colorful napkins were trimmed to fit a box, then coated with decoupage material to make them adhere and shine when the coating dried. That night was “tough guy’s” night! While focusing on his box, and without making eye contact with the group, he talked on and on. He started with his frustrations in law enforcement, where there are times they had to make death notifications at a family’s home, then go right back out on the streets without processing the situation. He finally ended up talking openly about his own family’s feelings of loss – much to the amazement of his wife!
Yes, men may need some different settings or opportunities before they are comfortable sharing – or, they may just need time to adjust to the group setting and realize that they are surrounded by other grieving people who they can trust with their feelings.
For some of us guys, it takes time to even allow our feelings to surface. For months after my dad’s death to cancer, I was doing “just fine” – since, after all, I was the “grief support guy.” Until one damp winter day when our family gathered in the back yard for the burial / memorial time for our pet cat, Smokey. It began to rain as we said our goodbyes, so I encouraged my wife and two sons to go on into the house while I shoveled the dirt to close the grave. Task completed, I stood there, leaning on the shovel handle crying… sobbing. In a reflective moment, I realized that I wasn’t just crying about the death of our family pet, but I was finally allowing my pent-up emotions related to my father’s death to come to the surface and be expressed through my tears.
So I conclude where I began, with the title affirmation: Yes, Guys… It’s Good For Us, Too!
Memory Box photo credit: Mélisande* <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/32618149@N00/39535963094">Noshi Valentine</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">(license)</a>
By Danny Mize, Advisory Council member for The Hope & Healing Place
Some say, “Death is a part of life that people just have to deal with. So, why have grief support groups where people just keep feeling sad?”
Individuals who raise such questions usually do not fully understand the purpose and value of grief support groups. These groups exist to provide a safe and supportive environment where those who are mourning the death of a family member or friend can find and give encouragement and support. Consider why people find benefit from a support group, whether at The Hope & Healing Place or elsewhere in the community:
By Danny Mize, Advisory Council member for The Hope & Healing Place
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