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
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