Men and grief. Well, this could be a short post! I’ve written before about how rare it is to hear men talk about grief. This blog is, in part, a chance for a least one man (and dad) explore the idea of grief now that it is no longer an idea, but a reality. “Male grief is all too often invisible, misunderstood, and unwanted, which leaves many men in the difficult position of having to deal with their grief on their own, if they deal with it at all,” says Rick Belden in a Huffington Post opinion piece.
An article by psychologist Jackson Rainer entitled Men and Grief is an example of someone moving from the abstract to reality. Rainer has been involved in grief counseling for over 25 years and wrote Life After Loss: Contemporary Grief Counseling and Therapy several years before losing his own wife. He recognizes that theory and reality can differ. “I’ve studied the phenomena as a researcher and clinician for years. Experiencing life after loss is fundamentally different territory from thinking about life after loss.” Dr. Ken Druck had a similar experience after the death of his daughter, and wonders how much of his struggle to deal with her death was tied up to his being a man.
“Experiencing life after loss is fundamentally different territory from thinking about life after loss.”Psychologist Jackson Rainer
Rainer acknowledges the dodging of the “how are you” question that I’ve written about before but takes what is left unsaid further than I do. “Now several years after my wife’s death, I am still feeling, with alarming frequency, the cloying sense of loss…Even though I am well trained as a psychologist and have years of my own psychotherapy, I am generally loath to admit this ongoing sense of loneliness to myself, certainly not to anyone else.”
The dangers of not addressing grief appropriately is especially dangerous for men. As another article notes, “Research suggests that men appear to be more susceptible to developing a reliance on alcohol or engaging in risk-taking behaviors following a loss and are more likely than women to commit suicide following the death of a spouse.”
Rainer talks about how men and women grieve differently, with men talking less, controlling their emotions, and withdrawing from others instead of seeking connection. These ways of acting may go far beyond just applying to grief for many men, but when combined with grief they can be dangerous. The inclination to withdraw from others can put men in a situation of loneliness, which, like grief, men have more trouble dealing with than women.
Rainer offers many helpful tips and I encourage you to read the article. While many suggestions are now standard for dealing with grief (stay active, recognize that people grieve differently, connect with others), he offers some unique ideas. Finding safe places and people with whom to grieve, knowing the warning sides of behaviors that make grief worse, and some simple advice on holidays provides us some new insight.
This is not some element of the mythopoetic men’s movement of Robert Bly where we seek to reconnect with our male ancestors. Death and grief have been and will necessarily remain a part of our existence, and men will need to find how to appropriately address our grief no matter what societal norms call for in our particular time. Writers like Rainer address those norms and push men and women to get beyond what is expected of them and do what is needed to address their grief.