“Man Grief vs. Woman Grief”

Man Grief vs. Woman Grief

I received an email yesterday from a fellow grieving dad who is doing research for a grant asking me if I had come across any articles on the subject of why/how men and women grieve differently.

Here is what he found in his research:

“Those inclined to the “male model” will keep grief to themselves, work hard to avoid losing control in front of others, and refrain from asking for help or assistance. In the “female model,” feeling related or connected is of paramount importance, while in the “male model” feeling independent and autonomous is critical.”

Here was my response:

Thank you for reaching out to me on this subject, it’s a good one. It’s a subject that I tend to question when the “experts” voice their opinion on it. I have seen all of the papers that say men and women grieve differently and I must say I am not sure I agree with them. If you take societies expectations away, do they really grieve differently or do we grieve differently because we have both been “given” roles and if we don’t play those roles, we are looked down upon. Not sure if you read my book, but I talk about this subject because after my first loss, I felt like I had to be the rock, to carry the load. I felt the pain as well, but I didn’t give myself permission to feel it because I was taught not to throughout my whole life. After my second loss, I fell apart and I gave in and became “weak”. I needed to be cared for, I needed to cry, and I needed to openly mourn the loss of my two beautiful children. If I wouldn’t have allowed myself to do that, I am not sure I would have survived. Now I would agree that people grieve differently, but I am not sure it’s because they are a man or a woman.

To answer your question, I have not come across any papers I consider valid. They were not written by anyone that have had to actually live this nightmare and until you have walked it, I don’t want to hear your “expert” opinion. However, I have interviewed/spoken too many grieving dads over the last several years and I can assure you, they feel the pain just as much, they just don’t know what to do with it because it goes against everything they’ve been taught.

Let me know if you have any other questions.

Peace.

Kelly

What are your thoughts in this subject?

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29 Responses to “Man Grief vs. Woman Grief”

  1. Reblogged this on The Grief Geek and commented:
    I completely agree with this and could’nt have said it better. My blog yesterday explains the basic premise of different grieving styles but I agree with Kelly that we are all different and should’nt be compartmentalised due to social constructs.

  2. Our documentary Still Loved, looks at both mother’s and father’s grief. It’s so important we finally talk about this. Find out more at http://www.stilllovedfilm.com Thanks.

  3. John Wolfe says:

    Kelly – It’s been a while since I’ve been back here, and I find it more than a little coincidental that I get a notification about this post from LinkedIn just 27 days from the 4th anniversary of our daughter’s death. You see, my wife and I seem to be at a crossroads of sorts, because for the last 4 years, we have just been surviving. We eat, we sleep, we have our jobs, and we’re in good shape financially, but we don’t have a “life”. My wife used to make stained glass creations and I used to putter around in my woodshop, but neither of us do that anymore. We used to take short trips to places, go to local events, even throw the occasional party, but no more, especially at this time of the year. The good news is that we’re starting to realize this…the bad news is that we’re not doing much about it, at least for now. Perhaps when the holidays and the anniversary have passed and we’ve made it through one more year.

    As for any difference between how men and women grieve, I can only speak to my experience and say that my wife and I have grieved differently. I preferred (and still do) to be alone in my thoughts for the most part, while my wife seeked out family and friends to help her through the pain. I tried to be the stoic father and husband, to be the rock that would be there at all costs for my wife, to give her a shoulder to cry on when she needed it, all the while busting a gut on the inside. Luckily for us, I had the sense to get us both into counseling and that helped considerably. There is, in my opinion, no right or wrong answer to the question.

    As has been said above, we ALL grieve differently, not because of our gender, but because of our individuality. A person raised in the rural communities of Montana will most likely grieve very differently than one raised in urban New York. A person raised by strict parents will grieve differently than one raised by loving parents. No one person knows how they will grieve until they are thrust into that unwanted limelight.

    My sympathies go out to all those that have recently lost children. It is not a club any of us want to belong to. But I, for one, am grateful that this community does exist. It has given me a place to vent my thoughts and frustrations, and to share my feelings with those who have gone through this terrible experience. I will be forever thankful to you all for your help in navigating these waters.

    John

    • Bruce Welsh says:

      “we ALL grieve differently, not because of our gender, but because of our individuality.”

      John nailed it with this comment. Totally agree.

      Thanks for sharing.

      Bruce Welsh

      • Tom Golden says:

        I think it is safe to say that there are some things about our sex, that is, our biology, that does impact the way we heal. Just have a look at the research of Shelly Taylor from UCLA who showed how men and women have very different approaches to stress. Taylor found that women when stressed will “Tend and Befriend.” in other words, they will move towards interaction when they are stressed while men will tend to move towards action or inaction (solitude). Taylor found that this difference was related to a man’s testosterone tending to minimize the impact of oxytocin while the woman’s estrogen did the opposite and pushed her more into an interactive mode.

        The thing that makes this so interesting is that these differences are not based solely on sex. The important events occur about 2 months in utero when the mother’s testosterone floods the fetus and changes the brain into what scientists are calling the “male brain” or the “systemizing brain.” But here is the rub. Nearly 20% of men do not get this flood and have brains more like the ladies. And, guess what? Nearly 20% of girl fetuses get this flood and have a “male” brain. So the bottom line is that most men have this male brain and some women. This is what makes it so confusing for people. There are some men who’s biology pushes them to grieve like the females and some females who will tend to grieve just like the males. It’s a complicated and fascinating mess.

        There’s all sorts of things including the men having larger tear ducts, and the impact of testosterone on emotional tears. So the way we grieve is not just a function of our individuality but also of our biology. It’s both.

      • Bruce Welsh says:

        I think for the majority of my life I responded to stress just like the typical male. After my son died all bets were off. I am a totally different person ever since.

  4. Ben says:

    I am English so I hope I don’t lose too much in the translation!
    My daughter, Ruby, died aged 11 from a heart attack last year. I am uncertain whether men and woman grieve differently (but would appreciate decent research in this area) and I am disbelieving whether men and women exprience many things differently at all. My wife and I were similar in our grief at the start but now, 16 months down the line, our different approaches have started to show. We still share similarities but she has always been more sociable than me, with many more friends, and so she openly discusses things with them and interacts a lot more. I have few friends and rarely socialise, preferring my own company. Rather than open discussion, I have found great solace in educating myself in how I might cope- I read about philosophy, psychology and humanism- and it has been a fantastic help for me. Soon I will start to see a therapist. But everyone’s grief, and coping mechanisms, are different because everyone IS different, male or female. I guess an outsider would say my wife and I cope differently because of our gender but we cope this way because of who we are, as individuals.
    As for trusting the “experts”… I am no “expert” but I have worked in mental health for 20 years and I am a nurse and therapist. Therapists are not there know or understand how we feel, there are there to help us make sense of what has happened and to help us cope with the huge changes we must endure. A good therapist doesn’t tell anyone what to do, they simply ask the right questions- the questions we maybe need to ask ourselves but aren’t sure how.
    I have met many people, through my work, who are grieving or who have experienced great loss and I don’t believe there are major differences between the ways men and women grieve. There may be some differences, as individuals, because of the way the rest of society treats us- I, for one, got pretty pissed about the number of old-fashioned men who pushed my chin to the sky and said “chin up, you got a family to look after”- but we all will have to experience loss and grief at some time in our lives.
    By asking for almost any serious relationship we invite the probability of loss. It is what makes us all human. And grief, like love and other universal emotions, is what makes us connected to each other.
    I know none of you but you are my brothers and I know a little of how you feel. I know none of the women reading this but you are my sisters and I also know a little of how you feel. None of us should ever feel alone because we are not alone.

    Regards and respects,

    Ben

    • GrievingDads says:

      Ben – Thanks for your comments/thoughts in this subject.

      I like your comment that “Therapists are not there to know or understand how we feel, there are there to help us make sense of what has happened and to help us cope with the huge changes we must endure.” I think its important to understand that they DON’T understand how we feel, but they can certainly facilitate conversation and allow someone to work through what they are feeling/thinking. I know my therapist was excellent at keeping me calm during the moments I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. I would sit there every week for months asking if I was going to survive. She would assure me that I would but it going to be a long road.

      We are not alone, nor should we ever feel alone. There is comfort in knowing this fact. There are 10’s of thousands around the world that are dealing with the death of a child.

      Peace.

      Kelly

  5. Tom Golden says:

    Thanks for this thread Kelly. While I agree that if someone tries to tell you they know more about your grief than you do…send them packing. However, there are some things that men or women can learn that may help them navigate the grieving process. For men, one of those things is their biology and how it impacts their emotions and tears. Another is to know the very potent reasons that push men to try and keep their grief invisible. I have seen four of those:

    1. our culture disdains seeing a man in emotional pain and will avoid it if at all possible. The bottom line is that men are disallowed the experience of being dependent. A dependent man is judged harshly and openly grieving is hard to do without seeming dependent.
    2. as men, we live in a hierarchy. Many times we don’t even know it but it is there. We strive for status. That status is important to us and we will work to avoid losing it. Open grieving will usually sink your status. Not always, but many times
    3. we are under the weight of the provide and protect role. it is often what we expect of ourselves. when we don’t or can’t do it we feel like failures. grieving is the opposite of providing and protecting.
    4. biological differences in hormones and our brains have some impact on our modes of grief. the research of shelly taylor focuses on this difference in her work on the “tend and befriend.” she realized that when stressed men move towards action or inaction (being alone/solitude) while women tend to move towards interaction (talking and talking) Men have been shamed for eons for not talking about it enough….

    I wrote a short series of articles to help women get closer to the men they love and one of them is about these four things. You can find it here if you are interested http://tgolden.com/why-and-how-do-men-keep-their-emotional-pain-invisible/

    Blessings to all

    Tom

  6. edcol52 says:

    I think everyone grieves differently, that’s true. I also think men have been conditioned to be the “strong ones”, and of course, “real men don’t cry”. When my 24 year old son died almost a year ago, I cried, screamed, ranted and raved. I cried daily for months. My emotions are still so close to the surface that they break through at any time, without warning. Grief is a tricky thing, and death more so. As a society, we don’t “do” death and grief very well. Women are expected to be ’emotional’ and men to hold it together. I can’t tell you how many people told me I had to “be strong for my wife”, when at that moment I felt utterly weak and fragile. All of us on this unlooked for journey need to know that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. No men’s or woman’s way. We have to find our own way, each of us, and if the people around us don’t understand, well, too bad for them. This is our journey, and unless you have walked the same road, you don’t hold any currency in this strange new land.

  7. Mick Honan says:

    I’m sitting here alone in a bar in the afternoon trying to dull my devastation with drink. I lost my only son 3 weeks ago. I do feel I want to be on my own, I don’t want to talk to anyone. Is this a man thing, the expectation? I don’t know but I do know I want to be alone. My wife wants her friends. Maybe there is some truth to this research, maybe I’m just someone who deals with this on his own

    • Steven says:

      Mick, I am sorry that your son died. All I can say is that your post here shows you may not want to be so alone, and I am here for you (as I am sure every other dad is) if you ever need to talk.

      steven.m.stuart@gmail.com

      If you email me, I will give you my phone number so the bottle does not become your best friend.

    • GrievingDads says:

      Mick – If I was nearby I would stop and have a drink with you even though you want to be alone. I know that feeling of wanting to be isolated, I felt that way may time myself, still do from time to time.

      You lost your son 3 weeks ago, you have a lot to process and something we need to process it in our own head. Trying to make sense of it all. Problem is, it doesn’t make sense and it never will. That doesn’t mean do don’t have to process it because we do.

      Deal with it on you own, seek help, find a fellow grieving dad, whatever works for you brother. My response was different after each loss. Second loss I needed people to carry me through. Probably needed it the first time, I just didn’t go that route.

      Sorry for the loss of your son. I know these words don’t take away your pain, I wish they did. Know you are not alone in your pain and thoughts. We’re all here and in this mess together. Call anytime.

      Peace.

      Kelly

    • Scott N says:

      Mick,
      I’m sitting here alone in my office today and still trying to figure out why I lost my only son Kyle 4 years, 1 month and 9 days ago and I do know how you feel. I’m not trying to preach to you but I can also tell you that the approach your trying won’t bring your son back or help you get better. I tried it and what I learned after a few months was that the only way I could start to heal was to let my guard down and ask for help. Like Kelly said your not alone and we are all in this fucking club together so when the time comes for you please reach out and don’t go on this journey alone !! I’m so sorry for your loss Mick.
      Scott

  8. Steven says:

    I will keep my point simple. Fuck the experts. They have no idea what it is like to have their 2 month old son die on their chest. They have no idea what it is like to see him on a slab in an ER with “the red” dried all down his cheeks. They have no idea what it is like to have the mortician bring him out on a pillow and tell you to not touch his he’d or his skull might collapse due to the autopsy. So, when an “expert” can even come close to imagining all of this, then I will respect his/her opinion. Until then…fuck their expert opinions.

    Steven

  9. bill16west says:

    When my daughter passed away I was and can only be myself and did not know anything other than being that person. That person was frightened in turmoil and wanted to run away from the trauma unfolding in front of me I just wanted to board a plane to a distant country and not return. Not being able to do absolutely nothing to stop my daughters illness and yes I have broken down frequently and to be honest I do not care how others see me for doing so as I could not stop being grief stricken and will continue to be so because as with other Fathers and Mothers on this site who truly love and loved their children and to me personally it was a love that is and was all encompassing for my daughter who I adored.To answer the question I feel as a male I have been the most affected emotionally but this not about scoring points of who can be heartbroken the most every person is different and yes in truth I wish I could be stronger and I have been stronger in my life but nothing can prepare you for the loss of your child and I mean absolutely nothing.

    Bill.

    • GrievingDads says:

      Bill – I too was frightened and I too wanted to get a on plane and just disappear. I still do some days. It is most certainly a place where you have no control over anything. It just unfolds and we are along for the ride, like it or not.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      Kelly

  10. Bruce Welsh says:

    Kelly,

    Thanks again for speaking out and putting yourself out there. I would have to say that my reaction to losing my son conflicts with the so called “experts” also. I was angry, devastated and virtually brought to my knees with grief and I didn’t hold it in. My friends and family had to hold me up. I cried every day for more than a year. Still cry form time to time when thoughts come back to me. I, like I’m sure you do, think of my son every day and openly talk about him. My son existed and I’m not going to let some male stereo type model or experts to tell me different.

    It was mentioned that everyone grieves differently and I agree totally, but the one thing that’s constant is that no one that has not gone through this will ever understand. I’ve quit trying to tell them how it feels.

    Bruce Welsh

    • bill16west says:

      Sorry for your loss Tim and Bruce.

      Bill.

    • GrievingDads says:

      Bruce,

      You are welcome, I generally have an opinion on most things. It’s probably not my skill set to be able to restrain myself when it comes to voicing it.

      It certainly brings your to your knees. We both know that’s just not a saying, the intensity of the pain brings you to your knees. One of the hardest things for me to accept was the fact I was out of control. I couldn’t stop my responses (emotional and physical) from unfolding. They just happened. Deeper and deeper it takes you. If you have walked it, you don’t understand. Period.

      Thanks for weighing in.

      Kelly

  11. Tim Hayes says:

    Kelly – I appreciate your response on this matter. In my opinion, to stereotype the ways individuals grieve is a disservice to those in pain. Every situation is unique. I was fortunate to have been in a counseling relationship working on my own stuff when my son was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. My counselor was a big help, encouraging me to fully express what I was feeling every step of the way. Connections and relationships have been major elements in my grief journey, and to say it is a “female” model is honestly offensive to me. I would simply call it the “healthy” way for me. It is not “easier” by any means. It is merely different from what someone else might experience. Thanks for sharing.

    Tim

    • GrievingDads says:

      Tim – It is a complete disservice. I meet so many men who are hurting from all sorts of pain, not just child loss. They have no idea what to do with it or how to seek help. They have never been taught a different way than what most of us were taught. I call it the “toughen up” approach. It works sometimes, but some things just cant be fixed with a pep talk.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      Peace.

      Kelly

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