“Grief remains one of the few things that has the power to silence us.”
I thought this quote was a good topic to ponder and discuss here on this blog. I know I held my pain in silence for many years before the flood gates opened (not really opened, more like torn of the hinges). Not sure why my first response was to bury it and not talk about it. Maybe I thought I could handle it on my own just like everything else I had ever experienced in my life. I didn’t want to feel like I was burdening others with my problems. I didn’t want to be perceived as weak or a whiner by other men. I wonder how much pain I could have saved myself if I would have just started talking about my children’s death early on. Would it have made a difference? Hard to know at this point in time. I like to think it would have helped. I now believe that it takes a lot of courage to talk about your “feelings” and allow others to see your pain. A lot of courage.
Why is the concept of “letting it out” so difficult for men? Is it the way we were raised? Is it how we are genetically programmed? Are there other factors?
Let me know your thoughts on this topic. Why are men often times silenced by grief?
I totally understand why people don’t want to go here. It’s the same reason our culture latched on to the stages of grief (yuck)…denying it, stuffing it, managing it, seeing it as a linear process that’s complete when you reach acceptance, all make it feel like we’re not losing control. Unfortunately grief is not a process we can control and when we try to control it, we don’t lessen the pain and we usually prolong the process.
Even knowing all of that, it still takes tremendous courage to grieve. You might be interested in a video I recorded recently on this very topic…
Grief Takes Courage
John, thanks so much. Just for saying what you did. And, I think to a large degree my husband reacted protectively the same way.
We lost our child young, in utero. My husband seemed to “learn” much quicker than I, that the reactions of others, in general, make you not want to share. He can talk to his brother, who sees the realness of the situation, outside of me, for people to talk with about this, that is it. Sadly, I eventually learned to go from a person who would grieve in a healthy manner for myself, -ie- honestly and out loud, sharing my feelings… to one who became practically reclusive, because, quite frankly, in our society, I wasn’t “allowed” to grieve, without being shut down, shamed, minimized and diminished. I have found people now, and am far more functional and living again and yes, even have moments of happiness. But of course, I will never be the same, and there are many people I don’t waste myself around anymore. I relish the people I choose to relate to, but I don’t know if I will ever return to the very social and very hospitable person I used to be. I don’t look at the world the same way anymore. I think the society in which we live has much to do with why we don’t share our feelings. I’m sick of people immediately trying to point out some “silver lining” in the death of my child without the decency to even say they are sorry for my loss or take it as anything real, and a million other platitudes ad nauseum.
Thanks Kelly, the way that you share has helped me so much.
I think a part of how people (in general) and men (in particular) grieve would be the age and maturity of the person grieving. I was 23-years-old, single, and in the Navy barely over a year when my mother passed. I was 33-years-old, married with a 5-year-old child when my brother died. While both deaths were fairly sudden and unexpected, I was a more mature, emotionally stable person when my brother died.
But more importantly it is the relationship to the deceased. For example, I cried uncontrollably 2 weeks after my mother’s death, but very little when my brother passed. I was very close to my mother and not so much to my brother, but that does not mean that I loved my brother any less than my mother…I was just a different person in a different time and place.
In my opinion, our roles in society as men and women definitely play a role in how we grieve. In general, men are perceived as the hunter/gatherers and women as the comforter/nurturer. Hunters must be strong and unafraid of death in order to provide for and protect their family, whereas women stay home and take care of the family. Are these roles genetically programmed? I think they are to some extent, although I have seen that changing over my lifetime.
Am I more mature and emotionally stable than I was those many years ago? I’d like to think so. Do I feel the societal pressure to be a man and protect my family? Yes and no. Yes because it was the way I was raised and no because as I grew and matured, American society started changing…more particularly, gender roles started to change. It became OK for women to be the hunter/gatherers and for men to be the comforter/nurturer. I’d like to think I grew along with the rest of society.
But then I had to face the reality of losing my only child, my 23-year-old baby girl, probably the single-most devastating loss anyone can face. On the night of Allison’s death, something inside me kicked into high gear and I immediately assumed the role of protector. MY family had been attacked and MY wife was in pain and agony over the loss of our child. ME, MYSELF, and I took the necessary steps to ensure that MY wife was protected from any further harm.
Dramatic? Perhaps, but it’s what happened. Is it genetics that caused me to react the way I did? I tend to think so, but I also believe that a part of that is my upbringing, the way I was raised. I’m 53-years-old and I can remember being told that a gentleman always opens the door for a lady, is always polite in front of female company and always treats a lady with respect.
So have I cried for my daughter yet? A little…nothing like the floodgates that opened when I lost my mother those many years ago. The loss of my daughter has been a devastating thing, made even worse by the fact that we don’t yet know the cause of death. She just…”fell asleep”…and never woke up. Therefore I tell myself that I’m not allowed to cry until I know for sure what took her.
But the single most important thing for me is that I am at least able to talk about it…in forums like these. I’ve also created my own blog so as to have a place I can write my thoughts down as they come to me. If someone stumbles upon it and is somehow comforted or otherwise helped by my words, all the better.
Thank you for providing this place of thought, Kelly. It’s been of tremendous help to me.
My only child, a son was killed last October. I have just the opposite situation. I cry at the slightest trigger. I have cried every day since his death. On the other hand, my wife has not. But I don’t see her as tougher, even though she is a cancer survivor. The bond between a father and son is very strong. When that bond was broken, I caved. Don’t get me wrong…she grieves…but everybody is different…I don’t need to prove myself to anybody. If they don’t like my crying, well, they can leave.
I have to agree with the first post! As a mother who lost her youngest daughter to murder one year ago, I have found myself keeping much to myself. I have lost friends (mostly women) who for one reason or another couldnt deal. I am learning to keep my pain and heartbreak away from my family because it hurts them knowing how hurt I am. The worst is my husband who was a stepfather. He has moved on with his life, there is no longer an “our life” although we do have plans to seek counseling. I feel very alone! The ones that do ask me how I am doing and seem to have no problem talking about my daughters death are in fact my male friends and my daughters friends. Kids, in thier twenties. Maybe it’s me??? I don’t really know, but I do know how devastated I am. After a disagreement with my husband I told him that my time of peace will be the day I don’t wake up!
I guess neither.
We raise ourselves, perhaps, with the idea of being “strong”. Our fathers, the leaders in our society – all the male influence around is of men who face the world’s indifference and build their destinies. These are the men the world idolises too. So, I guess, we grow up wanting to be them – sports icons, film heroes, etc. The tough guy.
We must shatter the cocoon ourselves. Did you know that if the butterfly, when coming out of their cocoon, doesn’t break it with their wings, they never get the strength to fly. And they die in no time.
Have Myelin –
Excellent point. Let’s open it up to “Why do people have such a difficult time talking about our grief?”
How about you, what do you think causes this reaction in people?
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
I don’t know if your reaction is limited to only fathers…