On November 1, 2016 my wife of 43 years died. We loved each other deeply and were more than husband and wife, more than lovers, she was my best friend. I always said to her that no matter what happened between us as far as marriage, I still enjoyed her company, her humor, her wit and her caring ways.
So needless to say the loss was deep, was all consuming. When you lose someone that close to you, it tears your life apart and everything you know or planned doesn’t mean much anymore. There is much in the way of emotions that want to spill out, that need to spill out. But I’m a man and, believe it or not, men are not supposed to cry. Not even for the loss of someone you love more than life itself.
I have two grown sons that live at home yet. The oldest is 32 the youngest 27. It’s not so much that the sight of their father crying would upset them, as it would a child. But I observed that they would become concerned and worried about me, and I didn’t want that. My burden is my burden. If I dump these emotions on my sons or my family, how fair is that to them? So I cried in private, where and when no one could see me. I wanted, I needed for everyone to be able to recover from Diana’s death. If I can’t then that’s my problem, not theirs.
I’m normally a verbal kind of person. I can normally articulate my feelings and emotions. Yet when I attended my first bereavement group, I had extreme difficulty finding the words, writing my thoughts down. They were disjointed, they were irrational, they made no sense nor conveyed what I was feeling. I lost my ability to convey my emotions in words. Why? What sense did that make?
Part of the bereavement group process was to try to read on the subject of grief, to understand the process and what I’m going through. I literally devoured books on the subject. I needed to know what I was going through, why I had changed so much. Was this permanent? Had I lost my normal functioning altogether? Why couldn’t I express my grief in words? Why couldn’t I write anymore?
Rifling through the piles of books they offered I came upon several that interested me. One particular book really caught my eye. It was “Swallowed By A snake- The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing” (Thomas R. Golden). Did men actually heal differently than women? Did they practice healing differently because of their masculinity or because of society’s expectations of what a man is supposed to do when hurt, wounded, suffering a loss of a loved one.
For example, I experienced attending a support group for bereavement. The group was all female except for me. I thought maybe it was because more men die before women. Maybe men do deal with grief differently. I was curious and read the book.
The author contends that men tend to be less verbal, and less apt to express their grief in that fashion. If that were the only avenue available, men would appear was expressive or worse less sensitive, that they hold in their emotions, unable to express them.
But there’s an unseen side to men’s grief. Men may be more apt to use “their strength of action”. Rather than interaction that a female will use, a man will use action, ie look through a photo album, put together a book about a lost loved one, starting a scholarship in the name of a lost child, raising money, build a memorial garden or pond. He may not say a word but he is expressing his grief in the way he feels he can best do so.
I rearranged photos on the wall or changed ones that were already hung. I cut up her sympathy cards and framed the sayings or pictures of butterflies and cardinals which symbolized loved ones visiting. I placed photos of her on the nightstands so I could say good morning and goodnight to them every day. Maybe my grief was more private, less verbal, but it was my way of grieving. It didn’t mean I didn’t care. I cared more than mere words could enable me to express.
It wasn’t ,then that I lost my ability to verbalize my grief. It was that the “proper masculine response” learned throughout my life dictated how I was to respond. Don’t cry in public. If you have to cry, do so in private. Don’t carry on verbally about your loss. Men don’t dry, men don’t carry on. There are acceptable avenues for you to express your grief. It’s what men do. Really???????
Simply put, if a man cannot find it in himself to verbalize or cry, as expected in some social settings, it doesn’t mean, simply, he is holding on to that grief. He’ll find a way to express that grief, that hurt, that pain in a way that may seem uncaring or distant, but in that physical expression of grief he may put more care than he could ever put verbally. Men have to be afforded that avenue of expression and not be judged because they cannot verbalize their feelings.