Men and grief: how can men deal with the loss of a loved one
Men and grief: how can men deal with the loss of a loved one
For many, the most difficult experience we will have in our lives is coping with the loss of a loved one; but what happens when men and grief come face-to-face? How do men respond to grief? And what can be said to comfort a grieving man?
How do men respond to grief?
Of course each experience for each man is different. But, when considering men and grief, it’s worth bearing in mind that they may often not initially feel comfortable talking openly about their feelings. They may also struggle to show emotion. I have spoken to this podcast to talk about my own case.
When my father was taken off life-support after having a fatal heart attack, I found that my initial reaction was a sense of numbness to the experience. It was initially too large, too unfathomable an event to process. How could someone who had brought me into the world and always been there as a guide and a presence suddenly just cease to exist?
Many of my female family members openly cried during my father’s time in intensive care. Many again openly cried at his funeral. But such an immediate outlet of emotions was not available to me. I sat with the experience. It haunted me in my dreams, dreams in which my father would return but only briefly, both he and I knowing that, even in that dream world, his presence had become ephemeral, spirit-like. He could no longer exist in a substantial form.
In my experience, grief is never something that you fully come to terms with because losing someone who you are emotionally close to is essentially a loss of part of yourself. Something in you dies with that person who has gone. Your memories are the only way in which that lost part of you can still exist. But some men will take active steps to keep that lost person alive.
A different response to the loss of a loved one
As I said, with men and grief there is no set response. Anthony Ogogo, for example, a former professional boxer and bronze-medal winning Olympian, talks to this podcast about his reactions to losing his best friend to cancer. Anthony describes his friend as the life-and-soul of the party. Someone full of energy and positive spirits who died far too soon. Later in their friendship, Anthony describes how he and his friend began to have deeper, more meaningful conversations. Anthony tragically lost his friend just as that intimacy was developing.
Despite his friend’s passing, in order to keep the friendship alive, Anthony still takes the time to send WhatsApp messages to his old friend’s number. He shares recollections with him as if his friend were still on the other end of the phone.
loss of a loved one from childhood
So far we have focused on men and grief, but what about boys and grief and how grief can impact one’s manhood while growing up? Shaun Flores, a professional speaker, model and advocate, talks to this podcast about losing his own father at the age of 6 on Christmas Day.
It was just the day before when he had been shopping with his dad buying last minute Christmas gifts. Then, on what is supposed to be a time for families to fully come together, his dad was gone.
Shaun describes the trauma of this event which has contributed towards his mental health struggles and OCD. In Shaun’s case, not only did he have to process his own grief regarding his father’s death, he had to grow up without a dedicated father figure. He did not have that constant male role model to learn from and emulate. He was left to work it out for himself, having only limited memories from a very early age of the father who had once been a significant presence in his life.
The road to Recovery
Shaun began regularly speaking to a therapist and he found the right person to whom he could express all of the challenges he had experienced while growing up. Speaking to the right professional has helped Shaun to achieve equilibrium in his life. But, for him, therapy is an ongoing process. There is no destination, he is constantly navigating his way through an evolving journey.
Male grieving patterns
This is one way of thinking about grief. It is common to hear about the different stages of grief. Going from denial to anger to bargaining to depression and finally arriving at acceptance. It is not the case that everyone will go through all of these stages or that they will go through them in any specific order. Male grieving patterns, just like female grieving patterns, will vary.
One could describe my response to losing a loved one as being a combination between conscious acceptance and subconscious denial. Perhaps Anthony’s response may be an example of conscious denial. And perhaps the extreme trauma Shaun experienced of losing a father during childhood will mean that he can never fully accept the nature of his experience.
What to say to a grieving man
WThe idea that we are each navigating that evolving journey is one that speaks deeply to me. And when it comes to acknowledging men and grief and providing them support, the most important step must be to encourage them to talk about their experiences. Bottling up emotions will lead to greater trauma and that trauma will often express itself in damaging ways.
How to comfort a man
If a man is able to talk about his experiences, the next step must be to listen. What feelings does he express? What regrets does he have? What does he miss most about the person who has gone? What does he wish he had done or said before that person departed? What does he wish he could still do with that person now?
The more that men are able to talk about their grief and the more that those around them are willing to listen, the better men will be able to process and make sense of their loss. If my experience is anything to go by, losing a loved one will never truly make sense. But it can become a harsh reality that is emotionally tolerable. And, in finding those who are willing to care and listen, sharing one’s experiences can help to forge new meaningful relationships of future comfort and significance.