How Men Grieve
by Amy Scholten, MPH
Months after Rick's father died, his wife Cathy was worried. "Rick has never cried or talked about his father's death," she says. "Now he spends all of his free time working on an old '58 Chevy. He and his dad bought the car right before his dad died. I'm worried that he's not handling his dad's death in a healthy way."
Death may be a normal part of life, but grief affects us differently. We may know how we deal with grief. But we do not always know how others handle it. This can make things confusing.
Personal and Cultural Differences
Cathy views Rick's behavior as an unhealthy response to grief. However, his response is actually healthy. He is still expressing his grief—just doing it privately. Restoring the Chevy helps him connect to the pain so he can begin healing. It also helps him honor his father's memory. Cathy grieves differently. She cries and talks with family and friends.
Personal and cultural differences affect how people express grief. For example, in some families and cultures, men are taught to hide their pain. Some women struggle to express pain too. Pain is expressed in different ways. Rather than cry and talk about feelings, a person may do something. They may set up a trust fund or create a memorial.
If someone is taught that tears are "weak," they may hide them. It may be more comfortable for that person to express anger before tears. This is more common for men than women. On the other hand, many women are taught not to express anger. They may use the strength of tears instead.
Healing Through Talk Therapy
Therapy is an important part of healing. However, some men do not want to get help and go to therapy. Many have been encouraged to hide their feelings. There are other approaches that can help men express their grief. Here are some examples.
Activities can help men talk. One hospice invites recent widowers to an all-day fishing trip. This activity lets men process their grief while they fish together. This approach works with boys too. Boys may not open up one-on-one. However, they may talk while playing a game.
The approach to conversation is also different. For example, it may not help to ask a recent widower how he feels. Instead ask him to talk about the day something happened. For example, you may ask what the last day with his wife was like. It may be easier for him to tell a story about how he feels, rather than express it directly.
Once men start to talk, they are more willing to express anger than are women. They may also express guilt—possibly because the situation was out of their control. They may feel that they should be able to control things.
Ritual and Symbols
A ritual is a routine activity. It helps people move from one state of mind to another. It is often an important part of healing. For Rick, it was restoring the old Chevy.
The ritual connects the person to their pain and grief. It moves them into the experience of grief, in a safe way, for a period of time.
Sometimes men express their grief with symbols. For example, they dedicate a game during a sports event or build a memorial.
Men often get mixed signals when it comes to expressing grief. The message they receive growing up is to take loss "like a man." When they reach adulthood, though, the message may be different. A grief counselor may see grieving families where the wife and children are crying, but the husband is not. The family is worried because dad is not crying. Yet if he does, they get upset.
A wife may be relieved that her partner is able to grieve. At the same time, she may fear that he is not modeling strength. Men are criticized when they do not grieve. Yet their manhood may be questioned when they do grieve.
Grief Affects Us All
It can take a long time for cultural views and habits to change. It is important not to put grief into male or female roles. We are all different and deal with loss in our own ways.
American Psychological Association
Mental Health America
Canadian Psychological Association
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How men grieve. Alliance of Hope website. Available at:https://allianceofhope.org/how-men-grieve. Accessed November 4, 2021.
How men grieve. Next Avenue website. Available at: https://www.nextavenue.org/how-men-grieve. Accessed November 4, 2021.
Why men and women express grief differently. Guiding Light website. Available at: https://rednosegriefandloss.org.au/support/article/why-men-and-women-express-grief-differently. Accessed November 4, 2021.
Last reviewed November 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 11/4/2021
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