Grief can be a debilitating and isolating effect of loss no matter who you are. Generally, no one teaches us how to deal with sorrow. We learn to grieve by watching others through family traditions and the spiritual practices they teach us about death. Society leads us to believe that women and children need more support than men following a tragedy. Right or wrong, these are the gender roles that are taught in our society.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Are There Gender Differences in Grieving?
- Tips for Comforting or Supporting a Grieving Man
- Other Tips for Men Dealing With Grief
Those who identify as men generally aren’t taught to relate their feelings, emotions, or vulnerabilities, and every person will have a different grief reaction. Although men and women can suffer differently, their pain is the same. Some of the most common grief reactions for both men and women are anger, confusion, and disbelief. We can add to that list sadness, pain, and sorrow.
Men and women both suffer these feelings and reactions, except that they differ in how they express them.
Are There Gender Differences in Grieving?
Men and grieving don't seem to go hand-in-hand in society’s eyes. Unfortunately, we're still unaccustomed to seeing a man publicly grieve or show their feelings and emotions as they mourn the death of a loved one.
Those who identify as men tend to hold their feelings in when they are in front of others. In contrast, women tend to openly mourn a significant loss. Society doesn't see anything wrong with either of these scenarios. They’re both normal and expected grief reactions. But given the lack of exposure, it can make some people uncomfortable seeing a man cry. There's a false perception that a man needs to hold it together for his family and not show his feelings.
Traditionally, the feminine way of reacting to a significant loss is an open display of emotion associated with mourning, which invites others’ sympathy. At the same time, the masculine form is to show grief in different ways. For example, a man will show that he's grieving by doing something with his hands to distract himself from his pain and suffering.
While there's no wrong way to grieve, these outdated societal norms hadn’t changed a whole lot in the past years until recently. There’s been an overwhelming amount of tragedy in our society in the past few years, necessitating a change.
Society is also beginning to be more understanding and receptive to men's grief and resulting mental health issues. Men now have grief resources, including online grief support groups, available to them that may have been considered taboo just a few short years ago.
The following are some tips to help you support a man you know who may be grieving.
Tips for Comforting or Supporting a Grieving Man
You may never know that a man is grieving, even when he's your best friend and the closest person to you. Men sometimes have difficulty expressing how they feel or asking others to help them cope with their grief. You may have to learn to pick up on the subtleties of a man's grief in the days following a tragedy or other significant loss.
You can offer your love, comfort, and support to a man who's grieving by taking cues from their behavior and stepping in when they give you an in. Consider that a man who's suffering through loss may not be fully able to express their feelings. For healing to take place, a person must be able to say what they're feeling and thinking due to their loss. The tips below may help you in offering your support.
1. Let them talk
Give a grieving man the opportunity to talk about his or their loss. As painful as it may be for them to express what they’re feeling, releasing those emotions will help get them through their grief sooner and in a much healthier way than holding things in. L
et them tell you about their loved one who died, what the person meant to them, and how the death has affected them. Talking about loss is an essential step toward healing.
2. Offer some company
In the days and weeks following a loved one’s death, you can expect to keep busy with all the things that need doing. If a man has lost his spouse, they may feel not only their physical loss but the overwhelming loneliness that follows. Ask to see if it’s okay to come over.
You can provide company, lend an ear, or help sort through anything that needs to be taken care of.
3. Ask them how they feel
Often, no one asks a man how they're feeling following a significant loss in their lives. Don't be afraid to ask them how they're doing and how you can help them cope with their grief.
You don't need to worry if you don't know the right things to say. By just asking, you've let your friend and loved one know that you care about them and how they're managing to survive their loss.
4. Help honor their loved one
A few days following their loss, volunteer to plan a memorial service to honor their loved one who’s died. You can take charge of all of the date, time, and place arrangements to make things easier for the person who’s mourning. Consult to see if they’re feeling up to it, or if you should wait until a later date.
Once given the go-ahead, discuss the number of guests and budget so there aren’t any surprises. You may also want to take charge of publishing online announcements.
Other Tips for Men Dealing With Grief
If you’re struggling to get back on your feet following a devastating setback, know that there are ways to confront your grief and heal from it. Even if the outlook looks poor, recognize that the way you feel right now won’t last forever. In time, your suffering can lessen, and slowly, you can get back to living a life that'll be your new normal. Consider how these tips might help you get through.
5. Find your safe place
It's safe to say that Western society teaches us that men should be stoic, resilient, and strong in the face of adversity. However, the reality is that men also grieve and suffer the profound pain that accompanies any significant loss.
If you're feeling insecure and uncomfortable accepting the feelings and emotions that accompany grief in front of others, that's OK. One of the best steps you can take during a time of profound sadness is to find a comfortable, private, and safe place for you to grieve openly.
6. Find a friend to talk to
You don't need to suffer through your pain alone. Although it may be challenging opening up to others and talking about what you're going through, allowing yourself to express how you're feeling can be very comforting and healing.
Consider confiding in a close friend or reaching out to ask for help and support when you need it most. Chances are, there may be someone you know who understands your anguish. Your friend may have suggestions to help you get through the toughest time following a significant loss. They may also offer you a different perspective on your loss to help you find closure and healing.
7. Loss doesn't need to end in divorce
One of the biggest misconceptions is that most marriages that experience a loved one's traumatic death end up in divorce. The truth is that suffering a significant loss places a strain on the relationship, making it challenging to reconcile when trying to cope with your grief. Men and women grieve differently and have different needs and expectations.
When it would seem to one partner that the other is disengaged and aloof, it may very well be that person's going through a tough time coping with their loss and may not have any extra energy to try and fix the relationship. Although time alone does not heal your pain, things do get better as time goes on. Remind your spouse that you're also grieving and may need some time to sort out what you’re feeling.
8. Your family needs you
Your family may need you during a time of hardship and tragedy. But you also need them. Together you can love and support each other in this journey. Young children may not understand the complexities of grief, but they know what it feels like to be sad and scared when someone they love dies.
Death affects everyone in the family. Some family members will suffer more profoundly than others, depending on the relationship to the person who died. Understand that children of all ages are affected by sorrow following a loss, but they may not have the experience necessary to cope with their emotions.
Following a death, your children may have questions about their grief experiences you can answer. Together, you can develop a list of grief and loss activities to help you get through.
9. You don’t have to be a superhero
Go easy on yourself after suffering the death of a loved one. You may find yourself wrapped up in all of the necessary things that have to get done when a loved one dies. Remember to ask for help when you need it. You don't have to be the one to swoop in and save everyone when you're also in emotional pain.
If you're not confident that you can rely on others to take care of things, try delegating items on your to-do list that are of less importance. For example, you can send someone to retrieve a copy of the death certificate, make phone calls to notify family members of the death, and determine the food that'll be served at the memorial service, if any.
A Man’s Grief
How a man grieves is often misunderstood. The movies will show you a strong and stoic man without a tear in his eye attending a loved one's funeral. But real life will show you a man who's suffering deep inside, afraid to show others how he's truly feeling.
Slowly, our society is beginning to recognize that men suffer as much as others, only they tend to demonstrate their grief differently. Asking others for help should be as natural and as acceptable as asking your friends or family who wants to go out for dinner.