Helping Grieving Fathers and Brothers
Everyone’s grief is unique. But there are some general ideas about the grief of men that differs from how women grieve. This list is not universal or exhaustive but may help you to understand the how our fathers and brothers grieve differently and what we can do to support each other.
Men feel the need to be strong.
Even in the face of tragic loss, many men in our society still feel the need to be self-contained, stoic and to express little or no outward emotion. It is very much in vogue today to encourage men to openly express their feelings, but in practice few men do so. The outward expression of grief is called mourning. All men grieve when someone they love dies, but if they are to heal, they must also mourn.
Men feel the need to be active.
The grief experience naturally creates a turning inward and slowing down on the part of the mourner, a temporary self-focus that is vital to the ultimate healing process. Yet for many men this is threatening. Masculinity is equated with striving, moving and activity. Many grieving men throw themselves into their work in an attempt to distract themselves from their painful feelings.
Active problem-solving is another common male response to grief. If a father’s child dies of leukemia, for example, the father may become actively involved in fundraising for leukemia research. Such activities can be healing for grieving men and should be encouraged.
Men feel the need to be protectors.
Men are generally thought of as the “protectors” of the family. They typically work to provide their spouses and children with a warm, safe home, safe transportation and good medical care. So when a member of his family dies, the “man of the house” may feel guilty. No matter how out of his control the death was, the man may feel deep down that he has failed at protecting the people in his care.
It’s OK for men to grieve differently.
We’ve said that men feel the need to be strong and active in the face of grief. Such responses are OK as long as he isn’t avoiding his feelings altogether. It’s also OK for men to feel and express rage, to be more cognitive or analytical about the death, to not cry. All of these typically masculine responses to grief may help your men heal; there is no one “right” way to mourn a death.
Men may have a difficult time during special occasions like Father’s Day and other significant days, such as the birthdays and the anniversary of the death. These events emphasize the person’s absence. This pain is a natural extension of the grief process.
How Can You Help?
Offer a “safe place” for to mourn. Offer to listen whenever they want to talk. Communicate that it’s OK for him to express whatever feelings he might have-sadness, anger, guilt, fear. Reassure him that around you, he doesn’t have to be strong because you will offer support without judgment.
Adapted from Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt www.centerforloss.com