Do Men Grieve Differently Than Women?
How long can I cry each day before I run out of tears?
I remember asking myself that a year and then again almost two years into the loss of my 20 year old son when he went missing. I continued needing to vent sometimes long and hard and sometimes softly and briefly daily into the third year. Mostly at night, late in the bathroom, alone and screaming into the bath towel. The tail end of the 2 year his murdered remains were found hastily hidden in some brush in a remote area several hours from where we lived in Montana. At some point into that third year after he had been found the daily spontaneous bursts of tears became not always so daily. Here and there I was surprised when I woke up and realized I hadn’t cried at all the day before and it struck me as just short of miraculous. I do not know if it was because I knew where he was now and that knew no one could hurt him again. Or perhaps I was finally resolving my grief and learning to integrate it into my life and move forward, but it had finally started for me, my recovery and a sort of rebirth of sorts of the new me.
I visited about this throughout the three years with my family and took note of how differently we each grieved during the loss of our Josh. The women in the family all talked of tears off and on for a period of time. Some cried more and some less. Some were affected by depression others simply sadness, some got angry, some wanted to talk and some didn’t want to talk at all about their loss yet alone mine. Most of the men in the family showed little outward emotion. They did however spend a lot of time by themselves either praying or talking to Josh. Each of them seemed to throw themselves in their work as a means of dealing with the stress and the anger over his murder.
Dr. Colin Parkes, Hospice Pioneer says that there is an “optimal level of grieving” that differs from one person to another. No two people—no matter their gender—grieve alike. There is no right way to grieve. Someone once said that we grieve as we live. If someone is a reserved stoic in life in general, that person is likely to grieve as a reserved stoic. If someone else finds it easy to express emotion in life, then that person will be more likely to show grief by expressing emotion. What is important is that grief be expressed. What is not important is the specific manner in which that expression occurs.
So do men and women express their grief differently?
Phyllis Silverman, who did important work on grieving at Harvard, points out that there is a “male model” of loss, in which one speaks of “learning to break away from the past.” Persons—and they might be women or men—who follow this “male model” prefer to “get on with life” and quickly involve themselves in work or other activities.
A “female model” of grief, however, emphasizes connection rather than disengagement and separation. Those who identify with this model are more comfortable saying, “You don’t break your ties with the past; you change your ties.” People—and this, too, can be men and women—following the “female model” are more inclined to display grief to others, reach out to one or more persons around them, and to talk more openly about the loss.
Those who tend to follow the male model will work hard to keep from breaking down in front of others emotionally, keep to themselves more and are apt to refrain from asking for help. These people feel an importance in being independent or autonomous. The female model stresses connectedness and being related. What is important is that men and women grieve consistently with how they respond to things in life.
Their different outward expressions can cause criticism towards each other as they feel the other isn’t feeling the degree of pain the same. We must realize that we are each different and grieve in our own way and there is neither right nor wrong except for those that stifle their grief or demonstrate an unwillingness to fully express grief in any form at all. To do so is to set ourselves up for a lifetime of anger, bitterness, illness and a feeling of apathy or deadness or lack of joy for the rest of our lives. It is important whatever our method of grieving be, to be able to integrate that loss so we can again feel engaged in life and happy. That is our goal in Grief Recovery and that is the outcome of healthy grieving.
Peace & Light,
Certified From Heartbreak to Happiness Coach
“Who then can so softly bind up the wound of another as he who has felt the same wound himself?”