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Men and Grief

Men grieve differently from women. Our cultural roles make it difficult for men to look for support, and harder again to accept it. Men are so often silent, solitary mourners who immerse themselves in activity and private, symbolic rituals. They feel profoundly, but often can't express the depth of their loss.

A man is supposed to be "strong," to support, to cope, and to plan in the aftermath of loss. His own pain must be put away.

Grief doesn't discriminate between gender or culture. Our society has placed clear expectations and requirements upon our roles as men and women. Boys learn quickly what behaviour is considered inappropriate through such statements as, "Stand up and take it like a man." "You're the man of the house," and the insidiously cruel "Big boys don't cry."

Male grief tends to have four main characteristics.

1. Moderated feelings
Men have deep feelings but don't express openly, a more readily available feeling is anger. Men deal with their real feelings by redirecting their energies.

2. Cognitive Experience
Men work more with cognitions explaining their grief or with problem-focussed strategies that help them adapt and protect.

3. Problem-Focussed Activity
Men may adapt to loss by practical hands-on finding solutions to problems associated with the loss.

4. Desire for Solitude
Men don't seek support groups. They want to master their own feelings and also reflect the more practical behaviour involved in adapting to a loss.

Societal Demands on Men
Men are expected to be "in control" of life's demands and have to submit to the following demands society has placed on them. They're expected to :-

? remain emotionally and physically strong
? always be rational
? don't cry or publicly mourn
? don't ask for support or affection --- be self-sufficient
? remain as non-expressive as possible
? provide, not nurture
? shake hands, don't hug.

These generalisations continue to hold their power over men in pain. Let's take the old myth about crying. The truth is it takes a truly strong man to be able to cry. Acknowledging that each of us grieve in very different ways can allow men to cope with loss and pain using their own various coping methods. We all grieve despite our gender, race or culture. We grieve because we have loved and, through our journey, we can be healed.

Tears are a gift
Grieving men need to hear that their tears are a gift to help their healing. Men have historically been fobbed off and denied this important gift. We need to open up to how men grieve and start sharing thoughts and feelings in a more meaningful, supportive way.

The realisation that grief can be a constructive, healing process, which can be shared with others, can inspire us all to be intentional in our grief process.

Susanna Duffy is a Civil Celebrant, mythologist and grief counsellor. She is a creator and guide of Rites of Passage for personal ceremonies and civic functions. Website: http://celebrant.yarralink.com

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