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Men and Grief

by Jeanne M. Harper

Ken Doka speaks of “disenfranchised grief” that is when loss cannot be openly acknowledged socially sanctioned or publicly I shared. one of the reasons maybe that the “griever is not recognized.”

Quite often that is exactly what happens to men in their families. The stereotypical man is to “be strong and frequently required to not show emotion at the time of death of their loved ones.

Problems this can create may include a bad mood, lack of social support, exclusion from care. The grief may then be intensified, and without support the male griever is ALONE.

Carol Staudacher in her 1991 book MEN AND GRIEF, demonstrates how typical males may respond to death of their loved one. She bases her theory on Havinghurst’s Tasks of Mourning which was elaborated by Dr. William Worden in his book GRIEF COUNSELING GRIEF THERAPY. Carol reports from her research that most grievers, male and female, go throuqh Phase One:

PHASE ONE. Retreatinq: temporary manage pain and anxiety shock, numbness, disbelief, confusion, disorientation denial. Goal: Grappling with and testing reality

Men appear to go through Phase One and Three. Differences for men and women seem to arise in Phase Two:

PHASE TWO. Working through: by confronting and enduring. Having a range of responses by thinking, talking, crying, writing about disorganization in their lives. Goal: Detachment from loved one NOT from emotions; must experience the pain

Many men have been raised to NOT talk, cry, or reach out (for Support). Therefore, their grief tends to stay inside and can create physical ailments, as studies have shown. Heart attacks, ulcers, cancer are a few of the physical ailments that can be created when the grief stays within. Men who do express, release or completely work through their grief are the EXCEPTION rather than the rule.

The third phase is something most men are exceptional at doing. They can be masters at reorganizing and restructuring because it involves a lot of THINKING. For most men, objective THINKING is their gift.

PHASE THREE. Resolving: reorganizing and restructuring life. Goals: Adjust to Environment-take on new identity Reinvest Time and Energy-develop new goals

Carol’s research shows that men have established four typical male coping styles that are LEGITIMATE and ACCEPTABLE alternatives to WORKING THROUGH grief (Phase 2). These patterns have enabled them to take advantage of their natural gifts and talents.

  1. Remain Silent–They will keep the pain to themselves They appear to not need to communicate about their qrief. The non – communication helps them protect themselves against being vulnerable-which to them is “expressing” qrief through tears, feelings, sharing.
  2. Engaging in “Secret Grief”—This is a method of “solitary mourning” activities, i.e. taking the new puppy for a walk—puppy represents NEW LIFE and crying and feeling as they walk, hug and play with the NEW LIFE. They do this solitary mourning to “spare others from seeing, feeling, experiencing their grief. For most men to do otherwise seems against “cultural expectations”.
  3. Taking Physical & Legal Action – Many men immediately attempt to bring control to an “out of control’ situation by taking physical and legal action for extended periods of time. Others support and reward them for being “assertive and courageous” in their time of grief.
  4. Becoming Immersed in Activity – Most men become obsessive about activity. They diligently find things to, occupy their time…all of it. They fill “every waking minute” with work, errands, house activities. This immersion consumes time, energy and thought so there is no time for grief, no time for thinking of the loss ahd no time for feeling the grief pain.

Recently, I attended a conference on death education and counseling in Portland. Ken Doka and Terry Martin presented a session on men and grief. They found in their studies that men needed closed groups with separate subjects planned for each session. The material needed to be presented in a problem-solving mode. A method most men feel accustomed to. Supporters of men need to allow for the expression of emotion in ways that are compatible to the male roles {such as the patterns that Staudacher described}. Ask questions “how did you react” rather than “how do you feel”. Most men need to return to work as soon as possible. Research showed that most men felt better if they were working (again this corresponds with Staudacher’s work).

The important issue is that each gender uses their own STRENGTHS to deal with grief and IN TIME they, both genders, out of their grief. One way of grieving is NOT better than another. Rather there are differences in how they grieve. These differences need to be CELEBRATED, not corrected. Carl Jung says we balance our lives as we age…men become more in touch with their feminine qualities and women become more aggressive and in touch with their male qualities. Each gender’s way of coping has negative AND positive aspects.

In conclusion, the tasks of grief [testing the reality, experiencing the pain, adjusting to the environment and reinvesting time and energy back into life], are experienced individually. Respect must be experienced so we do not “disenfranchise” anyone’s grief or grieving process due to our stereotypical expectations. Men and women must come to a point where they can learn from each other’s methods of grieving, rather than judge these methods. We need to understand their are personality style differences, as well as male/female differences. All differences can be CELEBRATED, it is your choice.

Copyright: Alpha-Omega Venture, Jeanne M. Harper, 1113 Elizabeth Ave., PO Box 735 Marinette, WI 54143-0735

The Bereaved Parent

by Lea-anne Niamath

During the grief process, bereaved parents may take a long time to adjust to the loss of their child. Perhaps longer than other types of losses. Some factors which can complicate this kind of grief are:

  • If the parent is a single parent (may have limited support)
  • If the child was an only child (all purpose in life seems lost)
  • The nature of the death (murder, suicide, disease, sudden death)
  • Not the natural order of life (children bury their parents)
  • Not as common as the death of a spouse or parental death so shared experience is limited

It is important to support grieving parents in a way, which acknowledges the uniqueness of their loss and gives them permission to grieve “for as long as it takes”. Names have been given to survivors of other losses, e.g.: widow, widower, orphan etc. but there is no “name” for those parents whose children have died.

Grief care providers can be a tremendous support to newly bereaved parents if their communication approach incorporates an awareness of these differences. The following are some of the comments received by newly bereaved parents.


“You can have more children”

Remember that all a bereaved parent really wishes, is to have their child back. Not a replacement child. When people suggest having more children., the importance of the child who died is diminished as if they can be replaced somehow. There may be reasons that the parents cannot have children, which would make a comment like this even more inappropriate.

“Thank God you have other children”

Somehow suggests that the surviving children in the family will make up for the dead child. It is true that when the energy for life is restored, there are activities and experiences the surviving children provide for bereaved parents. However, the loss of the individual who was your child is gone forever: even tiny babies have personalities.

“God wanted her”

Whether the parents have a religious affiliation or not, some parents do not believe that their child was “chosen” to die. For some bereaved parents, issues around faith are challenged most at the loss of a child. For some parents, it can be their greatest source of strength.

“He’s in a better place”

Comments like this imply that parents maintain a belief system, which teaches that there is a “better” place. Not all bereaved parents have a belief system, let alone believe in a better place. For some, they simply feel their child is gone. One parent said, “the best place for our child was in his home.”

“Your child would not want to see you so sad”

As with many types of grief, this comment can create guilt feelings for the bereaved parent. It suggests that although they loved their child, they “owe it to their child” to be happy and there is a limit to the amount of sadness they can experience.

“Don’t grieve around the surviving children; it will upset them”

Yes, a grieving parent can be very frightening for surviving children in a family. But when parents “hide” their grief or feelings, they create mystery around a very normal human process. The only way children learn healthy grief responses is through their parents. It is acceptable for parents to explain to their children when they are sad or that they need time to be alone to work through their grief. It is especially important for parents to talk about the child who has died.

“I know how you feel….my father (mother, aunt) just passed away”

When a child dies, a parent is left to mourn a life that was not lived. They are grieving what could have been, first steps, graduation, wedding etc. The loss of a parent cannot be compared to the loss of a child even though the separation from both is very painful.

“Are you feeling better?”

Whether the loss occurred 4 months or 4 years ago, there may never be a time when a bereaved parent feels “better”. They may just feel different. This does not mean they cannot enjoy life again, but they will never lose that part of them which belonged to their child. The scar is always present.


“I don’t know what to say”

An honest, straightforward response to parents, that still ACKNOWLEDGES THE LOSS. When friends and family do not mention the loss, it can feel like the child never existed.

“You must miss (child’s name).” or “I was thinking about (child’s name) today.”

Use the child’s name as often as you would if they were alive. They still live in the hearts of their parents.

“How is today going?”

This is a great alternative to “how are you”. In the early stages, you can be sure that parents are not “fine” even though they may say that out of habit.

“Do you have a picture of your child” or “what was your child like”

Parents want to know that whatever the age of their child, their life had meaning. When you ask about the child, it reinforces the fact that they played an important role in the family. This is especially important for parents surviving SIDS or stillborn deaths.

“How are the other children”

Sometimes, friends and family are so grief-stricken about the dead child they forget about surviving siblings. It is important to acknowledge their grief process as well.

Recommendations for a Grieving Family System

by Thomas R. Egnew, Ed. D., ACSW

1. Recognize the hurt: identify, predict, and accept the validity
of the unique issues and problems the family faces:
Be gentle with each other.

2. Be realistic about expectations as parents:
We cannot protect our children from everything.

3. Identify problem areas and communicate about them in light
of grief process:
Never underestimate the impact of grief on the family.

4. Discuss differences in grieving styles and do not judge
the responses of other family members:
Do not expect the grief of other family members to be like yours.

5. Men, open up to your pain/grief, learn to cry and express anger/stress appropriately: women, learn to express your anger appropriately:
Learn to share your grief with one another constructively.

6. Assist children to grieve by allowing expression of feelings, giving factual explanations, and being careful of expectations:
Don’t expect children to act or understand like adults.

7. Pace yourself with the recognition that grief resolution
will take a long time and will require reworking throughout life:
Recognize and prepare for anniversary reactions.

8. Establish personal and family methods of recognizing important
times relative to the deceased:
Create family grief rituals.

9. Give yourself and family members permission to set aside
grief and enjoy life:
Have fun together.

10. Be realistic regarding the resolution of grief:
Accept that things will never be the same and turn off the “if onlys”.