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Breaking the Mold: Redefining Men's Experience with Grief

Grief is inevitable, we’ve all had to deal with it. Overall men receive a lack of support and positive role models when is comes to grief, “you’re on your own just deal with it.”

I've learned some great lessons about grief from two situations in my life. First, I'll talk about a death experience with my wife Jude's Mom. In our culture we see death as a negative event. There are other cultures who revere it, see it as a respected transition, just like birth. Jude’s Mom gave myself and her family the gift of her death process. She made her transition at home at Jude’s younger sister’s, where she was living at the time. Because I’m a physical therapist I was able to be a part of her care along with Jude’s two sisters. I witnessed the beauty of death. There’s one particular moment that I recall vividly. It helped me to look at my own views of death and how it should be experienced, as a celebration. On the day before she transitioned they had a family gathering at the house. Jude’s Mom was Filipina so family functions were important and were usually quite large, sometimes between 40 to 50 family members, so the house was full. At one point, I had to run out to do an errand and as I drove away I thought to myself, “is this the right time to being having a family gathering?” As I reflected on this question more deeply I thought, this is exactly what Jude’s Mom wanted. She actually waited until the early morning after that gathering to take her last breath. It was a special occasion and an honor for me to be a part of. It helped me to look at death in a completely different light. I grieved her loss but it’s intensity was lessened by the way she died.

The second scenario I’d like to share is when I chose to end my first marriage in 2003. I knew that I had to confront my grief because if I didn’t I was going to carry that baggage with me. I set up my support network, my brother and my good friend Ron and informed them I was going to be reaching out to them for support. I also sought the help of a therapist. I'm not going to say it was easy. There were was one moment I remember clearly when I fell onto the floor sobbing when releasing the deepest feelings of grief that I've ever experienced. This cathartic episode, although painful, released me from the bondage of grief.

So why is it that most men struggle with grief. In Rick Belden’s article on Men and Grief he states, most men reject vital aspects of themselves and their histories because they do not want or know how to feel and move through grief. Men fear being shamed when expressing vulnerability when grieving so they choose to avoid it. This is very damaging to men’s mental and physical health. 

There's seven stages of grief:

  • Shock

  • Denial 

  • Anger 

  • Bargaining 

  • Guilt 

  • Depression 

  • Acceptance 

The timetable for these stages is different for everyone and how they deal with it might be different, so be patient with yourself and with others who are dealing with grief.

Key things to remember when dealing with grief:

  • Face it 

  • Talk about 

  • Cry about it 

I know that these are daunting tasks for most men but crucial for better mental and physical health along with improving your relationships. Many men will release the emotional energy of grief through physical activity which is all well and good but only when combined with talking about it. My running has always been therapeutic for me. Physical activity helps open the door to discuss grief and other uncomfortable feelings.

In summary, it is essential to recognize and eliminate the stigma surrounding the deep emotional impact of grief on men. By encouraging open dialogues, endorsing the expression of emotions, and offering non-judgmental support, we can shape a society that enables men to navigate the intricate realm of grief with authenticity and resilience. Grief is a universally experienced emotion, and by embracing the various ways individuals, including men, cope and recover from loss, we contribute to a more compassionate and understanding global community. Let us break away from societal norms, cultivating an atmosphere where men can openly mourn, valuing their emotions, and ultimately discovering a path towards healing and hope.

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