Do men grieve differently from women, especially after losing a child? WHY?
Men and women do most everything differently, why not during one of the most mind-shattering experiences? I know that my husband, my remaining son and I approached the death of our other sons extremely differently. No right or wrong — but plenty different!
Here is a summary from ten experts on this topic:
- — Lisa Boncheck Adams, from her Grief Psychologist mother’s dissertation: “In general, women talk their way through grief. They need to process it by verbalizing their feelings. They want to talk about the child that has died… relive… rehash… trying to make sense of it. In general, men do not want to do this… Men usually are focused on acts. On doing. On fixing things. The death can’t be fixed… they feel powerless.”
- — Dr. Colin Parkes reminds us, there’s an “optimal level of grieving” that differs from one person to another. No two people—no matter the gender—grieve alike. There is no right way to grieve. What is important is that grief be expressed, not the manner.
- — Per Elizabeth Harper Neeld, Ph.D. – researchers at Harvard point 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, emphasizes connection rather than disengagement and separation. People—men and women—following the “female model” are more inclined to display grief to others, reach out, and to talk more openly about the loss. What is most important here is to recognize that men and women—grieve consistently with their way of responding to life in general.
- — Lou Wallace, M. DIV., D. MIN. states “Recent research has shown that the brains of men and women are constructed differently. They process information differently and have different perceptions, priorities, behavior and ways of handling emotions. One of the major reasons for the difference in how men and women grieve has to do with cultural expectations – the way our society defines “masculine” and “feminine.”
- — Dave Pierce says hat in many bereavement circles men are said to be stoic, strong, tough, aloof, silent, tearless, and incapable of expressing emotion. Women are characterized as nurturing, emotional, weepy, panicky, swooning, and possessed by a need to share their grief through talking, writing, and hugging. He feels this is not necessarily so – that differences are often based on individuality rather than gender.
- — In Bill Jenkins’ article “Men and Women in Grief”, he says “You will most likely find that men and women grieve differently according to their own natures and personalities, and according to cultural expectations… You may see a woman trying to deal with her grief through remembering, while a man may try to deal with his through distraction… Typically, it takes much longer to work through grief when emotions are avoided than when they are confronted openly. Both may need permission and opportunity to grieve openly in a safe, non-judgmental environment.
- — According to Elizabeth Levang, Ph.D. – more than anything, the process of grief is about transformation. Grief is work — intense work. The lessons that grief teaches are not for the skittish, the weak, or the avoiders. Men tend to distrust their feelings. Many fear that if they begin to let their feelings out, they might not be able to shut them off. Women may worry about this, but their level of anxiety is not as acute.
- — In the study by Pediatrics & Child Care “Death of a Child – Parental Perception of Grief Intensity”: Results highlighted the emotional intensity associated with the period surrounding the death of a newborn or older child. Differences between mothers and fathers were noted in both groups of grieving parents, at a high level of psychological distress.
- — A University of Phoenix article states that similar to when a sibling loses a brother or sister, the father of a deceased child is sometimes referred to as a forgotten griever. A father’s grieving often takes place at different times than the mother’s, and both will experience recurring grief at varying times. The maternal bond is established before childbirth, is more immediate, more physical, more intimate. Therefore, mothers are more susceptible to depression after the loss of an infant. Fathers often feel a sense of disappointment, failure, and resentment… The loss is a blow to future hopes and dreams, or even to his ego. Ideally father and mother will be able to grieve together …and find ways to memorialize the child in their lives.
- — In the paper “Death of a Child – Grief of the Parents; A Lifetime Journey” by the National SIDS/Infant Death Resource Center (NSIDRC) – Although both mothers and fathers grieve deeply when such a tragedy occurs, they grieve differently. Fathers are expected to be strong for their partners, to be the “rock” in the family. Men are often asked how their wives are doing, but not asked how they are doing. When a non-traditional family experiences the death of an infant, the community’s response may be less supportive to that family… All of these parents may find their grief unusually complicated. Regardless of the family’s composition, parental experience, coping strategies, and cultural practices are unique for each family.
Bottom line, understand and expect that your partner and family members will grieve differently. Be tolerant and supportive of that as best you can. Open communication is key! Wishing you healing…
(Links to noted articles & studies are available).
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