Thursday, February 14, 2013

Men in Grief

As you go through life, you fight stereotypes and popular misconceptions. Several notions exist about how "real men" should act in different situations.

Take a moment to identify your own ideas about how men should "handle" grief. When did you form this opinion? Who modeled this behavior for you? Who might be looking to you as a role model?

For me, I have always believed men to be the stronger of the two sexes with how they grieve.  I never expected them not to cry but have always felt they would be the one to 'hold' the women up.  I think I had always had a male role model who did express some grief, my dad.  I have distinct memories of him sitting us down and telling us when his father died very unexpectedly. I don't remember him crying, I was only 4, but I do remember him holding me really tight.  I was older when his mom died but she had been sick for so long and I think we were all more at peace with her death.  When my mom's father died     it was left to my dad to call people and tell them as my mom was at the hospital with my grandma and her sisters.  I remember him struggling to tell someone, hanging up the phone and putting his head on the counter and sobbing.  I was in high school and had already lost my boyfriend to leukemia, I was no stranger to death and grief.  But seeing my dad like this was hard.  We hugged for a long time that day and I think it was the start of moments we share for years that involved tears...of sorrow and of joy.  

But other men in my life didn't express grief like this.  The boyfriend I mentioned was living with his best friend and his family at the time. I don't remember any of the men really crying at that time even though it was a horribly sad time.  

Here are some comments from men who have experienced grief:

"In our culture especially," says Rev. Noel Castellanos, "the whole macho thing is very prevalent. I think men are afraid to express their feelings. We haven't had too many people show us how to do that. I remember being very moved when I first became a believer as I saw strong Christian men who had the ability to cry and share their weakness and hurt."

Virgil, whose wife died, observes, "Men, as little kids, are told not to cry and it carries through. To solve this problem, fathers should let their little boys cry. It doesn't hurt a thing. It's an emotion God gives us."

I do not remember any of my brothers being told not to cry or being encouraged to 'man up'.  I am glad that is the case and know that I have seen all of them cry at some point or another.  My oldest brother came to Christ when he was around 25 and I have seen him moved to tears a few times.  It is amazing how God can work in us when we let him in.

"Christ was a man's man," says Jim Grassi. "Eight of the twelve disciples were fishermen. At times, the disciples wept and they felt grief. They had all the normal emotions that God intended people to have."

David, a warrior and king, pours out his emotions to God throughout the Psalms: "I am bowed down and brought very low; all day long I go about mourning. . . . I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart. . . . For I am about to fall, and my pain is ever with me" (Psalm 38:6, 8, 17).

Romans 12:15

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

Men who seldom express emotions during normal times often find they do not have the tools needed to express their grief in times of bereavement. Their ideas of how a man should behave can hinder the healthy expression of their emotions. 

Dr. Larry Crabb says: "Men are real problems and I am one of them. In a way that is different from women, men demand to be able to manage things. A man will naturally not move into chaotic situations where he hasn't got a plan.

"Emotions are probably the least controllable thing about our existence. So when a man begins to honestly face his emotions, his worst terror begins to be realized. He thinks to himself, If I face what's really happening in my soul, I won't have the resources to handle it; I won't come up with a formula or a game plan."

I think this is why we see so many women who go to others when there has been a loss...bearing food and offering hands of physical support and shoulders to cry on.  Men might tag along but not as often and when they do it's not tears that are often shed.  They don't know how to react because they don't have a plan, because they don't know how to plan.

In the Bible, Jacob found it very difficult to move on and to accept comfort. "Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. 'No,' he said, 'in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son.' So his father wept for him" (Genesis 37:34-35).

Men tend to grieve alone and to express very little about what they are feeling. But keeping emotions bottled up inside slows the healing process.
I saw this off and on with Geoff, my husband.  He would cry and show he was upset and frustrated but so often there were no words to go a long with that outward expression. He could not seem to form the words to express how he was feeling.  It was like he was sad for me but not for himself.  He kept saying how it hurt him to see me so sad and hurting, that he just wanted to take away my pain. And while I appreciated that and felt supported, I could not understand why he wasn't feeling the same way.

Dr. Norman Peart says, "Men are taught that they should not express their emotions because that is a sign of weakness. In reality, expressing emotions is a sign of health because it means you are working through those emotions. You have to be honest with yourself; you do hurt." 

God wants you to pour out your emotions to Him: "Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge" (Psalm 62:8).

Lord God, I understand that the power and strength to heal come from You and not my own ability. I give my life and my struggles to You. I know that You want me to release my emotions to You and to others. I know you have given me gifts to do this and that you wish for me to help others, men and women, Give me the opportunity and the courage to do that. Help me to uncork my bottled emotions so my healing can continue and in that, help me to share this so that I can help others to search their  hearts for those emotions that they have bottled up as well.  Amen.

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