The loss of a loved one in our life can be crippling and can leave deep scars; it changes who we are, how we look at life and how we relate with the world. Five or six years out is still early grief but at a point where positive rebuilding can begin.
In the first few years we mechanically maintain, weep a lot and lick our wounds while clinging desperately to everything of our loved one and may in secret wish to join them. We rejoin the real world at our own time and it happens when it right for us. Every ones journey is different, but what remains the same is the huge void that is left in our lives.
In today’s society it is especially difficult for men to grieve openly, caught in a catch 22 of how to express the deep pain they are experiencing but yet not show weakness. Men don’t cry, men do not emote, men do not hug (maybe at the funeral) men don’t go to support groups, men don’t call in sick because they are screaming inside, we are the man of the family. Fathers are viewed as the fix it guys, the protector, the strength and the rock the family needs for support. More times than not people will ask a bereaved father “how is your wife doing? This must be hard extremely for her”. I understand their compassion and intent but cannot help feeling marginalized.
Today fortunately men are now given (mostly by women and therapists) license to show emotions, to cry, scream, hug and express their deepest emotions and fears, to let it out. The irony of this is if he does emote and the family has never seen this behavior, it can be taken as a sign of weakness and the spouse and other family members may feel they have lost their safety net, their rock of support, and feel even more helpless and rudderless on an already difficult journey. If this happens a man may again ‘clam up’ to help with his family and deal with his own pain later. He finds that ‘letting it out’ is an axiom of sophistry and in doing so he feels he is letting his family down. Indeed a paradox for the want to be sensitive Man.
Most men cry alone in their cars on the way to work and they explain that the red eyes are due to allergies or a late night. When my father died when I was age 14, my Mom told me I was the man of the family now, I did not cry, I did not grieve. It was not until years later and my losses became overwhelming did I finally let it out and express my emotions for the loss of my father.
It has been 26 years now since my son Kelly died and I still cry with my wife when we feel our loss together or even when I hear a special song on the radio and I do not care who is present; you love hard you grieve hard and it is supposed to hurt. When you recognize your own pain and express it, you automatically become more empathetic to others in similar pain and can help relieve theirs and doing so relieve your own..
People will often tell us to find closure, to move on, or put it behind us; forgive them they know not what they do. We may find resolution to our pain but we never have closure of someone we love.. We don’t move on, we move with; we don’t put it behind us we walk with it. Our loved ones are forever by our side, only in a new relationship. We live in one sphere of existence, they in another, but with faith, undying love and the desire we can connect at the seam where our two worlds meet. They become our rock.
In America we are allowed a few weeks to “get over it” and get back on track. I find this totally unacceptable; it has been 26 years and I still talk about my son everyday and always will. If you are a man in grief you can be strong and still weep all night long. Regardless of gender we are human, we feel, we hurt, we need comfort, we need to express our pain, we need hugs, allow them and give them. There is no shame in grief and honest emotions, it happens on a chemical level for men and women. Grieving outwardly helps return or brain chemistry back to equilibrium.
We will always be bereaved but we will not always be experiencing the pangs of grief. Like arthritis we learn to live with it the rest of our lives, we will have flare ups of pain and discomfort as we move forward through the years, but good days will come as well. Grief is hard work but finding joy again is our birthright and worth the effort, so keep on keeping on.