1 June 2019

Yes, real men cry

Yes real men cry
Picture of Victor Parachin

Victor Parachin

Victor is an ordained minister based in the U.S.

After his beloved son died in a climbing accident, Nicholas Wolterstorff found himself in tears and embarrassed by his display of emotion.

Later, in his book, Lament for a Son, Wolterstorff reflected on his experience with grieving and said:

“Our culture says men must be strong and that the strength of a man in sorrow is to be seen in his tearless face. Tears are for women. Tears are signs of weakness and women are permitted to be weak. But must we always mask our suffering?”

Of course, tears are not a sign of weakness and tears are not for women only. Yet the myth persists that real men don’t cry even if they experience the devastating loss of a child. When it comes to bereavement, there are a wide variety of misconceptions which serve only to hinder people who are dealing with bereavement. Here are some myths and facts about grief.

Myth: Grief is orderly and predictable. It follows specific steps or stages.

Fact. Grief can be quite chaotic. Many confusing and conflicting emotions begin to emerge and swirl. While grievers tend to experience similar emotions: shock, denial, guilt, anger, depression, despair, regret, etc., there are no specific steps or stages of grieving. The goal is to manage the feelings, adjust and adapt to the loss, learn to live with the death of a loved one.  During this process of grief recovery, emotions will come and go. 

Myth: Family and friends will be helpful.

Fact: Some will be comforting and make the time to be there for you but many may not because they just don’t understand the depth of grief. After Dana’s husband died, she fully expected her large social circle of friends would support and comfort her but was disappointed and saddened when that didn’t happen. She eventually joined a grief support group.

 Myth:  Funeral services, rituals are expensive and a waste of time.

Fact:  Funeral services need not be expensive and they are extremely therapeutic. In her book, Grief, Death and Dying, clinical psychologist Therese Rando, PhD, cites the following benefits of having a funeral service:

  • funerals confirm and reinforce the reality of death;
  • funerals facilitate the acknowledgement and expressions of feeling over loss;
  • funerals offer survivors a tool for addressing their feelings;
  • funerals promote recollection about the deceased;
  • funerals aid mourners in beginning to accommodate the changed relationship between themselves and the deceased’s loved one;
  • funerals allow input from the community which, in turn, serves as a living memorial helping grievers develop an integrated image of the deceased.

Myth:  Time will heal.

Fact. Time in itself will not heal. With the passage of time some of the pain lessens. However, it is what you do with time which results in healing. This means becoming actively engaged in the recovery process by reading books and articles about grief, speaking with and learning from others who have experienced loss.

Myth:  Grief is a negative experience

Fact:  Grief is a painful experience which everyone will encounter at one time or another.  Handled properly, it can become a positive experience with new growth and development. One man, who was widowed after a thirty-year marriage, said he was depressed in the year after her death. But he later involved himself in a grief support group and completed a graduate degree in counseling. He gained many new friends and learned a great deal.

Myth:  Grief eases over time in a constantly decreasing way.

Fact:  The grief recovery process is never a straight line. It is often a case of making progress and then regressing briefly. Some describe this process as “taking two steps forward and one step backward.” The majority of people take from three to five years, and some even longer, to come to terms with a loss.

 Myth:  All people grieve in the same way.

Fact:  Grieving styles vary from person to person. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.  Some people are openly expressive about their pain while others prefer a more private approach confiding in a few carefully chosen confidants. Many people cry; others do not. Some people feel the worst grief in the first six months or so while others report a deepening of grief after the first year has passed.

Myth:  Bereavement support groups don’t help and are depressing.

Fact:  Those who participate report the opposite, that grief support groups are very helpful and rather than be depressing actually generate hope. Harold Ivan Smith, a leading authority on bereavement issues, says: “A support group is a healthy, safe place for you who are grieving to bring yourselves, your stores, your anger, and your bewilderment, and to know that it’s just likely that other will have been there and recognise in your story parts of their story.

Myth:  The sooner you get over a loss, the better off you will be.

Fact:  There is no quick fix for grief. It cannot be rushed. Grief moves on its own timetable.  Attempting to rush the process limits healing and learning.

Myth:  Grief is something which you have to endure passively.

Fact:  Grief is a heavy burden but the process can be lightened by being proactive and engaging in what is called “grief work.” This involved educating yourself about bereavement, joining a support group, expressing and exploring feelings with a good, compassionate listener.

Myth:  This was God’s will.

Fact:  That type of statement is both confusing and angers grievers because it conflicts with the belief that God is kind, loving, and compassionate. It’s better never to make the statement “This was God’s will.” A more helpful response is to acknowledge that we don’t know why tragedies take place.

Myth: It’s important to be strong and control your feelings.

Fact: Expressing feelings helps release grief. Being too rigid emotionally inhibits grief recovery. Trying to ignore, suppress or repress your pain to keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For healing to occur it is necessary to face your grief directly and actively deal with it.

Myth:  Children need to be protected from death and grief.

Fact:  It’s impossible to ‘protect’ children from this painful reality. However, children need to receive two things 1) age-appropriate answers to their questions; 2) supportive adults to guide them through the grief journey.

Myth:  You never get over grief, it’s something to be permanently tolerated.

Fact:  Everyday people recover from their losses. It does take time and work, but you can and must get through the grieving process. Rabbi Earl Grollman, a highly respected bereavement authority, says: “No matter how great your pain, there is hope and help for the future. As your sense of humor returns and you find yourself laughing, you’re feeling better. As you begin to make major decisions about your life, you’re getting better still. When you are able to take out the mementos of your beloved and smile through your tears at memories of happiness together, you’re much improved.

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