In our testosterone-filled culture of machismo, men are often not given the luxury of grieving in public. Despite shifting social norms and broader acceptance of public displays of emotion, there remains a general perception that male sadness is taboo and should be shamed. Many men may accept the public ridicule that they may encounter by grieving openly, and as a result choose to grieve in a very private manner. The challenge arises when men need to grieve openly or when their beliefs about grieving impede their ability to grieve even in private.
Although raising awareness about the need for dads to grieve is one way to bring this issue to light, there are a number of methods of support you can provide to a father who has experienced loss.
Although grieving dads may seem, because of their gender, to have different needs than grieving moms or children, the reality is that grieving dads need many of the same supports that are provided to all grieving people. Grieving dads often simply need someone to listen to them as they explore their emotions and attempt to make sense of their loss. Thus, if you know a grieving dad, try to be a good listener and to let him know that you are there for him. Being a good listener and being there for a grieving dad is important not only because it enables him to express his feelings but also because this act sends a definitive message that your support is not an intervention, and it is OK for the dad to grieve at his own pace. As noted, many men will not grieve because they feel that the act is socially unacceptable. By being present and allowing the grieving dad to talk, you are enabling that person to feel accepted.
Grieving dads, like all other individuals who experience grief, may also need to cry. When this happens, do not criticize this behavior. Instead, provide comfort in a positive environment that enables the individual to feel supported. Remember, tears while grieving are tears of pain—and pain is universal. Try to focus on this and respond to the individual rather than his gender. By recognizing that another person is in pain, you can put aside your perceptions of what is socially acceptable as “masculine” and “feminine,” enabling the individual to grieve in a healthy and cathartic manner.
When you see a dad cry, it is again important to remember all the internal turmoil he may be experiencing. Dads will often find it difficult to admit their grief, and especially to cry in front of another person. By responding positively to this event, you will again be able to send a message to the dad that it is acceptable to grieve and feel such intense emotion. This will go a long way toward helping the dad express his feelings while feeling safe in knowing his behavior is socially permissible.
Help grieving dads find support. If you know a grieving dad and you know of support groups in your community that may be of assistance, do not be afraid to share this information. Finding support during loss is an important part of the healing process for many bereaved. Again, grieving dads are no different when it comes to this issue. Support groups offer a wide range of tools that can be useful for the bereaved. Dads experiencing grief may find it helpful to be in the company of other people—particularly men—experiencing similar issues. Having this type of support may provide the individual with the needed environment to express grief and cope with it in ways that are healthy and positive.
Being there for a bereaved individual is a challenging proposition; many of us find it difficult enough to cope with our own grief. The complexity of the situation can be exacerbated if the grieving party is male. However, the simple act of listening to and providing support for the bereaved will be instrumental in helping dads cope with grief, enabling them to accept loss and begin the healing process.
It is important for all of us to remember that grief is a human emotion that is not regulated by gender. Just because the grieving individual is male does not mean he feels emotions differently. Recognition of this issue is important not only because it shapes the way we respond to grief, but also shapes the way the grieving dad asks for and accepts support—and, eventually, heals.
For more information about supporting a loved one, please visit GoodTherapy.org’s How to Help Someone Who Needs Therapy page.
© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Michael Clatch, PsyD, therapist in Glenview, Illinois
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