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How We Grieve

Men and women need different kinds of support during the grieving process. Our society certainly treats the genders differently; socialization for boys is still far different from that of girls. These socialized differences, coupled with basic biological characteristics, define us as adult men and women.

They also define the way we mourn our loved ones. Thomas R. Golden writes, in Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing, "These basic differences lead to dramatically different strengths and paths in processing emotions."

Other researchers suggest we view gender differences in grieving as guidelines and not to have rigid expectations based on gender. Certainly, not all women are the same and that can also be said of men.

With that said, according to Golden, a woman "usually has a system of support in place in which intimacy is the keyword. This network of friends or family will often encourage the sharing of grief as a means to connect and therefore become more intimate." Women are also, by and large, more comfortable and more skillful in using words to express their feelings with members of this support system. The people at Child Bereavement UK tell website visitors:

"Women tend to be loss-oriented and are very much concerned with their feelings. They want to focus on their loss by remembering the person who has died. They have a need to express their emotions, to cry and to be sad."

Unfortunately, most men don't have a strong support system. As Thomas Golden notes, men highly value "independence and autonomy and sharing grief could be a threat to that. By revealing his grief to another man, he would be putting himself one or more rungs down on the hierarchy," one which "values action and what can be done about things, not emotional connection."

Unlike women, men are "less efficient in processing their grief verbally." Their strength lies in taking action. Golden offers a simple example of action: opening a family picture album. "It is an action with a beginning and an end", writes Golden, which "marks the boundaries of the experience for a man." In addition to taking action, men choose to:

  • Take charge and engage in problem-solving
  • Be strong and support others
  • Focus on thinking instead of feeling

Men see death and grieving as a challenge to be overcome and a test of their masculinity. In trying to overcome the challenge, they will commonly:

  • Return to normal activity as soon as possible
  • Express anger more than women
  • Try not to think about their loss

What does this mean for you? By recognizing your gender-based characteristics, you empower and add energy to your grief work. By understanding your weaknesses, you can attempt to correct them by turning to allies of the opposite gender to balance your bereavement. You may wish to explore the ways your gender helps define your bereavement by cultivating a practice of journal writing.