Let my pain be unacknowledged,
Let my wit resilient be,
Let him never know the difference
His indifference made to me.
— Dorothy C. Osborn (1891-1949), Unpublished Work
One of the most common messages I hear from both men and women who are grieving is, “No one understands. . . .I feel so alone.”
Understanding and embracing our individual and collective styles of mourning may be difficult. Too often, power struggles develop within a couple as one partner tries to “recruit” the other to his or her way of expressing grief. “He won’t talk about it” and “She can’t stop crying” are frequently the complaints that cause individuals and couples to seek professional help. Fortunately, there are now some wonderful new resources that identify and address many of the more typically feminine and masculine approaches to grief and loss.
Tom Golden, noted bereavement therapist and lecturer, has examined male grieving behaviors in many cultures throughout the world. His groundbreaking book, Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing (Golden Healing Publishing, 1997), explores the anatomical, physiological, anthropological, and sociological aspects of masculine grief and mourning styles. Golden enhances our understanding through the metaphorical story of a man being swallowed by a snake, and his journey from darkness into light. He references current scientific research on the brain, which indicates that male and female brains are anatomically and functionally different. These distinctions may account for some of the differences between men and women as they try to heal their grief wounds.
Golden also describes the masculine need to be physically and mentally active during times of crisis and explains why it is often more comfortable for men to work side by side, rather than sit face-to-face. He points out that the latter is the model for most bereavement support groups and that most methods utilized by grief counselors and therapists have been developed based on what is typically comfortable for women; these approaches may be less effective when used with men. Golden also emphatically asserts that, whether one is male or female, each of us has both masculine and feminine characteristics that may influence our style of mourning.
Such a framework helps us to understand the range of possible approaches to grief and mourning and can help us to reach an understanding of ourselves and our loved ones when facing a loss. The bottom line is that it is essential for each of us to find safe settings and techniques for expressing our grief. Some may be comfortable in a support group, some may be more comfortable with reading or education, some respond to music, some need an activity. There may be different needs at different times as the days and years go by. Activities may take many forms, including: gardening, artistry, and writing; designing or building monuments or tributes; or creating rituals that have spiritual significance for ourselves and for others.
Tom Golden’s work may be of value to those who are struggling to understand the grief response of a husband, father, son, male friend or coworker, and may also assist you with your own grieving process. His insights may also benefit those involved with bereavement services.