A topic that has become the subject of a few of our recent podcasts deals with the grief that a husband and wife go through regarding the loss of a child. If you checked out our web page (www.beingwithgrief.com) then you are familiar with the story of our daughter and our loss. Nothing can prepare you for the loss of a child or the grief that follows an event like this.
It is a particularly wrenching moment for a marriage.
In addition to the overwhelming sadness that you feel; you are also shown all the chinks and flaws in your marriage at a time when you are weak, confused and grieving. Simply put, men and women grieve differently. This can contribute to the divide that can grow out of a horrible loss and destroy a marriage or relationship. My experience in dealing with the aftermath of loss taught me a few things about the differences that I would like to share.
No surprise that women are nurturers.
Regardless of the role you might play in society, women carry the nurturing aspect of human behavior far better than men. It is not only the physiology but the conditioning of society and family expectations that contribute to what separates male from female. In our case, my wife and daughter had a relationship that many moms and daughters have experienced. From the struggle with selecting what to wear, the many shopping excursions and the struggles over boyfriends, habits, and chores, the mom-daughter relationship goes on a series of wave crests and troughs. It contributes to general stress and the experience of watching the up-down struggle that each test takes, can make your day or break your heart. Yet, through all the teenage angst, the mom-daughter relationship somehow remains strong regardless of the teenage willfulness or a mother’s concern.
I think that this is because women, and especially moms and daughters connect with each other face to face. They enter intentionally into their mash-up of ideas, desires, goals with the idea that eventually it will all resolve itself. They will pick up the pieces, mend and clean-up whatever mess was made and carry on, together.
It has been said, that men connect shoulder to shoulder.
Fathers and sons approach a task whether it is doing chores, teaching/learning a new skill (like woodworking) or playing a video game side by side and shoulder to shoulder. Facing the issue from the side can give the impression that they are a team. This may lead to a false sense of unity and create expectations that are not followed through on.
The resolution of the lesson or chore may not result in the same type of personal connection and creates a different type of bond. Think of a football match, when all your team is aligned against another opposing force. Your team may have the same goal but the intent is the man or team that faces you is the opponent and it is a win-lose situation.
The moral is that, once the lesson is taught and skill is learned, you are expected to execute the task on your own. Go, cut the grass, wash the car, kill the deer, win the game or paint the house. In other words, “Perform and produce while I attend to other things.” Isolated from others with an expectations that hangs over you contributing to whether you, “Play nice or rebel.”
When it comes to grief, men have an inherent idea that “you are on your own.” How you respond depends on how you were taught and what you observed. As a society we do not teach grief in theory or in practice. We are left “to our own devices” which in many cases means we, as men, stumble, trip and fall. I’ll be looking into this more closely in another post later this month.