How to Support the Men You Know Who are Grieving
Everybody grieves differently. Some people wear their feelings on the outside and reach out for support. Others internalize a loss and withdraw into themselves. Still others show more physical rather than emotional symptoms, which can directly impact their health over time.
Men grieve differently, too, which makes matters more complicated. If you are trying to support a grieving father, brother, husband, partner, son, or friend, you might not be sure how to proceed. Although your relationship with the man in your life will dictate the way you approach him, it is important to meet him on his own turf. Banish everything you believe he “should” be feeling during this difficult time and focus on what he “is” feeling.
- Listen without Judgement: Men might feel more anger than sadness after a loss. He might feel guilty or scared rather than bereaved. He might want to throw himself into work or an activity as a way to avoid thinking about his pain. All of these are okay, and it is not your job to steer him into what you feel are more appropriate emotions. Instead, offer support for what he needs, when he needs it. By being a “safe place” for him to turn to now, he will be more likely to ask you for help in the future.
- Offer Actions: Although just being present in someone’s life is supportive following a loss, many men prefer a more active approach to healing. Often they would rather throw themselves into a new project than work through their emotions in a more passive way. To this end, offer to participate in the activities with them. Invite him to go golfing. Buy tickets to a sporting event. Make dinner and invite him to come over and share it with you. It does not have to be elaborate or expensive, just as long as you are there.
- Take Yourself Out of the Equation: When it comes to men and grief, it is common for loved ones to feel as though they are on the outside looking in. Because men tend to be less likely to express their feelings in a way you recognize, you might feel as though he is holding you off or keeping you at arm’s length, leading to conflict in your relationship. It is important to remember that this has little to do with you. Try not to take any closed-off behavior personally, or make assumptions about how he feels about you. He may need time and space and, most important, the security of knowing that you will be there when he needs you.
It is also a good idea to do a little research on your own to know the warning signs of depression and complicated grief. Things like withdrawal from life and relationships, substance abuse, workaholism, and physical symptoms could be a sign of regular grief, but they might also be signs that the man in your life needs professional treatment to cope with his loss.