The scenario plays itself out hundreds of times each year. A mother and a father lose a child to suicide. The mother plunges into deep, soul-shaking grief. The father remains stoic as he signs the cremation paperwork, selects an urn, and fields messages of support from other family members and from friends. In fact, most of those words of condolence are probably directed towards the mother, since the father doesn't seem in need of comfort.
A few days later, he is back at work. If colleagues notice any change at all, they may observe the father is more quiet and aloof than usual, and perhaps gets angry faster and with less provocation than usual.
Two weeks after the death of the child, while the mother is still all but confined to her room, the father goes on a camping trip with his best friend.
Six months later, sitting on a couch in a marriage counselor's office, the mother explains why she is contemplating divorce. "He's just so cold. Do you know he went camping less than two weeks after Michael died? It's like he doesn't even care."
Changing Ideas about Male Grief
Up until the last couple of decades, men were generally seen as "incompetent" grievers because they usually didn't cry, talk about their feelings, or even know how to comfort loved ones who did express grief in a traditional manner. Counselors accused men of "stuffing" their feelings and warned them that they would suffer even more in the long term.
Then, in the 1990s, counselors and researchers like Tom Golden and James Miller began to take a closer look at male grievers and noted distinct similarities in their responses to life. They described a masculine model of grief, very different from the feminine model that has become the norm in American culture. Later, these two responses to grief were labeled "instrumental grieving" and "intuitive grieving" respectively.
Some of the features of the masculine/instrumental model of grief include
- Pain and sorrow. Men may not express their feelings after a loss, but they do hurt.
- Little visible expression of emotion.
- Tendency to focus on thoughts and logic as a way to adapt to the loss.
- Solution-focused behavior that involves identifying and trying to solve a problem.
- Preference for being alone, or for the company of one or two like-minded others.
- Using action to create meaning in loss (e.g., building a coffin, starting a scholarship fund).
- Feeling frustrated and misunderstood by intuitive grievers.
- Using physical activity such as jogging or working out at a gym to channel their emotions.
- Inability to deal with another person's outward displays of grief.
On the Forum
The Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors forum respects all styles of grieving. Whether your style of grieving is instrumental or intuitive, we welcome you to join our community and encourage you to use the forum to connect with others whose healing journeys are similar to yours.