Men and women grieve differently

I am reading a little book by one dad about his loss and grief. His 17 year old son died of cancer of a rather fast moving kind. He wrote: “[his mom] cried often, but I could not cry. I often longed for the relief of tears, but the ability for such a release seemed to be dammed up. No matter how big a head of emotion lay behind the dam.

“…our culture… gives us, as men, only 2 acceptable ways to handle our grief. We can bury ourselves in activities, our work, or do-it-yourself projects, hobbies, church or other community chores, or we can exercise anger. We can be as angry as we want to be about drunk drivers, police, doctors, hospitals, our dead children, ourselves or God. Considering our limited grief options, there seems to be little chance that most of us will come to terms with our grief. Meanwhile our wives stand by in despair as we seem to suffer silently accepting no help.” (Andy’s Mountain Fathers Grieve Too  by Dwight L Patton; pg 17, 19.)


Men and women do grieve differently. Women often cry and want to talk about it. Men, not so much. In fact, more than once I’ve witnessed at a support group a man sharing something about his grief and the wife saying “I didn’t know you grieved that way!” Sometimes the wife misses knowing about the husband’s grief because she is looking for something that looks like her grief. But he is different.


This is one of the great blessings of a support group. Men can express grief in a masculine way and be understood by the other men. Women express their thoughts and feelings in a feminine way. Each gender gains a better understanding of the other. Each spouse gains a better understanding of their own partner. But this little advertisement for a group is off the main point – that men and women are different in their emotions and expressions.


Now, I want to be sure you understand that what I say next are broad generalizations. Each gender can experience any or all of the following symptoms of mourning.  But, men tend to grieve silently, with work, in their car, through sports or building or fighting. Baseball and golf allow the man to whack something, as does building with a hammer and nails. Women tend to grieve by talking, crying, shopping, reading, emotional outbursts. I have heard one speaker refer to the differences as follows: men tend to use their large muscles while women use their small muscles.  


Both have deep emotions, but men, as Dwight Patton mentions, tend to express many emotions as anger. Fear can disguise itself as anger. So can sorrow or discouragement. Women generally have more diverse expressions of emotions, but they, too, can mask other emotions as depression: such as discouragement, fear and anger.


God made us male and female. On purpose, He made us different.  He understands the differences. He made the female for the male because “It was not good for man to be alone.” God made Eve as Adam’s helper. That implies Adam needed help! And it implies she brings to him something that is truly helpful. He is wise who receives that gift of useful help. It’s practical, including here in grief. She can teach him to feel and to name his emotions. He can teach her to find ways to function anyway. Let each learn from the other. Let each lean on the other for the strengths he/she has that you don’t have. Lean on each other as much as possible, but know that your spouse can’t be your all in all. Not now is their grief, not ever. That’s God’s place. He alone is your always present, available and able helper. He alone is your all sufficient source of all sufficient grace.