Do men and women grieve differently?

Dolores Robu

I cried when I stood at the doorway of his recovery room and saw his pale blue eyes open and close for the last time. I cried when I had to answer the phone and tell the callers that Daddy had died and our store would be closed for a while. I remember that my 25 year old brother showed little outward emotion while he was with us in the days following Daddy’s death. He spent a lot of time by himself somewhere; no one knew where he was. He was at the cemetery. He talked to his dad and screamed at God; he was alone. This pattern of grief continued throughout his entire life. He was 10 years my senior. I idolized him, but he was never available. There were no Grief Therapists or bereavement support groups in 1958.

There is no right way to grieve. We grieve as we live. If someone is a reserved stoic in life in general, that person is likely to grieve as a reserved stoic. If someone else finds it easy to express emotion in life, then that person will be more likely to show grief by expressing emotion. What is important is that grief be expressed. What is not important is the specific manner in which that expression occurs.

There is a male model of grief and a female model of grief. But all women do not display the female model and all men do not display the male model. There is a male model of loss, in which one speaks of “learning to break away from the past.” Persons, male or female, who follow this male model prefer to “get on with life” and quickly involve themselves in work or other activities. They usually will keep grief to themselves, avoid talking about it and losing control in front of others and never ask for help or assistance. Often they try to fill up the empty space with alcohol. In the female model, feeling connected or not alone is very important. What is most important here is to recognize that men and women grieve consistently with their way of responding to life in general.

There is, of course, a response to grieving that brings serious repercussions, for women and men alike. That is the response that shows an unwillingness to express grief in any form at all. It is a life-and-death choice for those of us who lose someone to be willing to express our grief fully—whatever the method that is right for us. Not to do so is to set ourselves up for a life of illness, bitterness, anger, sense of deadness, or lack of joy. Whatever our form of grieving, we want to reach a place of integration where we can again feel engaged with life. That is the outcome of healthy grieving, no matter what form that grieving might have taken. Sharing ones loss and grief in a safe environment is a step in the right direction.