A Death in the Family – Why aren’t men allowed to Grieve? – Nov 2010

For those of you who have followed (PitsnPots*now defunct) from the beginning, will know that over the last couple of years I have been an active contributor. Recently though, I haven’t been around as I needed some time to gather my thoughts following the recent death of my father.

This post isn’t asking for any sympathy, I have had plenty of that, for which I’m very grateful. Rather it is about the effect a death in the family has on men. the post is about how our society is afraid to confront Death. On the whole reluctant to provide a visible safety net for those that death effects.

Men are like many of us, for various reasons pigeonholed. I say pigeonholed as a broad generalisation because we blokes are of course all different.

When it comes to Death though, we are just expected to “Get on with it” regardless.
I’m in my late 30’s now and to tell the truth, I’m not an over-emotional guy, passionate, I am, emotional, not really. So, when my dad died in November, I was unpleasantly surprised by the impact his death has had on me.

Anyone who loses a loved one from a terminal illness knows that with death, can sometimes come tremendous relief.
I was lucky enough to be with my dad when he passed, and I can honestly say It was a massive relief, almost instantaneously. Of course, we were heartbroken that he had died, but we were so relieved that his suffering was finally at an end.

After the initial hit and finality of the death….you are thrown into overdrive because there is a mad flurry of necessary business to be done, such as organising the funeral. flowers, death certificate, state pensions, tax, private pensions, bank changes, life assurance and wills to deal with.

I’m an only child so, with my mum grieving the loss of her husband of 46 years, I dealt with all of the above in the first week after dad’s death.There wasn’t much time to grieve then. Of course, we cried, I can’t remember a time in my life when I cried more.
Crying is not seen as a terribly manly thing to do, even when it bursts out of you at the death of a loved one, by instinct, we fight it and choke it back inside. I’m not ashamed to cry, In fact, I feel it really did me good, I felt like an overinflated tyre, finally easing the pressure. Despite me being ok with crying, there was a nagging doubt when I did it and a terrible feeling of guilt that I was being weak, and therefore letting my mum down and upsetting her even more.

Work is another tricky area to negotiate when you are bereaved. I was told I could take 5 days compassionate leave. I took it and didn’t think anything of it at the end of the 5 days I needed to take a couple more because of the Funeral arrangements. So, 7 Days off work, and when I went back in the boss reminded me that I now owed the company two days.
I understand completely, but I don’t like it. Five days to move on and forget what just happened. Five days to accept that your formative years, of companionship love laughter and protection, have just been erased, but..get back to your desk?
My workmates, were supportive and I received the obligatory sympathy card but beyond that, a stony silence. no one asks me how I am, is it because I’m a man and should be able to deal with it?

So, back to work and dealing with everyone else’s issues and problems, a week in, it finally hits you, “where’s dad? ” I miss him! And the question is, who is there for you, who really cares? I understand that Death makes people uncomfortable. Nobody knows what to say to you, some people even cross the road to avoid you, which hurts.

I’m sure this happens to women too, but men are just expected to have put it away. Other men won’t mention it because God forbid, you might start waxing lyrical about your loved one, you might even break down and cry. We all lose someone sometime, and we all cope with things differently, some of us drink to forget, some of us fall into a black pit of despair and depression. Some of us throw ourselves into work, whilst others fall into a malaise of laziness and apathy.

To be suddenly thrust forward as the (Male) head of the family is a daunting sensation, now people look to you for guidance, or to preside and adjudicate about petty matters, and to have the final say. I’m a big character and thought I’d take all this in my stride, but after the death of your father, you begin to realise just how big his shoes were and filling them won’t be an easy task.

Society needs to recognise that men aren’t all as strong as we appear on the outside. We were all children once, and the death of a parent brings those memories and feelings back. Allowing men to grieve could allow us to get a sense of perspective about who we are and why we are really here. This could only be beneficial to society as a whole.

If you have had any similar experiences and would like to share them please comment below. Or if you want to email me it’s philgreg@gmail.com

Updated Related Stories
My Men’s Health Talk 2012
Expanded information about my bereavement

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