by Gary Warren
Here is a brief journey in dealing with Men’s grief. I am honored to speak with men on a weekly basis about their struggles and the deep sense of loss that they wrestle with to put into words. Grief is a word that I am finding has an ugly connotation. From my own experience and the guy’s I coach and the men in Men’s Circle, we just don’t have a vocabulary that includes grief.
That is until something major happens; the job is lost, the parent dies, the marriage withers and the child does not come home. Then and only then we feel as men that we are heartsick and have no way to wrap our arms around it.
I know for me that grief was not even on the radar until my oldest daughter was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and my marriage of twenty-three years was ending. I saw this at first as a cosmic joke. God, the church and the whole culture had betrayed me. This was not like having the rug torn out from under me. It was more like the floor suddenly lurching and vanishing beneath my feet. Overnight I lost my optimism, my hope and an indefatigable resolve that life was, for the most part, good.
For a very solid working definition of grief I want to cite Tom Golden, LCSW from his article entitled “A Man’s Grief”. Here is Tom’s insightful definition:
“Grief is a part of life. We are familiar with our responses to gain and celebration, and grief is the other side of that coin. Grief, simply put, is the physical, emotional, and mental responses we have to a loss of any kind. We expect grief to flow from a major loss such as the death of a friend or family member, but it can also flow in smaller amounts from ordinary, everyday losses. Such losses might be the conclusion of your favorite time of year a holiday or being in a traffic jam and late for an important meeting. These smaller losses are examples of what is termed micro-grief. Grief can be related to losses of childhood, such as the loss of seeing the world as a safe place, or all of the unmet expectations, thwarted intentions, or unspoken communications we might have stored inside us. When looked at in this way, we begin to see that grief is an integral part of being alive, a part of our daily living. It is woven into the fabric of life.”
Grief is the very stuff of life. Tom’s use of the term micro-grief really helps to clarify that we are faced with grief daily in even small situations. What I find most remarkable is that if you ask a guy how to change a flat, wire up a ceiling fan or even tune-up the car, he is in his element and has the answers. Ask him to describe how he is handling the loss of his job, an aging parent’s chronic illness and approaching 40 and he is absolutely silent. This seems completely upside down; however, this is the state of things. Men are unable to verbalize the pain of grief and are unprepared for its presence and lack the knowledge of how it can be transmuted into wisdom and power.
In light of this, we have to ask what now? How do we start a meaningful dialogue about grief and bring not just awareness but skillful means to work through it. Here are a few key things that can help us as men come to terms with pain, shame and grief.
First, we need to start talking to each other about this. This means establishing a Talking circle, Men’s group or a Support group. A safe place to get together and go deeper. We can enjoy the game, the race, the big win, but life is a balanced coin and loss must be understood and learned from.
Secondly, we need to know that handling grief is a skill and it can be cultivated. Men are brought up feeling like we rise and fall as men based on how “good” we are at doing. We strive to be the star athlete, the rainmaker sales manager or the corporate visionary. Performance only gets us so far before the disruption in our inner life catches us unaware. Our interior world is at first foreign, inhospitable soil but we must learn to navigate this inner world. Our growth as friends, husbands, fathers and mentors in a large part depends on how we learn to deal with pain, loss and grief.
Lastly, we must see that grief is natural not a sign of weakness and therefore we can welcome it and learn to grieve appropriately. Shame and silence in our grief leads to isolation, fear and even rage. Our clear path is to create a safe space for the heart of wounded men.
Here is a final thought. I talked recently with a wife of a firefighter who was upset that her husband had shut her out. He had buried himself in work and was physically and emotionally distant. She asked me to spend an hour with her husband and I agreed provided he was comfortable with this. He contacted me and we began to talk. For the first time in years, he began to talk about the pain of seeing victims of fires, automobile accidents and homicides. He explained that he had recently lost a very close friend in a fire. He was grieving and had no label for it. He thought he was just in a slump. In a few moments, he and I were able to put a plan together for him to begin the process of being with his loss. He was relieved and he felt the weight of shame lift off.
Grief is a doorway, a potential opportunity to learn about ourselves and to share this common strength with other men in our lives. Today is the day to start living again. Don’t be silent, speak about your pain and ask your brothers to hear you. We are learning together and 2013 can be a new opportunity to grieve and grow.
About the Author: Gary “Max” Warren is an Intuitive Life Strategist and self-styled practitioner of multiple ancient spiritual systems. He is a passionate communicator of the truths he seeks to synthesize and embody. He writes from his own experience, struggles, breakthroughs and deepening awareness. Max presents principles of spiritual growth and personal development that are drawn from Integral Theory, Eastern Buddhism, Gnostic Christianity and the Western Mystery Schools of Alexandria and Europe.
Max emphasizes that “Integrated Spiritual Practice is the only way to grow as a man, a Husband, Father and Friend. We are living in a new time and we have a mandate to optimize our lives and become what we are meant to be. Engaged authentic living is not optional it is essential”. Visit Gary’s blogs, Conscious Masculinity, and Awaken You.