Monday, February 1, 2010
A Model Approach to Grief
Man & Woman
Originally uploaded by phogg25
In reading about grief, I was initially curious if there were diferences in how men and women grieve. And if there were, where would a gay man fall in the various experiences of grieving?
Some of the research I read described a male model and female model of grieving. These models were used to describe where a higher majority of people, male or female, fall into. Not all men follow the male model, and not all females follow the female model.
For men, we as a society typically expect them to guard their emotions carefully. As young boys men are taught directly, or indirectly, to keep their emotions carefully hidden. This type of expectation, or model for raising boys, was definitely more prevalent in past generations. I believe this was partly due to the thought that males would likely become soldiers when they became young men. You cant have soldiers becoming emotional whenever one of the fellow troops fall. These days we know that many women now fill the ranks of the various military services. For these women, the male model is likely what they are being trained to respond to loss with. As a young boy, I was clearly given the message that boys don't cry.
For generations I believe the majority of girls were being raised with the freedom to react to loss, or even joy, with tears or a full range of emotions. If we know of a woman who has experienced loss we clearly expect to see her full of emotion. This is not to say that every woman will react the same, but there does seem to be more tolerance for a range of emoting that men do not have.
Looking back on my childhood, I was being raised in a home with four boys. We were all being raised in the same way, by the same parents, with the same expectations. Yet, without my parents knowing, one of their boys was hearing these lessons, feeling these expectations, from a different perspective than the other three. That child was me. From a very early age, around 3 or 4, I knew that I was clearly different from my older brother. As I gre older, and my next two younger brothers were born, it became even clearer to me, if not to all, that I was a very different kind of boy. Yes, I may have been less masculine. Yes, I didn't display any interest in the same games or sports as did my brothers. And yes, I tended to be a bit more free in my choice of expression.
There was a time during my early adolescents that I was feeling quite emotional, and would find myself crying without any direct cause. I believe I was likely feeling conflicted about the changes going on with me, and worrying that the changes were going to reveal my true identity to others. I remember one trip in the family car, I was lying in the back of our station wagon, crying. Up front I could hear my parents discussing my behavior. At one point I heard one of them say that they had heard of girls being very emotional during puberty, which included a lot of crying, but not boys. I thought I would just die. I felt that right there and then, they could just call me out. Being a confused little gay kid, not really understanding exactly why I was different, just knowing that I was, I thought to myself, oh my god, I'm supposed to be a girl! That seemed to explain everything. No wonder I experience my emotions differently than my brothers.
This is a very sad position to be in as a young boy. Imagine that you never quite fit the mold that your other three brothers did, and you always wondered what it was all about. Suddenly you are faced with the possibility that there is really something wrong with you. Something so wrong there was no fix. Well I played around with the notion for a few years that maybe I was supposed to be a girl. I would have to wait, and figure out if this was true. How I was going to figure this out, I wasn't quite sure.
Thank god for the onset of hormones. I suddenly realized that I was all boy,and loved being a boy. The only problem, and mostly a problem for others than for me, I was a boy who liked boys. Now this was something I knew I couldn't share with anyone, at least not until I was an adult. In high school I began to meet other guys who thought they were gay, and I began the process of slowly, I mean very slowly, coming out.
Now factor into this mix that I am not only a boy, or a gay boy, but a catholic Latin boy. Double, triple whammy. The message that I learned was very clear, machismo is what is desired, machismo is what is respected, machismo is what is expected. Help! Now, in some circles, Latin men can be very expressive, but only in very specific ways. They can be very romantic, sing ballads, and woo their women. What they can't do is cry at the drop of a hat. I learned this clearly, and to this day, I have a difficult time shaking this notion.
When I was participating in my Lesbian and Gay Bereavement Group a couple of months ago, I was clearly one of the guys, maybe the only guy, who didn't easily cry. There were tears, let me tell you, lots of them, but my tears were reserved for the drive to the group, and the drive after the group, and especially let loose once I was safely in my home. This is not something I am proud of. This is something I wish was different, but this is how it is. When I first returned to work I would end the day in total exhaustion. Not because they were over working me, but because it was taking everything out of me to hold it together. And whenever I had those moments that I was going to crumble and fall apart, I would quickly announce to my supervisor that I was having a "tough time" and needed to leave. And I would sprint right out of there.
Originally uploaded by J@ck329
Another aspect of the male/female models of grief is how we choose to either reach out to others or handle things on our own. The typical female model follows the thought that women more than men tend to share what they are going through. They tend to look for others with similar experiences, so that there is a coming together to process their feelings. In the male model men tend to mostly want to work things out of their own. In looking at my own approach, and by the fact that I am blogging about my experience, I do look to share this experience with others. I want to know how others are getting through this, and want to share my own experience as well. This has not necessarily been the easiest, or most comfortable, way for me to work through problems in the past. In the past I have mostly wanted to do things on my own, and have the look of being polished and self-sufficient.
When Michael died I decided that I needed to change my approach to my life. I needed to try being a bit more vulnerable, and be willing to stand naked in front of others. Now, I am only speaking figuritively, and there will be no nude pictures attached to this post, but as I have stated in prior posts, I now prefer to have no veils or buffers when I am having a "weak moment," or "tough time." I know longer feel that doing things completely on my own is the best way. That is why I write, I attend groups and participate in therapy. It no longer serves me to process in private.
In many ways I am learning to be more comfortable in my own skin. I want to be comfortable with my male and female "model" modes of behavior. I want to let go of some of the messages I have taken on as a man. I want to welcome some of the freedom that is afforded me as a gay man. Yes, some of the freedoms. I find it odd to say that, as we are currently battling in court for our freedom. What I am saying here is that since many in society have the notion that gay men are lesser men, then why fight it. Why not use this to my benefit? I am definitely not as flamboyant as I have the potential for. I could have more of a fabulous life if I wanted to. I could be living life a bit more on the edge. Okay, I am just kidding around. That isn't me. What I do want though is to learn from my female counter parts. I want to be more fluent in expressing my emotions. I want to take some of the freedoms that I previous didn't allow myself to explore. Why shouldn't I? What have I got to lose? I have already lost that which was so important to me.
At this point in my life I have to redefine how I see life. I have to decide how I will approach the rest of my life. I have already experienced the worst. Now I want to experience better, and with a better working model.
I was never very good at building models, but I'm willing to give it a try.