A Death in the Family – Why aren't men allowed to Grieve?


The Empty Chair
The Empty Chair

For those of you who have followed this site  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 and it’s effects, and is on the whole reluctant to provide a visible safety net for those that death affects.

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 2010, 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 relived 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 over inflated tyre, finally easing the pressure. Despite me being ok with crying, there was a nagging doubt when I did it, I had 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 coupe 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 just get back to your desk?

My workmates, were supportive and I received the obligatory sympathy card, but beyond that, a stony silence. No one asked me how I was, is it because I’m a man and should be able to deal with it?

So, back to work and dealing with everyone elses 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, that really hurts.

I’m sure this happens to Women too, but men are just expected to 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, whilst others throw ourselves into work,  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 officiate about petty family 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 that 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.

3 thoughts on “A Death in the Family – Why aren't men allowed to Grieve?

  • 13th February 2011 at 2:30 pm

    society teaches boys to ‘be a man’ from the moment they can alk and barely talk. if they fall don they are told to get up and not to cry like a girl.
    emotions are human and everyone should feel comfortable to show them especially when you have lost someone.
    im sure the ppl at work ould have assumed you were keeping it together (yes because you’re a man) or as you said, they dont want to ask for fear of having to comfort a grieving man.
    its just not expected.
    it is unfair though but at the same time society creates a lot of women who cry at the drop of a hat and use it to get their own way.
    displaying emotion is seen as a weakness that is only acceptable in women.
    im not like that, i try and keep it together in public and let it all out at home.
    you werent letting your mother don by crying. i think it would have been worse if you had shown nothing. then she would have to wonder how much you dad meant to you. you handled everything to allow her some time and that is comendable as it is so easy to walk away from things when you are hurt.
    as for the 5/7 days from work; for some people grieving(in some form) never stops but we all handle it differently.
    just take your time.
    my condolances for your loss.

  • 21st May 2011 at 6:53 pm

    I recently lost my two uncles, grandfather and three cousins within a 90 day time span so I definitely feel your pain in regard to death. On the other hand I am a woman so I was always checked on and given a second thought but this post makes me think about my brothers, uncles and cousins who’re male and has prompted me to contact them to see how they’re dealing with death. Thank you.

  • 5th March 2013 at 6:05 pm

    “We were all children once, and the death of a parent brings those memories and feelings back.”

    Well said.

    I was a still a child when my mother died and I again became a child when my father died 30 years later.

    My siblings are now starting to talk about their feelings and experiences of that early death in our lives, but it has always been more ‘acceptable’ for my sisters and I to talk and share than for my brothers. But when they do I see the deep wound that they still carry and, yes, sometimes the tears flow from all of us together.

    We become a stream of sadness bound together by our common loss. Somehow that makes our continual grief easier to accept in those moments – regardless of gender.

    I started a blog last month on this subject, it is about personal grief and at the same time the commonality of grief. It will be available soon at http://personalgrief.blogspot.co.uk/

    The reason I have done this is because I have found that grief is a thread through my life. It has helped to shape me. I don’t want to ignore it and I’m sure others feel the same.


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