By Michelle Gladu, LMSW, Bereavement Counselor
Those of us who counsel persons who are grieving understand that no two people will grieve a loss exactly the same way. There are many variations in grieving based on one’s personality, age and culture to name just a few factors. Historically it has been thought that men and women grieve differently, and to some extent they do. A man may feel expected to be “strong” and to continue functioning despite great pain. Women may be more likely to talk about their grief and seek out support and counseling. This may have led counselors and society to believe that this is the “right” way to grieve. The truth is, not everyone fits these patterns and neither style is completely “good” or “bad.”
Grief researchers now tend to recognize a range of grief styles. Two researchers, Terry Martin and Kenneth Doka, have identified two ends of the grief spectrum. On one end, an “intuitive” style of grieving where people identify, express and share emotions openly. On the other side is an “instrumental” style, which is a more physical and mental way of working through grief. Men may have traditionally identified more with instrumental grieving, but this style is not unique to men. There are also plenty of men who are comfortable with sharing their feelings and women who would prefer not to. Instrumental grievers tend to cope through exercising, engaging in a hobby or project, working, and trying to problem-solve for themselves and their families. However, the grief of instrumental grievers can often be overlooked, which can lead to feeling isolated from others. Different grief styles can result in misunderstandings among family members, with family members possibly thinking that one family member is so busy they aren’t grieving, while another family member is overwhelmed by their feelings and not able to function. Grief changes over time as well. We may be more focused on expressing emotions in the immediate aftermath of a loss, and better able later on to take action. Loss impacts men, women and children on many levels – physically, cognitively, emotionally and spiritually – so it makes sense to try to address each of these different aspects of grief. Finding the right balance and trying different approaches in coping with grief can be beneficial to us regardless of gender.