Deb Kosmer, nurse, writer and grief specialist, shares her experience with a special men's only support group. Her poem and the story she writes about this experience is inspiration for men who are grieving. Deb writes: These men are learning the life lessons we all have to learn. Loving someone comes with a price tag, the loss that we feel when they are gone, and that death not only takes a life, it changes ours. In time, if we are willing, their life and their death will become a part of who we are and what we give back to the world.
by Debi Kosmer
MEN’S GRIEF JOURNEY
Last night I sat in a room filled with grieving men
Some missing a parent or sibling but most a spouse
For once not a minority sandwiched within a
group of women, but a part of a group connected to
one another by gender, death, and heartache.
This morning as I looked into the eyes of my
14-month-old grandson I couldn’t help but think
of those men who once were little boys and who
still carry many of their little boy hurts in their
grown-up hearts and adult sized bodies.
The pain I heard and felt in that room last night
was real, as was their voiced confusion,
questions, and doubts about themselves
and their future. The tears they let fall
did not look any different than mine.
They spoke of losses both past and present
Many of which they’d never grieved
Of being told they must be strong
That big boys don’t cry, tears were for
the weak, the sissies and the girls.
This morning I saw my smiling grandson
run and fall and tears start to come
I gathered him in my arms and gave
him a hug as I remembered last nights
men who as boys were told not to cry.
And my heart ached for them then and now.
Since that first “Men-Only Grief Evening”, we have offered several more. Initially planned to be a one-time event, at the end of the evening those twenty-five men, without exception, asked us to please do it again. Seeing their hunger, we knew we could not say no.
These grief stricken men come, having been friends, lovers, confidantes, soul mates, caregivers, now come as widowers, a term foreign and unacceptable but theirs none the less. A term they don’t know how to live with, just like the lives they don’t know how to live alone. Others come having lost a mother or father caught by surprise that at their age it could still hurt so much and unsure of what to do with their pain. A few come because the death of their child has devestated them and they don’t know how to talk with their wife anymore who is bowed down by her own pain.
One man says, “ I just wish someone would tell me how to die.” At 86, he has no interest in reinvesting in a life that he knows he is in the last inning of. He knows he says that he will not feel differently in six months or six years if, God forbid, he lives that long because he, unlike some others, does not want to feel better now or in the days to come, his life is over, period. Others talk about wishing they had died with their loved ones, wishing they had gone first and all say they wish that their loved ones were still here. Most cannot believe it has happened, that their loved ones are really gone. The evening begins with a home cooked meal. As they eat they make small talk getting acquainted with each other. They keep the conversation light, safe. Do you work? Are you retired? Do you play golf?
Later, when the meal is through, when asked to share about the death that had brought them here, each one of them to our surprise did not begin with their recent loss but journeyed back in time, talking about the death of a parent, sibling, grandparent, someone they loved from many years before. The pain of these past deaths, perhaps avoided or denied, perhaps not allowed to talk about, needed to be set free.
As each man began to share, the feelings we heard expressed were the very same feelings we had heard countless women express and the intensity was every bit as great. Though some of the ways men chose to work through and cope with their feelings differed from women, the feelings that motivated them were the same.
Over time, some of the faces remained the same while some left and were replaced by others. Those that kept coming began bonding with each other and caring for one another’s pain. For some we saw the pain lessen and an interest in life return. Two have remarried since the group began, one man has become a hospice volunteer, and one man and his wife are planning to adopt. The man who only wanted someone to tell him how to die has stopped asking that question and has plans for an extended trip out of state with his grown children and grandchildren.
These men are learning the life lessons we all have to learn. Loving someone comes with a price tag, the loss that we feel when they are gone, and that death not only takes a life, it changes ours. In time, if we are willing, their life and their death will become a part of who we are and what we give back to the world.
Deb Kosmer, MSW Bereavement Support Coordinator; Oshkosh, WI 54904; firstname.lastname@example.org