A community of peers created by the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation
As over 2/3rds of a year has passed since the death of DJ, not much time really...just forever in some ways, and yesterday in others, I am reviewing this recent period, that time from the very moments of her leaving til now. How the family and I have changed, how, in an instant evertything that once was known and familiar, changed, became strange and how it affected me and our family in many ways...there's really no need to detail all ups and downs and twists and turns the road of grief has exposed us to, all of us know them only too well, and some of mine have been related in this venue; but a few observations of some of the very personal aspects of the process might be in order at this point...the things I as a man have experienced. One of the first things I remember thinking, after some of the pain, shock and disbelief began to dissipate, was what other folks would think now, friends and family...now that it would not be DJ & Fred, how would just Fred be viewed by them; I have heard other widows speak of how they believe their female friends no longer invite them around...possibly out of fear that their own mates might find these widows appealing...I don't know, the wives of the few married friends I have often remind me of how blessed I am to have been married to DJ...but I have not noticed a decline in invitations to me by their husbands. I do know I didn't spend too much time thinking about the friends side, as I have always leaned on the family more, but the thoughts did cross my mind. I finally determined I really didn't care how I was viewed, all I knew for sure was that I'd be seen as being alone.
The week after the services, I found a grief group to join and attended a few sessions, the first thing I noticed was that there were hardly any men present. If there were 10 people, 2 might be males, I say might because I have been a part of many meetings when I was the only male there. Hurting as bad as I was, this did not bother me, but it did make me curious. As I connected with other groups, including some church widow groups, I found the same thing. When I would go online and check the various bereavement sites, I noticed that the majority of the posters to the many discussion forums were women, with a sprinkling of male input here and there. Now, I don't know all the scientific data on these things, but I have to believe that the ratio of male spouses dying versus female spouses cannot be as great as I have observed in my small sampling; where are all those widowed males? How are they handling this very tortuous and complex process and from where do they draw their coping skills? Have I missed some great resource that I should know about? This is a very serious question for me, and I am still trying to determine just where the hell they are. I think all this alerted me to the fact that altho the process and pain of grief were similar to both men and women, there were some important differences I should be aware of. Now, I didn't have any idea of what these differences might be, just that they were there. After the passage of even this brief amount of time, I think I can at least put down some of the things I have personally encountered and some things that I have noticed about myself as the process continues.
DJ and I knew each other for over 45 years, we were married 40 of those, beyond her physical presence, I missed her voice, I struggled in those early days to try and recall that voice, to try and make myself hear it; I could not. I panicked, I feared I would never hear it again; I played video tapes of parties and events just to pick up a smattering of her talking. I listened to a voicemail I had from her and transferred others that my oldest daughter had to my computer. I longed to hear that voice. Later after it's return to the inside of my head, I would learn that this was somewhat normal, that shock was preventing me from hearing her in my minds ear. I'm sure this applies to both men and women, and as time wore on, and I could again hear her voice, a secondary void appeared; when I would come in in the evening, sitting alone in the house, with maybe just the the TV on, I still found myself needing something...yes, I wanted her here, but that wasn't it...I wasn't sure what it was, but something was keeping me off kilter. Soon I came across WV and it's chat area, and from there, with the many (sadly) female members a cure to this particular item was effected; as I became involved there, the words of those females writing actually turned into voices in my mind, female voices; that something which was keeping me off balance disappeared, and that source of distraction for me was cleared up. For me personally, I cannot overstate the positive effect this had on my entire outlook, as I became more familiar with the different people there, I could imagine in my mind what their actual voices might sound like, but here, I was making up what I thought they sounded like, to me; this has made one of the greatest differences in my attempts at healing. I have not yet spoken to any other men to see if they have had the similar experience, but it would not surprise me if they had. I would suspect the same holds true for women. And, lest I leave the impression that this chat area merely served to provide voices for my seriously ill mind, I should add that the people behind those voices actually helped to bring me back from the edge, they provided the caring and the sharing that has prevented me from leaning all the way forward, right out of that window; I will not embarrass them here by naming names, but they know who they are and I have reminded them of that fact more than once. But here again, the majority of members are female, perhaps it is some reflection on the way our society has pronounced it should be in regards to grieving for men, we shouldn't make a public display of our grieving, I don't know, but it is curious, at least to me.
Another affliction I incurred in those first few weeks were the episodes of almost overpowering yearning for female company; the grief group was nice, the weekly church meetings, o.k., but this was something else. I was able to convince myself that this was a sense of false libido rearing it's head in DJ's absence as I could not see myself with anyone else at that time. But a sure and strong difference between mental awareness and physical desire did emerge. About this I did talk to another male and after much discussion we agreed that having had that type of companionship for so long, it would be only natural that in the immediate aftermath of a partners death, the dread of the loss of this, and the many questions arising as to how to deal with it were a reasonable consequence. I wrestled with this dilemma because I understood that involving myself with someone, even on the most superficial of levels could be dangerous because it would possibly involve the emotions of another person whose ideas about the whole thing could be totally different from my own. This is all long before any talk of emotional investment comes into play for myself. Yes, there are other methods available, for both men and women, but they carry their own stigmas outside of emotional involvement, including the various health risks, guilt, and a good chance your picture could end up on the local news. But for me this, along with the other things mentioned, had to be explored, examined and faced with all the honesty I could muster. Altho several early opportunities presented themselves, today I am glad that I avoided any entanglements which might have led to emotional misreadings, hurt feelings, embarrassment or worse, some incurable disease. Of course I did note in passing, and in the vein of really trying to be honest about this, that all of this could also be the emergence of a true part of my inherent lustful nature, which had been suppressed or contained by 40 years of marriage...at this, both my friend and I laughed...nervously I might add.
Then there was the situation of strength and expressing emotions, specifically being able to allow others a shoulder to lean on and crying...in those days it came and went at will much as it does to this day, the crying I mean...I let it; I made no attempt to hide what I was feeling, for a while I laid it on, I wanted everyone around me to know just how bad I felt, heck I wanted their asses to feel bad too...I wanted the entire world to feel bad and to know how much DJ's death was affecting me. In a way this idea about crying was not new; as our children were growing up, especially during the teenage years, if one of them did something which required serious attention, it was not unheard of for me break into tears as I pointed out the error of their ways, all the while bemoaning phrases describing attempts by me and their mother to provide the best we could for them; depending on the severity of their transgressions, I might fall to my knees for dramatic effect and wail uncontrollably as I implored the Lord for answers as to why we had been stricken with such ungrateful beings...I might do this for some time. Now, this may seem a bit overboard, but since it was mainly employed only at those times when the alternative may have resulted in bodily harm to them and to me being deprived of my freedom, I could always justify it's use. Making any attempts at being strong wasn't going to help me, I knew that...being strong did not stop the progression of the disease, it did not lessen the pain for our children and her mother, or her sisters, and it did absolutely nothing to quell the pure terror DJ must have endured as her mind must have raced, as she considered the prospect of dying. I tried to leave strength to the strongman and the circus. The crying I knew I had to be able to do without apology, I did and do still cry, and have no apologies to make for showing that emotion about the person who meant the most to me in this world; If I can't cry for her, anywhere, at the drop of a hat, anytime, without excuse, then I've really been bs'ing all along. I believe any strength I might have comes from remembering how DJ faced all of this. About this I did not need to speak to anyone, this, I understood very well. The way others may view it is their issue, not mine and I'm content to have it that way.
Those are some of things I dealt with inside of my mind, and of course, me being a man, they come from that perspective...but I also have some incidents which involved the actions of others, outside of myself, both men and women. Most of the men I know were quite reserved in their approach; in most of them I could detect the air of uncomfortablity they carried and there words were mostly simple and to the point: ''...sorry about your loss...'' was generally what I heard. Closer male acquaintances might say a bit more...''...Donna was alright, she was a good woman...'', this is not to say those utterances were not genuine...they were just short and simple, and other aspects of my well being were not generally questioned, commented on, or denoted. Now, the women with whom I came into contact, they were a bit different; some of them were bent on insuring that my food intake continue, or increase; a few displayed that curious ability DJ had, the one which allowed them to see the need of any room in the house to be cleaned, or some obscure dish that needed to be washed. Oh, I understand all of this, I am merely relating what was my experience.
There were some good hearted females who by some mysterious power determined I had a perpetual sweet tooth and attempted to bring cakes and whatnot long after the week of the service...claiming weight issues I mostly declined them, tho at 130 lbs wringing wet, I don't know how well my veracity went over. Some, altho they had known for years the type of work I do and had not once voiced a need my services, suddenly had a barrage of leaking faucets...damaged walls &ct, here, as I was still grieving, I passed on the jobs. Almost to a person, unlike the men, these women would sit and talk about DJ and I at length...recalling various instances when they had done some activity with her, had need of her ear, or had bought some offering from a fund raiser or something. They too appeared to be expressing thoroughly heartfelt sentiments and I have no reason to doubt them; here, I am just noting some of the differences I encountered. There were other things, but I think this gives you the idea of what I'm getting at. The upshot of all of this is to remind myself that even with the minor quirks in their responses to the loss that had affected our family, they all appeared to be from the heart, just different for the two genders. I feel being aware of the different approaches is a major step in keeping the road as smooth as possible.
As I earnestly began on the path sat out by grief, joining groups, enlisting the aid of the various online sites, and checking into the many forums available, what I saw and read reflected much of what I experienced in regards to the approach men and women take towards grief. Both about the bereaved and about themselves as grieving persons. I noticed that men appeared to be more prepared to seek out companionship sooner, were a lot less vocal in their expression of their grief, and yet on the whole, appeared to be more lost and devastated in some cases, at the same time. Now, none of this is based on any studied or proven scientific research, just the mere casual and narrow observations of one male who happens to be grieving; it serves no other purpose than to aid me in trying to understand better some of the many nuances of grief that I noticed as the journey continues. I think this might help me in avoiding resentments, making premature judgments about people, or worse, doubting any valid feelings or responses I may have during grief.
The reason I write this at all may indicate a mark of progress in my journey; my mind, now, moving slowly away from those raw and painful things which are so close to me, and allowing me to think of other things. I don't know...I do know that after 6 solid months of dedicating my self to recognizing and trying to understand the grief I was experiencing, I am finding now, that other, more ''normal'' things are taking up more and more of my mental exercises.
I think that in the final analysis for me, I have to remember that tho there my be differences in the traits of the genders, I should be willing to accept all of them on face value and take them for what they are worth. I am not astute enough to engage in a discussion of the possible motivations and reasons why the different genders react the way they do, or are treated differently in response to our grief, really, I don't think it matters, only to try and recognize them and accept them as another brick in the road forward on which all of us who grieve, must travel.