Societies Expectations of Men and Grief
Hi Jo Anne,
I have been reading some of the incredible stories that you have available on your website and have decided to share my own with you. It is my hope that you can use some, if not all, of the story to help convey my message not only to other men who have been down this tragic road, but to everyone who grieves the loss of a loved one.
For the past year, I have been involved with a grief support group and now, a year later, I am now ready to give back and offer my experience to those new people joining our support group and beginning their own journeys.
Part of the process in our support group is writing our own personal story to share with those coming into our group. These stories are read aloud (one each week) to the newcomers. This is my story, which I will be reading come next January when I begin my first term as a facilitator for the group. I thought I would share it with you and perhaps you can use all, or a part of it, to help others. Without babbling on any further (which I tend to do sometimes) here is my story:
Several years ago I had a chance meeting with a woman that would change my life as I knew it. From the moment that we first met, we became inseparable! If we couldn’t physically be together, we would be on the phone – always together in one way or another. About a year after we met, she moved in with me and my 2 kids.
We lived together for a couple of years, always knowing that one day we would marry. But, time was always short and we enjoyed doing so many things together and wanted to take advantage of the warm summers…or run away together from the cold winters.
One Christmas we had already decided to spend that Christmas at our favorite resort and had a week booked there. I suggested, only a couple of weeks before we left for our Christmas get-away, that perhaps we should get married while we were there since it was our favorite place to be. So, arrangements were made and we married just a couple of days before Christmas.
We finished our Christmas vacation and returned home to begin married life together. We seemed to be on our way to enjoying the rest of our lives together. We celebrated her 41st birthday at the end of January – the first of our birthdays as a married couple!
Six weeks and one day after we were married, I had called home as I always did just to see how her day was going. We talked and everything seemed fine and nothing out of the ordinary. We had even made plans to go out for lunch that day when I got home from work, then run some errands that afternoon. I came home only an hour and a half after that phone conversation. I called out “I’m home” as I always did when coming home – but there was no answer. I rounded the corner up the stairs and, as I approached our bedroom door, I could see my wife lying there in the doorway. She had passed away sometime between our phone call and my arriving home.
I was completely terrified at seeing her lying there. It is very strange how the mind works because I either remember things in such scary detail…or don’t remember things at all.
I ran up to her and called out her name several times, holding her by the shoulder and gently trying to shake her awake. But, I could tell that she was gone. I called 911 and began giving her CPR. I remember every breath that I gave to her…and the seemingly forever wait for the ambulance to arrive. Panic, terror and helplessness filled my entire being for what seemed like an eternity.
I vividly remember sitting there in the family room at the hospital with Father Roland…him holding my hand when the Drs came in to tell me that there was nothing that they could do. I remember the police giving me a ride home from the hospital and the frantic time we had trying to locate my daughter who was at school.
My son is in the military and was stationed in Gagetown NB at the time. I’m not sure how he found out, or when he arrived home, but my first memory of my son being there was him holding me while I cried in his arms.
I was terrified, stunned and at times, almost completely oblivious to the world around me. As time went by, people would tell me that we had talked either that day, or in the next couple of days – some conversations I can remember, others I cannot.
In the days, weeks and months that followed, I tormented myself with feelings of guilt, along with the usual “what if” acrobatics that a lot of people seem to put themselves through.
The guilt dated back to the day my wife first moved in with me and my kids. We had talked so many times about getting married – why didn’t we do it sooner? If we had, then I would have been married for longer than 6 weeks and one day!
Even though we went on 2 vacations each year, there were some places, and things to do, that we didn’t get a chance to do. The winter trips that we had put off for one more winter because we already had another trip planned that year. She talked so often about being able to swim with the dolphins, or see the Mayan Ruins and our Whitewater Rafting trip that we planned for BC that summer.
I felt guilty because she never got the chance to finish her black belt in TKD. It was our choice to spend our time the way we did, but I took sole responsibility and blame for it now. Why? I know that it was our choice so why did I carry that blame?
If only I didn’t work so much throughout those years, then perhaps we could have done the things we dreamed of doing. I worked so much – we lost so much precious time together because I was at work and not at home.
I felt guilty simply because I went to work that day, or didn’t come home early that day. I should have emailed my work home and came home to work on it that day like I had done so many times before so I could be with her. If I had been at home, I could have called the ambulance soon as something was wrong, which may have made a difference in the outcome.
I felt guilty that I couldn’t save her. I didn’t have the skills to bring life back to her. I had CPR training, but my efforts fell far too short. When I saw her lying there, I panicked. I lost my self control and wasn’t able to focus on what I needed to do.
I carried all of that guilt around with me for several months constantly beating myself up with it. There were so many things that: if only…or I should have, or why didn’t I…how could I let those things happen? I struggled with those questions. I knew that they could have been changed by me. So why didn’t I? Couldn’t I see what was going to happen if I didn’t?
I searched for quite some time to try to find a support group that I could go to for some help. The funeral home had given me a booklet, about 20 pages long, of support groups in the city. When I couldn’t find a support group in there that would accept a middle-aged, caucasian male, I felt less of a person, like I didn’t matter. There were a lot of them for women, for different ethnic groups, none of which I fell into, and for people of certain religions, again, none of which I fell into. Did I not matter? Was I not supposed to be stricken with grief? Was the world telling me that a person in my situation was not supposed to have these deep feelings of grief?
I did eventually find one, and through the support I got there, the friendships that I made and the work that I did, I have been able to live again. I have been able to work through my grief and I am now in a better place emotionally than I was only a year earlier.
For 8 months I beat myself up emotionally with all of those feelings of guilt. I attended a weekend long event my support group was holding and had the time to look at those feelings a lot closer, and really concentrate on them for a while. I wasn’t able to completely release myself entirely from those feelings of guilt that weekend, but it gave me the foundation, the courage, the insight and most of all I gave myself permission to begin to let them go.
During this entire time, I also carried a lot of anger towards God. How could He have let this happen to her? She was such a good soul. Where was He when she needed him the most? Why did He turn His back on her? I had so many questions that needed answers, and no where to turn to begin to find them. It was only after a very lengthy conversation with someone who’s opinion I trust that I knew where to start.
It was a few months after the support group weekend that I contacted the Priest that had sat with me in the emergency room that day. I emailed him and he gave me his phone number. I still cannot believe our first phone conversation. Since I have scattered memories of sitting there with him that day, he told me that while we were sitting there he asked me for my phone number and I wrote it down on a piece of paper and gave it to him. He told me that, just over a year later, he still carried that piece of paper in his wallet!!! He showed it to me when he came to the house and explained to me that for some reason he was compelled to keep it, knowing that we would talk again one day.
He came to my house a couple of weeks later so we could talk. While our conversation didn’t rid me of my feelings of anger towards God, he did help me to understand that it’s OK to feel that anger. That God understands my pain and forgives me for it. Father Roland also set me on the path that day to beginning to forgive myself.
The freedom that finally came with accepting, understanding and dealing with the guilt and anger was tremendous! I’m not sure that I am 100% of the way there, but I am pretty close, and able to live life again.
With time, I have been able to deal with most of those feelings of guilt and realize that they are unrealistic. No one knows the future and how our actions, or lack of, will be reflected on just in case something happens. I know now that even if we had found out a very long time before she passed away that the outcome would not have been different. There was nothing that could have been done regardless of knowing or not.
There was no way of knowing what was going to happen. She told me herself that day that she felt fine. I couldn’t have known to stay home that day.
I blamed myself for everything. I unwittingly searched for things that I could blame myself for, things that I could feel guilty for. It was a mechanism of coping that was far from healthy. I felt inside that someone had to be at fault. I had to put the blame somewhere. I accepted that responsibility and blame because I was the easiest target for myself.
The world needs to understand that men grieve too! We have feelings and emotions that can be just as fragile as anyone else’s can. We too have a need to work through them and become emotionally healthy. In working with that program I have seen some men that stuff their feelings deep down inside. They are afraid that they are less of a man if they show their grief. That is not healthy – it needs to be released. We need to be secure enough in our masculinity to allow ourselves the process of grieving. We will never be able to live our lives to the fullest until we address those feelings.
Since the support group weekend and their levels program, I have put my thoughts and feelings in a much better place. So much so that I have been able to talk about these things with my wife’s mother, and a few select relatives that she was very close to. In speaking with them independently, I hear a common theme from them all. I take comfort in their words…they are freeing. I made a difference where I could. I brought a positive change to her life and I no longer carry all of that guilt. Instead, I chose to carry the words of friends, relatives and mother that my wife had told them, and they saw for themselves that she had never been as happy in her life as she was with me. I made her last few years special ones.
by Tom Aymont