It is becoming very apparent to me that men grieve differently than women. This might not be such a groundbreaking discovery given that men are different from women in so many ways, but how we deal with pain and grief is sometimes more different than I would have expected. Some women express concern for their husbands in their blogs. Are men not expressing their feelings enough? Is this just stereotyping that women might be more openly showing their feelings and emotions or is there some truth in it? Are men pushing the pain away?
I think the truth might be that husbands sometimes feel they have to be strong for their wives. Actually, I don’t know if that is the case for all men, I should rather say that it might be the case for me. I don’t think it is something that I do conciously, but there is this primal instinct to protect one’s family. I wanted to protect my kids which turned out to be impossible and I want to protect my wife. However, there is no bad guy who wants to do something terrible to her who I could chase away. If it were just that easy, something physical to tackle and fight. Of course mothers have the same instinct to protect their children, husband and family. Why should this be different? I don’t really know, maybe I am stuck in a traditional stereotypical world view. But she does tell me that she feels safer when I sleep next to her for example. I always understood my role as being responsible for making her feel safe and secure.
In any case, the sad reality is that there is absolutely nothing I can do to protect her from harm. The harm has already been done and I cannot undo it. I sometimes even wonder what is harder: my own pain having lost our kids or seeing her being in so much pain and being helpless to make it go away. This utter inability to make it right, the finality of death. When your house burns down, it is certainly a difficult experience, but you can get back up and rebuild. When you have a setback, you can overcome it. When death claims a loved one, you are helpless. He is the ultimate unbeatable challenger.
But then I have to remind myself that the idea of taking the pain away is wrong in itself. Pain is a big part of what is left to us. There is pain because of so much love. Taking pain away would mean to take the love away. My role might be different than expected, maybe it has evolved from a simplistic teenager view of protection to a much more complex understanding of supporting each other. In our previous life we had fixes for bad days or what we might have considered bad days. If something did not work the way we wanted or someone really pissed us off, we might have been mad or upset, but it could be easily fixed. Often it would go away by itself because it wasn’t really something to be mad about in the first place. For “really bad” days, ice cream, jokes, flowers, cinema or eating out might have done the trick to cheer her up [when my wife read this she started laughing and said “really, was it that easy”. What shall I think about that?]. Well, loss and grief are entirely different beasts. A real problem and quite a big one at that. How could we have ever wasted thoughts on mundane nuisances?
The plain and simple reality is: there is no fix. And maybe that is the hardest thing to accept. Our grief will stay with us for the rest of our lives. It will never go away and we cannot win a fight against grief. One cannot rebuild or maybe build an even bigger house to show resilience. We carry the ruins around with us, death has no match. And there is no getting over it, just learning to live with it. So what is grief? Is it an enemy, is it a companion, is it a reminder, is it the partner of love? Whatever it is, it has taught me a lesson. And maybe I have a better understanding now about what I can do and cannot do. I can be there for my wife when she hurts and is in pain, I can hold her and let her cry as long as she needs to and I can cry with her. I don’t have to feel this need to comfort her to make her feel better.
I sometimes still fall back into old habits when I ask her if I can do something for her when she is sad. I should know better by now, but these old habits are difficult to get rid off. I am trying and still learning… At the end some things might be more difficult for me, some things might be more painful for her, but after all we are going through this together and it is our grief. We might just not be showing it the same way, but we are wrestling with the same beast. And the beast is like a mystical shapeshifter, hard to pinpoint or to understand, always in for a surprise…