He is Grieving Less Than I Am

When we think about bereavement and grieving, we think about the process of confronting the emotions of our loss, the process of going over the events that occurred before, during, and after the death, the words said or not said, and the memories we have of the deceased… but during grieving, there is also an emergence of a new life after the loss and the creation of new roles, identities, and relationships. The process of dealing with the loss and of restoring life is different for everyone. However, understanding the basic mechanisms involved and the difference between female and male grieving may give you some insights on why you may think “he is grieving less than you are,” when in reality he is grieving the best way he knows how, and so you are.

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Human beings are very complex and there is no universal manual for grieving. A lot of theories on grieving have been proposed and from them, it is possible to identify situations and signs where the feelings of loss are so debilitating and don't improve even after time passes becoming what is known as complicated grief. In general, complicated grief is identified when the grief is “chronic,” “absent,” or “inhibited,” and reaching out for professional help is advised in these situations.

In “normal” grieving or bereavement, most people alternate between confronting feelings of loss (loss-orientation), and at other times, avoiding the memories and seeking relief by concentrating on other things (restoration-orientation). Loss orientation is more prevalent during the first weeks/months after the loss, and over time, attention is turned to tasks related to restorating life. The oscillation between these coping orientations is presented and explained by Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut in the Dual Process Model of Coping with Bereavement. They postulate that oscillation is necessary for optimal adjustment over time as “there is supportive evidence that it may be impossible to avoid grieving unremittingly without severe costs to mental and physical well-being.”

This model is also useful at identifying the female and male descriptive ways of grieving. For example, there is evidence that bereaved mothers are more loss oriented than fathers, following the death of their child. In a study done by Hopmeyer and Werk (1994) on bereavement support groups, female respondents ranked “sharing feelings and emotions” as most important, while this ranked tenth among male respondents who ranked “learning how others solve problems like mine” as first. Therefore, women prefer expression of emotions (loss-orientation) while men prefer to deal with the problems associated with grief (restoration-orientation).

Either sex can be more or less loss-oriented or restoration-oriented of course, but, there seems to be a pervasive trend for females to focus more on the loss, and for males to focus more on “solving the problem.” Teaching bereaved men and women to cope in the way the opposite sex usually adopts is associated with decreased distress. This means helping women become more problem-oriented with the loss, while helping men become more emotion-oriented. Doing that may help them deal with their loss in a healthier manner, as the oscillation between both orientations (loss and restoration) are needed for healthy bereavement.

So whenever you feel someone is grieving less than you are, understand that he/she may just be grieving differently. Even more, learning the different ways someone can grieve can help you cope with your loss; know that your feelings and emotions (or lack of) are completely normal. Grieving is a personal journey, but you don’t have to do it alone!