This article is from a Romanian psychologist, he is not the author of the ideas, but he researched it. I would like to post it in the memory of my dad’s and uncle’s classmate who died in a terrorist act on the Russian filght from Egypt. I am very sad about this Airbus A321-200 operated by Metrojet plane crash.
Death of a friend – Coping and Insight
Young men tend to have not such a good relationship with grief, because of the masculine ideals that dictate men to be stoic in the aftermath of loss which makes men express their sadness and despair as anger. Because of this alignment to such masculine ideals there has been few research in exploring young men’s grief, the way young men think about loss, and the responses and describing of identity after a tragic loss. For a better understanding of the processes young men go through after a loss we will closely analyze a study made on 25 men aged 19-25 who grieved the accidental death of a male friend. The study was conducted from April 2010 to December 2011. The causes of death were diverse, and included motor vehicle accidents, adventure sports, drug overdoses and fights. The results will reveal men’s predominant grief responses as emptiness, anger, stoicism and sentimentality. Participant’s description of their grief responses illustrated the ways in which they struggled to reconcile feelings of vulnerability and manly ideals of strength and stoicism. Insight into men’s grief practices revealed the way they aligned with a post-loss masculine identity. The result of the study offers insights to men’s grief and identity work that may serve to affirm other men’s experiences as well as a guide to counseling services targeted to young men. Grief is a challenging experience that disturbs social processes and practices. There has been a responsible attention paid to grief and its links to health and illness, gender analyses are absent and studies examining connection between masculinities and grief among young men. Western men grief, invoking stoicism, anger, and rationality which is explained as flowing from socially sanctioned masculine ideals. Emotional outpourings, such as crying, expressed by western women in grief are conceived of as typically feminine behaviours. In the specific context of bereavement induced grief, review of the literature revealed that men experience significant mental and physical health impacts following the loss of a spouse due to accidents, lung cancer and heart disease and this is due to the tendency for men to have fewer social support networks than women do. In contrast it was found that many men recover from grief more quickly than women do. Noelen-Hoeksema (1997) suggested that men’s “problem solving” approaches to grief can reduce their potential for developing reactive depression. Expressions of grief are deeply gendered and are strongly policed and men who grieve in ways that do not embody socially assigned masculine practices, like stoicism and rationality, feel judged or alienated. Social practices around men’s grief are contrary to crying or seeking support, and imposes a form of toughness. This aspect is especially evident among young men who aspire to embrace manly virtues of competitiveness and self-reliance and risk taking following the loss of a significant other have referred to such practices as choice disability, arguing that gender restraints can constrain men’s expressions and perhaps experiences of death related grief. In this article we will be exploring young men’s grief experiences and how they express a masculine identity following the accidental death of a male friend.
Young Men and Death: In western countries the cause of death for most young men, between 19 and 24 years, is accidental injury. Many young men are killed in motor vehicle accidents of which cause is often connected to recklessness, excessive speed and impaired driving. Other leading causes of mortality include sport related events and workplace deaths along with unintentional substance overdose.
There have been sex based explanations that have posited evolution, hormones and brain physiology as biological drivers for men’s risk taking, violence and involvement in extreme sports. There have also been arguments that male adolescents are not developmentally mature enough to understand the consequences of actions with a high risk factor. In recent studies, attention has been paid to how social constructions of gender influence a multitude of men’s health practices including risk-taking. Masculine performances are categorized as complicit, subordinate and marginalized, complicit masculinity sustains leadership or hegemony by enacting social practices that approximate or reproduce men’s leadership status in the social hierarchy. Many young men are complicit in sustaining hegemonic masculinity by engaging in high-risk activities and practices which result in many preventable accidents, injuries and death within the sub-population of men. Subordinate forms of masculinity are associated with failed leadership for example a lack of authority, weakness and domesticity and are often associated with femininities such as emotionality and dependency. Marginalized masculinities are liked to de-privileged race, class and ethnic markers and include men who are excluded because of their deviation from white western men standards of idealized masculinity. In this current study, subordinate masculinities may be assigned to young men who express their grief through crying and/or who become careful and conservative rather than risk-reliant because they fear future injury. First we will detail men’s accounts of their grief in response to the news that a male friend had unexpectedly died. Second, these accounts of grief are examined in the context of how they reflect particular masculine identities in the aftermath of that loss. Many men have described feelings of emptiness in the time immediately following their friend’s death. There were expressions of shock and uncertainty on how to react so men’s emptiness emerged both as a byproduct of their male friend’s death and an inability to be action orientated in their immediate response. Participants in a study described an intermediary period between hearing of the death and an emotional response in which they experienced immobility and passivity. An example of a true story is of a young man named Damien: “Damien and a few close friends were on their way from a pre-party to a school sponsored grade 12 graduation celebration. Neither wanting to pay for a taxi or drive intoxicated, the friends opted to hitch a ride in the back of a van. When the van stopped, Damien’s friend jumped out to run across the street to the event. In his haste, he did not see the bus intersecting his path. The teenager was struck and killed in front of Damien and his twin sister as well as the other young party goers across the street. Damien recalled being taken home in a taxi at midnight following hours of courthouse interviews, his friend’s sister screaming hysterically beside him.” In the study, Damien was shown some photographs and was asked to pick one to illustrate how he felt in the days and months following the accident, and he chose a picture of an empty bucket motivating his choice saying that he felt empty and hollow inside and he didn’t really know what was going on. Due to this emptiness men understand that it will make them vulnerable to uncontrolled emotions that can emerge as un-masculine expressions of grief such as crying and irrational thoughts and speech. An example was that of Joe, a 22 year-old man whose friend had died when he fell through a skylight while climbing on the roof of a house during a party. He recalled a desire to be strong during the tragedy but was unable to embrace such masculine ideals. Joe chose photograph 2, an image of a house as a frame with half built walls and an open roof, as a comparison of how he felt during his friend’s death. He stated that he chose this photograph because he felt like a sort of protection comes off exposing uncontrolled feelings and reactions. This vulnerability that Joe and other participants in the study have referred to suggests that manly virtues of strength, decisiveness and self-regulation are disabled during sudden losses in ways that felt many men unable to publically align with such masculine ideals. These stories and other several highlight the dominant social ideals about how western men grief. There have been statements, of participants in the study, regarding hiding from society or avoiding social participation because of concerns about being seen less of a man. In order of regaining control as to what could be seen or judged by others this isolation is necessary for sorting through un-masculine feelings of sadness and despair privately. Another example is that of Shawn, a 19 year-old who had lost his friend due to a motorcycle accident. Following a pre-graduation party, his friend boarded his brand new motorcycle impaired and drove towards home. Hitting a patch of gravel next to the highway, he lost control of his bike and struck a telephone pole. Reflecting on the aftermath of the accident, Shawn went onto explain that he, like most men, is unable to cry. He stated that he felt something terrible inside but as terrible as it was it did not make him cry, stating that “that’s just how guys are” Nathan, a 22 year old man recalled hearing the news about his friend’s death. While detailing how his friend was stabbed in a fight outside of a bar that night, Nathan provided assurances that men’s control over a tearful response goes beyond biological impulses. In response to this norm, most participants in the study agreed that “manning-up” was best embodied by taking actions towards controlling their affect. For example, Nathan argued that men need to “fight through it” and Dylan, a 21 year-old explained the need to “turn it down” while Damien was referring to another photograph, photograph 4 (a tap with a valve) that made him compelled to “turn it off”. All the men’s narratives and photographs lead to the notion that stoicism and emotional restraint could afford some self-protection. While masculine norms informed many men’s responses and actions, there are concerns that feelings, felt or expressed, could lead to dangerous levels of introspection which strays away from strength-based masculine ideals to which they subscribed. Some participants in the study described being enraged by the loss of their friends and such affective reactions were contextually dependent. An example would be one of Aiden and his group of friends which reacted strongly to a friend being shot by police intervening in a domestic dispute. Aiden responded violent and concludes that anger was a legitimate masculine way of dealing with the preventable death of his friend. Aiden had developed an interest in avenging the death of his friend, as a form of acting out, stating that men do actually take that course of action in the heat of the moment. Anger is a loss of control that men are afforded as a manly expression so Aiden’s angry talk, not aimed towards violent action, was an acceptable manly way to contest authority and injustice in the context of losing his friend. Anger is experienced differently from one individual to another. Ben, a 20 year old who lost his friend in an accident, explained that his anger was not targeted towards the situation but over the circumstances, his friend consumed alcohol before riding his motorcycle. For Ben, anger over his friend’s death focused on the hopelessness of a preventable death, while Aiden’s anger was less controlled and directed towards the perpetrators (the police). Both examples conclude that anger is an emotion men legitimately experience and express. Sadness is also a strong emotional response that has been described by most of the participant men in the study and was cataloged as a site of vulnerability. Emotional feelings expressed by men are remains of unfinished business with the deceased person, and wishes of things that could have been done to prevent the death of their friends. Participants in the study were over smothered by regret, wondering what they could have done differently. Alex, now 25 was 23 when his friend died after driving his truck over an embankment. He heard news of the death while he was at work and remembers going to his car and spending the night in the parking lot, unable to drive away. He stated that he felt horrible inside, like unable to breathe and he had been unable to shake of that feeling. He felt that way because in the past they had a disagreement and they both became estranged. Alex always thought that they would have eventually repaired their friendship. The connections between masculinities, culture and grief suggest that, among this sub-group, it may have been more acceptable to express their sadness directly. Statistics show that in the US and Canada there is a “dangerous demographic” consisted of young men between 15 and 25, because of the elevated mortality in this group, as a result of death due to car accidents, reckless behaviors and violence. This study summarized above displays an array of reactions and masculine identities that emerge in and around the tragic losses that sometimes occur among young men. There is obvious vulnerabilities flowing from their profound unexpected losses and beside the interviews with the participants in the study, there was also a collage of highly revealing photographs. In conclusion, outpourings of emotion do not necessarily foster a better experience of grief most men who participated in the study spoke of crying, as a public outpouring of grief, as a feminine activity that would be unacceptable to their status as men. This gender policing of grief, socially dictated has consequences for men. Restricted options for processing and expressing grief led men to engage in activities in an attempt to mask feelings or make them go away. References: Archer, J. (1999), The nature of grief: The evaluation and psychology of reactions to loss. London: Routledge Barth, W. (writer). (2001). 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