Sunday, July 10, 2011

Men can cry too...

Grief is a funny thing, you expect that you will act the way you always do, in any given situation and then suddenly you find yourself in an unthinkable position; it is in these places where grief lives. More often than not, grief manifests itself most powerfully when someone close to you dies. This is something I have come to observe during my work in funeral services. People will often expect that they will react to a loss in a stoic manner, and will be able to suppress their emotions; this does occur, but it is remarkably rare. No, grief will hit you when you least expect it, even those who "society" deems ought to repress their emotions, men. A man is "supposed" to be stoic in such situations, sure he will be sad (or else a heartless monster), but he mustn't show such emotions outwardly, that is the "place" of women. Men, are supposed to grin and bare it, right? Not hardly.

I'm not sure where this notion developed, and while it may be an interesting bit of the history of gender roles, in my experience such stoicism is thrown right out. Men grieve; they weep, cry, sob, yell and scream. Men find themselves acting in a way they did not expect, with their emotions pouring forth, with such fury and violence, that their shock is replaced by shame. They become very self conscious of what they are doing, and try their best to bottle the torrent which has weld up inside them, not an easy feat by any standard. Unfortunately being in such a self conscious state, the fear of being perceived as vulnerable, or weak, will often make those individuals react rather gruffly, even harshly, towards those trying to aid them (like a staff member at a funeral home offering a much needed tissue). Are men, especially young men, correct to feel this way? Should their show of grief become a source of shame? Is their emotional vulnerability a sign of weakness? My answer would be a resounding no, but this is not merely my position as someone in funeral service; no this is also my position as a Gaelic polytheist.

It is during these times, I am reminded of Caílte mac Rónáin as depicted in the Acallam na Senórach. Here we see a mighty warrior (though less mighty than he once was) who is still more than a match for any of the obstacles still left in Ireland. Here is a man who has lived for hundreds of years, has seen all those he loved killed or fall before his eyes, but who still has a story to tell. It is between the many adventures and telling, in those quiet times of reflection, that we see just how burdened with grief Caílte truly is. He bears not only his own past, but the past of all those who has gone before him, and he weeps, openly and unashamedly at their loss. At no point does anyone in the text sneer at how pitiable it is to see such a man reduced to weeping. Upon hearing the tragedies which have occurred, his audience will often be moved to tears right along side him.

Such is the burden of all those who survive, of the old warrior at once proud of his past yet also haunted by it. The burden of carrying on in a world where one you loved is no longer, seems to be well understood by our ancestors. There is no scoffing, no mocking of emotional outpourings; rather there is understanding and empathy, and the hope that we should all bear such a loss with dignity and strength. For while grief can be crushing and seemingly endless, it is something which as time goes by, inevitably becomes a constant companion. There, and never far out of mind, but bearable as we go on living.



  1. I wrote out a longish, well thought out, response to this and, of course, it was eaten (sometimes when at work I don't seem to fully log into Google).

    To try to sum it up, I think this is an excellent commentary. I believe that, along with other such gender myths, "men don't cry" has done a great deal of harm on many levels to men, women and others, to health, sanity, safety and general social relations.

    Recently, I got a Western clothing catalog (I order horse stuff, I get on these sorts of mailing lists, apparently) with T-shirts for kids, for TODDLERS, where the boys' shirt said "Too Tough to Cry" and the girls' "Too Cute to Cry." What horrible messages both are! I think I'm going to make a kids shirt, for all kids, that says "Strong Enough to Cry when I Have To!"

    Anyway, thanks for this post.

  2. I appreciate your kind words; it is a pity about the loss of your response though.

  3. It'll teach me to make sure that the page I'm looking at says I'm signed in and not just take it for granted that because I can get on dashboard that I can post. Or maybe it'll teach me to not spend so much time on blogger while at work. ~;)