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Support For Men in Grief by Greg Eckerman

I’d like to share a little story with you:  ‘A man who had lost his son to a fentanyl overdose 4 weeks earlier, on his own initiative, found us on the Internet and sought us out to see if we could help him deal with his grief.’  That’s it, that’s my story.  It’s true, I’m not kidding.  OK, I get that it’s not that great a story . . . until you realize how rare it is for that to happen.

I’m Greg Eckerman, co-founder of EricsHouse – which is named in honor of our youngest son, Eric, who died by suicide after a long, tough battle with heroin addiction.  At EricsHouse we support those bereaved by loss of a loved one to substance abuse, suicide, or sudden trauma.  We are not counselors; we are companions on a journey no one would ever choose to make.

I told you that story to illustrate a point:  most men grieve very differently from most women.  Those differences mean it’s highly likely that they will be abandoned to struggle through their loss alone – especially for losses to substance or suicide, because of the associated stigmas.

At EricsHouse we see more than 11 times as many women as men.  Of the men who do come to us for support, over 90% of them do so at the urging of a concerned woman in their lives.  When you consider that many women who have survived these losses go unsupported because they’ve bought into our society’s standards for grievers, that’s a pretty dismal picture.  

Why such a huge disparity?  I don’t believe it’s because men love their loved ones less.  Some may be due to women often having more connections than men, but 100 times as many?  There’s another factor.

This masculine model of grief (take 3 days off for the funeral, man-up, move on, get back to work – certainly, don’t cry . . . or, God forbid, talk about it) can be very isolating, especially in these stigmatized losses.  We (men and women) are encouraged to not share our grief.  We might make someone uncomfortable.  So we deflect and distract ourselves.  But that doesn’t work well for most of us.  This grief won’t go away on its own.  Time does not heal all wounds, but it takes time, work, and support for most of us to find healing after traumatic loss.

Now, I believe that it’s possible that there are some men and women out there who can successfully process this kind of complicated grief on their own . . . but not many.  I’ve never met any, but I’ve met a lot of people who tried and ultimately had to admit defeat or go deeper into isolation.

I was one of that majority.  I threw myself into work, I focused on trying to force a return to normal, and I tried to protect my wife from her grief and mine – like that’s going to work!    I ultimately strained my relationships to the breaking point and beyond.  I was lucky. If it hadn’t been for the concern, persistence, and (mostly) patience of my wife, I believe I would have compounded the tragedy of our loss. 

So, if someone you know has suffered this kind of traumatic loss, I encourage you to gently let them know that they don’t have to do this alone.   We have a Zoom-based Men’s Group starting November 16 at 6 PM.  One-on-one companioning is also available.  He should start with a call to Greg Eckerman (480-734-3423)

The “Finding Our Way” Men’s Group focuses on the challenge of integrating your loss to define a new version of yourself, find meaning and purpose, and receive and give support to others.  We are forever changed by our losses, but we have choices in how we change and who we will become. Click here for more information https://www.ericshouse.org/event/finding-our-way-mens-virtual-support-group/

At EricsHouse we’ve walked our own journeys of grief and healing and we’re here to walk with them on theirs.  Sometimes we just need to hear that it’s OK to get help. Personally, I think it’s the manly thing to do.