What Do You Say To A Grieving Man?

Updated October 21, 2021

While everyone may experience the issues mentioned in this article, please note that as part of our initiative responding to the APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men (2018), these articles will focus on how these topics affect men and boys. We use “men” to refer to people who identify as men.

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Grief is an utterly universal experience. With time, everyone experiences the ache and sorrow that accompanies loss in any form. When it is grief surrounding loss of a loved one, it can be particularly taxing on your mental well-being. 

Grief is also a complicated phenomenon in that many people experience it in vastly different ways. Recent research suggests that grief may affect men differently than women.

While grief can be debilitating, the good news is that it tends to dissipate with time, and research tells us that most people will recover from grief when they depend on social support and healthy habits.

This article will thus explore what you should say to a grieving man after first giving a general overview of grief and male-specific grieving behaviors.

Dealing With Grief

Grief is unique to each individual. There are many key factors to the way that grief develops and persists, including the following:

  • The nature of the relationship to the deceased.
  • The way the deceased died.
  • If feelings of responsibility or regret are present.

While everyone grieves differently, psychologists have formulated various stages of grief that are commonly experienced. There are different models, including five-, seven-, and even twelve-stage formulations. Here is the most common five-stage model (also known as the Kübler-Ross model):

  • Denial – Denial is a protective mechanism that attempts to shield us from the horrible news of a loved one’s death. If the denial stage applies to an individual, it is necessary to work through it for healing to begin.
  • Anger – Once the reality of the loss is no longer denied, it is common to feel some measure of anger. It can be more muted or intense depending on the individual and the nature of the death and relationship to the deceased. It’s normal to wonder, “Why me?” or proclaim that “This isn’t fair.” As part of this model of grief, anger isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it can help us reconnect to the reality of the loss.
  • Bargaining – Bargaining is a common approach to grief in that it is motivated by feelings of guilt and regret. Often, the bereaved desperately desires to move backwards in time to change their relationship with the deceased, or even imagining scenarios they could have intervened to prevent the death. We want to negotiate our way out of the hurt, but we must move past the feelings of regret to truly heal.
  • Depression – One characteristic of depression is feelings of emptiness or numbness and losing a loved one will often provoke feelings of emptiness. This is akin to what psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan called a “hole in the real,” one created so painfully by the sudden absence of the loved one. It is entirely natural to feel depressed as part of the grieving process, and it can help us move toward acceptance.
  • Acceptance – There’s a misconception that “acceptance” is a state of being entirely okay with the loss of a loved one. Rather, it’s simply accepting the new normal. There may be moments of intense sadness, anger, etc., but these will be diminished and less frequent once the reality of the loved one’s death is fully accepted.

It is crucial to remember that this is simply a model that may prove useful for helping us understand how people commonly experience grief. Everyone is different, and there are no rules to how severely one may be affected by grief or for how long.

How Do Men Tend To Experience Grief?

Some research suggests that men experience grief differently than women. Men may be more likely to isolate themselves during their grieving process. They also may be more likely to express their grief through action rather than displays of emotion. They may attempt to cope by escapism, diving headfirst into a new distraction or a new relationship.

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Men may also be more likely than women to fall into increased substance use as a means of coping, and they may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors.

As with mental health in general, these differences are likely due to both biology and socialization—innate physiological differences and cultural norms. Since men are typically socialized to adhere to normative masculinity ideology, they may tend to believe they must remain stoic in the face of adversity and that grief shouldn’t lead to displays of vulnerability and emotion.

The problem, however, is that men will feel vulnerable and emotional, as it is completely human and natural in a state of grief. By suppressing these emotions to be more traditionally “masculine,” they may be more likely to cope with their grief in unhealthy ways that could be self-destructive—e.g., impulsive risk-taking, substance use disorder, and relational conflict.

However, everyone is different, and some more typically male grieving styles may be healthy despite a possible tendency to withdraw and isolate rather than open up. Solitude may help some grieve more effectively, while others may benefit more from talking through their feelings.

What Do You Say To A Grieving Man?

Since men may be more inclined to isolate, you can offer to do something with them that they might enjoy, such as taking a day trip or going out to eat. They may open up—they may not. In any event, they will likely appreciate your companionship. 

You can also work on an activity together that’s unrelated to the loss. Someone who is grieving may find joy or comfort in an activity that they enjoy or are good at. Either way, working on a goal-oriented project can be a huge source of comfort for many men.

Moreover, you can help with a project that pays homage to the lost loved one, likely allowing the bereaved to feel more at peace with their loss. The acceptance stage of grief may be reached by paying respectful tribute, whether through planting a tree, releasing a balloon, or engaging in some other meaningful activity to honor the person they lost.

Remember that everyone grieves differently. Some men may find solace in physical labor or exercise, while others may not. Some may cry and outwardly express their emotions, while others may choose not to show them.

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The most important thing you can do is offer support. You can do this by offering both your presence and companionship as well as your ear. Let them know you care in few words: “Hey, I’m here for you”; “Do you want to talk about it?”; “Hey, how’ve you been holding up?”

It may seem terse but offering support to a grieving man through a few loving words can make a world of difference.

Overcoming Grief

Mental health professionals are specially trained to help us better grasp our emotions, including the fear, anxiety, regret, and sadness that accompanies grief. Taking the important step to get help is a sign of strength, not weakness, and many men have benefitted from talking with a mental health expert. For an example of BetterHelp professionals getting individuals through the grieving process, see below.

“Dan has been wonderful so far, excellent at listening to talking points, as well as giving insightful, thought-provoking responses. He has helped me deal with heavy topics such as grief. I appreciate the short but valuable time I've been able to use his assistance in the grieving and growing process.”

“He's a genuine man who listens first and it isn't hard talking to him.”

Wrapping Up

It’s crucial to note that you do not have to go through grief alone. Consult the professionals at BetterHelp anytime.

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How To Know What To Say When Someone Loses A Loved One
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