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Greetings to Our Partners in Care!

Welcome to this month's edition of GriefPerspectives


We are so excited to be welcoming back Dr. Hoy for in-person workshops in August! Please check our Events Calendar for updated information and to register.

I would also like to steer your eyes over to our blog. Our most recent posts have described our transition out of quarantine and grief and the into this familiar, but new world. 

We've all been through so much. While things are starting to feel "normal" again, what we've just experienced was anything but. I am full of hope and optimism as we kick-off summer, and I hope you'll join me in August. I've so missed your faces!

Have a very Happy 4th!
Your partner & resource,

Becky Lomaka, MA, CT
Director of Grief Support & Education
blomaka@oconnormortuary.com
(949) 581-4300 ext. 229
 
GriefPerspectives
 

Supporting Bereaved Men
by William G. Hoy

“Men just grieve differently; sometimes they just don’t grieve” was my first introduction to a common belief in our culture. The supposed idea is that many—if not most—men are somehow “defective” because we do not grieve in socially-expected ways. One of the most interesting groups I ever led was a widowed men’s group that met together for more than a year; from those fellows, I learned some of what it means to be a bereaved male in the get-ahead, hold-it-together culture.

 

  

Fast-forward three-plus decades. This weekend I am joining with friends in Oklahoma to celebrate a wedding but it reminds me of this month’s topic. You see, both the bride and groom, now in their early 60s, are widowed. For her it has been three years; for him, about 16 months. How do their prior losses provide both guidance and potential pitfalls in this new relationship?
 
The notion that “men grieve differently” is not universally-held by bereavement specialists. In the first place, there are simply too many variables within a single personality to make such general and monolithic statements. We would hopefully not permit a stereotype following the idea that all people of a particular ethnicity or regional origin grieve alike; why would we accept that all of one gender do?
 
Second, the instrumental-intuitive grief style continuum first articulated by Doka and Martin (2010) makes much more common sense and much more effectively matches my clinical experience than the strict gender differentiation. What many of us have noted in working with large numbers of women and men is that “style” is much more accurate in describing a person’s coping habits than any cultural or gender difference. In their noted work, Doka and Martin suggest that few (if any) grievers are purely one style or another but that those showing an “instrumental” preference tend to be much less verbal about feelings and much more likely to deal with grief through activities. Instrumental grievers, in my experience, are the people who start foundations and support organizations to provide research dollars and other resources for the causes that ended their loved one’s life; think Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the Adam Walsh Foundation here.
 
Third, those who have worked with bereaved fathers with youngsters at home recognize that frequently in North American societies, these men have not previously been the primary caregiver for their children and may need additional support; a far larger number of women provide primary child caretaking roles than do men. Rosenstein and Yopp (2018) found, for example, that groups for these men may need to focus primarily on parenting tasks, using this shared need to draw men together for the sharing of emotional support in bereavement.
 
Fourth, I think we need to be careful of our own language choices. For example, I am learning to not specifically ask bereaved men about “feelings.” If it is true that a large majority of bereaved men are more instrumental in our style, emotional language is not likely the key to get us to speak openly. Instead, when in doubt about the choice of words, I tend to use a phrase such as, “What do you think about xyz?” or “How would you describe your thoughts about these things?” Feelings-oriented individuals will quickly enough use emotional language to describe their experiences when asked a question with cognitive language but I have not found the reciprocal to be true of cognitively-oriented persons.
 
The notion that men do not grieve effectively or that we are sometimes defective in our expression of loss is simply wrong-headed. I know of no empirical evidence to suggest that emotional expression in loss is either preferable or even required to effectively negotiate the bereavement process and to fully integrate the loss into life. In fact, a recent study (Gamino, et.al., 2020) found that neither grieving style seems to provide an advantage over the others in bereavement outcomes: “The intuitive and instrumental grief patterns do appear to represent internally consistent constructs that can be applied descriptively to bereaved persons and used to better identify a griever’s most reflexive response mode. However, most individuals seem to show a blend of these styles rather than an exclusive and extreme pattern. The findings definitely support the clinical imperative to listen for and ‘‘decode’’ different expressions of grief following the death of a loved one” (p.547).
 
After explaining that intuitive grievers tended to express more distress and expressed a desire to talk about their loss, the researchers concluded, “Practitioners are cautioned to remember that this potential selection bias does not mean that everyone needs to verbally process grief-related thoughts and feelings in order to deal with loss” (p. 547).
 
References.
 
Doka, K.J. & Martin, T.L. (2010). Grieving beyond gender: Understanding the ways men and women mourn. New York, NY: Routledge.
 
Gamino, L. A., Sewell, K. W., Prosser-Dodds, L., & Hogan, N. S. (2020). Intuitive and instrumental grief: A study of the reliability and validity of the Grief Pattern Inventory. Omega: Journal of Death and Dying81(4), 532–550. https://doi.org/10.1177/0030222818786403
 
Rosenstein, D.L. & Yopp, J.M. (2018). The group: Seven widowed fathers reimagine life. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.



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Our Events Calendar
Dr. Hoy is joining us IN-PERSON for Our August Workshop Series!

August 3 | RCFE Workshop
2pm - 4pm at O'Connor Mortuary

Making Sense of the Senseless:
Spiritual Care in an Uncertain World


August 3 | Community Workshop
7pm - 8:30pm at Temple Beth El
Facing Fears in a Changed World


August 5 | Hospice Professional Workshop
8am - 10am at O'Connor Mortuary

Making Sense of the Senseless:
Spiritual Care in an Uncertain World

 
Click Here to Learn More & Register
 Reiki + Meditation Circle

Relax, rejuvenate, and heal with meditation, Reiki, and other mindfulness practices.

Join Reiki Master and event host, Kathy Brook-Wong for our upcoming Zoom circles:

July 28th at 6:00pm - Register Here

During this online Reiki + Peace with Grief Circle, Becky will share how grief is a universal human experience that does not require closure. Together we will explore ways to lean into grief, connecting ourselves to all of our feelings, discovering where we feel our grief in our bodies and how to practice positive self-care. Kathy will share about Reiki and how to use it to deepen your connection with Universal Life Force Energy. A distance Reiki healing will be gifted during our time together.
                                                            
Advanced Registration is Required.
 
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining us on Zoom.
Resource Review

 
This resource-rich and well-researched website is designed around the unique grief and responsibility of being a bereaved co-parent. Offering helpful video interviews from actual bereaved parents paired with up-to-date bereavement theory, widowedparent.org is an important place for widows and widowers to learn about their own bereavement process as well as their children’s.
 
The site also serves as a research platform and invites widowed parents to take a brief survey to help the researchers continue to gather important information about these uniquely bereaved individuals. From some of their research has come the excellent book, The Group: Seven Widowed Fathers Reimagine Lifereviewed below.
 
It is exciting to see practical and important research like this taking place in tandem with well curated information and resources. Furthermore, it is reassuring to see modern bereavement theory help bring grieving people into the truth and healing of what their new “normal” looks like.
Your Professional Library

Rosenstein, Donald L., Yopp, Justin M. (2018). The Group: Seven Widowed Fathers Reimagine Life. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
 
Reviewed by Molly A. Keating, MA, CT
Editor, GriefPerspectives
 

After reading Rosenstein and Yopp’s newly published book, The Group, I am amazed that a book like it has not existed before. The impetus for this book was born out of the author’s creation of an experimental support group seeking to care for widowed fathers with young children. This group of seven men was set to run for six weeks and instead would go on to run for four years.
 
With care to define Kübler-Ross’ theory and place it in context (i.e. that the 5 stages were observed in people diagnosed with terminal illnesses, not bereaved people), Rosentstein and Yopp go on to explain their use of the modern and ground-breaking theory of the Dual Process Model of Coping with Bereavement (Stroebe & Schut) within this group. The model was almost instantly observable in the daily lives of these widowed fathers. Fortunately, a prior understanding of the Dual Process Model is not necessary when picking up this book. The theory is laid out simply and paired with clear examples illustrating the frequency of oscillation between loss-oriented stressors and restoration-oriented stressors that these widowed fathers were facing as they simultaneously grieved the loss of their spouse and had to carry on with their jobs and care for their young children.
 
The chapter that most caught my attention was called “The Ring Thing” and addressed the delicate question of what to do with the wedding ring? Making note of the theory of Continuing Bonds, Rosenstein and Yopp give attention to the fact that none of the men took their rings off at the same time or in the same way. Some viewed their rings as symbols of a marriage or connection that they still felt was very present in their lives. Different men in the group benefitted over time by maintaining connection to the symbol of the ring until they felt ready to change their view of the connection. Over time, each man removed his ring and the group recognized as a whole the night when “ring watch” was at last over as an important marker of how they were making it through.
 
This book is so hard to put down and flows with a simplicity that makes it accessible to all readers. This book is a must-read for those running support groups, particularly those working with widowed spouses.

Perhaps the most refreshing element of this book is its courage to present the nuance of the hard questions that widowed spouses face; When/should you take off the wedding ring? When do you start dating again? Are your in-laws still your in-laws?   
 
In conclusion, The Group utilizes modern grief theory in one of the most real, vulnerable and misunderstood sub-groups of bereaved people; widowed fathers. Rosenstein and Yopp have achieved a significant contribution to the understanding of male grief and how support groups can be healthy and safe places for men to share and grow.
 
A recent interview was conducted with the authors and one of the support group participants. This hour-long conversation includes a great recap of the book, modern theory, and first-hand accounts from the men changed by this group. Click here to listen to it.

Research that Matters
Skulason, B., Jonsdottar, L.S., Siggordottir, V. & Helgasson, A.R. (2012). Assessing survival in widowers, and controls—A nationwide, six to nine-year follow-up. BMC Public Health, 12. Accessed from http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/12/96.
 
Over the last four decades, researchers have labored to understand if widowed men are at a greater risk of dying quickly following the deaths of their mates (Kaprio, Koskenvuo & Rita, 1987; Mellstrom, et.al., 1982; Stroebe & Stroebe, 1983). Results have been mixed but have generally pointed in the direction of increased mortality in the early years of widowhood. The present study is unique, however, in that it purposed to study 100% of individuals in the appropriate class on a national scale.
 
Iceland is a relatively small North Atlantic island nation with a current population of about 320,000. Because the government agency, Statistics Iceland conducts an annual census and provides unparalleled access to mortality data matched to personal identification numbers, researchers can use this deep demographic pool to follow groups of individuals and track their mortality. The researchers explained their study this way: “The original study base of widowers included all 357 Icelandic widowers born in 1924-1969 who had lost their wives during the years 1999-2001 and were alive and living in Iceland on December 31st, 2001. At the time of selection, 14 widowers had already died but they were included in the survival analysis comparing widowers with the general population” (p. 2).
 
Since researchers in Iceland have unusual access to data, they were able to match the widowed group to a control group of non-widowed men, matching the subjects by age, years married, place of residence, education, occupation, and whether or not the subject had children. They then looked at how many widowers were alive on December 31, 2007 and eventually expanded the study to include those still surviving three years later.
 
What the researchers discovered was a statistically significant indication that widowed men die sooner than their non-widowed counterparts. By the end of the study period, 17.3% of widowers had died while only 8% of the men in the control group had died. Causes of death between the widowed men and the control group who had died were similar, which, for example, rules out a higher rate of suicide among widowed men. This study differs from others in that it examined 100% of population subjects who met the study criteria, largely eliminating the risk of sample bias.
 
What still escapes researchers, however, is the role that lifestyle choices may have for earlier mortality. One hypothesis is that both partners in a married couple eat the same diet, allowing unhealthy nutrition choices to negatively impact mortality since an unhealthy diet contributes to earlier deaths from cancer and cardiovascular disease. And of course the great unanswered question is how the mental and emotional strain of one’s wife’s death might contribute to a widower’s early death.
 
 
References.
 
Kaprio, J., Koskenvuo, M.,  & Rita, H (1987). Mortality after bereavement: A prospective study of 95,647 widowed persons. American Journal of Public Health, 77, 283-287.
 
Mellström, D., Nilsson, Å., Odén, .A, Rundgren, Å., & Svanborg, A. (1982). Mortality among the widowed in Sweden. Scandinavian Journal of Social Medicine, 10, 33-41.
 
Stroebe, M.S & Stroebe, W. (1983). Who suffers more? Sex differences in health risks of the widowed. Psychological Bulletin, 93, 279-301.
 

 
GriefPerspectives is published monthly by Grief Connect, Inc. Copyright ©2021. All rights reserved, including publication or distribution in any form, electronic or printed. For reprint permissions or suggestions for content, please email us at GriefResources@msn.com.
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