Men and the River of Grief
We just can’t seem to get away from it. Grief is a part of the ‘male condition’. Some refuse the call, living dreamy lives of fragile denial. Others wrap their losses in anger, finding it easier to be puffed-up and angry, than to fall into the seemingly bottomless well of grief. Most of us duck and dive, avoiding any such feelings until we’re faced with the weight of our accumulated losses…
because I am numb,
because I am vulnerable
because I'm up against the wall
and because the wall holds back
the boundless waters of my grief.
If it gave we'd all be swept away
but I daren't tell you that
because you're a man
and nobody trusts a man — ever.
In my case, the death of a close friend pitched me into the terrifying waters of my own built-up grief. I wept alone at first – in afternoon movie-houses, or curled up like a child on my bed. Then I pitched up at a men’s conference, to hear the great American poet Robert Bly read six poems off the reel – each one dedicated to a friend he had lost… I resisted. I hung on for dear life but the flow of the poetry and the swirling images of the dead mixed with my own griefs, losses and finalities – the whole crumblng edifice of my life... Astonishingly, I found that weeping my heart out with a hundred men was a truly healing experience.
Decades later, I’m grieving the loss of another close friend, and colleague in Dr Paul Smith Pickard, who died recently in his beloved Dorset, surrounded by those he loved. I can still hear his distinctive burr in the wind as I remember him today. It was Paul who took me to my first men’s retreat; who held me as I pitched into grief and was there when I bobbed up again, having survived – lighter, brighter, and more connected the world around me. Back then it was a revelation.
Today grief is a practice for me, an often repeated and cleansing practice that helps me to process my all too human feelings. The loss of old friends like Paul, connects me to my grief, and thus my deeper self, but in a larger sense it also connects me to the great flow of human grieving – a continuum that runs from our oldest ancestors to our furthest and farthest descendants. In our grief, we are at our most human, and at our most connected.