The death of a spouse or life partner is often fol lowed by a flurry of activity. You may be surrounded by loved ones — family and friends. They support you emotionally, spiritually and physically. They bring food over. They make the phone calls no one wants to get. A funeral, a memorial service . . . It would seem that you couldn’t do it without them. They are there for you in any way they can, and their loving support carries you through that initial grieving period. But then what? One day, you wake up and the flurry of activity has stopped. A profound sadness sets in. The grieving process has begun in earnest, and for most it’s a profoundly difficult, uncomfortable time.
Last November, Chilmark resident Samuel M. Feldman’s wife Gretchen died of cancer. They had been married 53 years. Nothing prepared him for the overwhelming grief he experienced. As Mr. Feldman went through the first stages of grieving, he realized that he really needed and wanted some support. He contacted the local hospice on Martha’s Vineyard to find out about a support group. There were only women’s groups and mixed-gender groups. For a variety of reasons, he wanted a men-only group. When he researched the subject, he found that none existed, anywhere in the United States. So he started a group of his own. He contacted friends and colleagues on the Island who had lost their wives. Dr. George Cohn, a noted psychiatrist who had served on the board of directors for the first hospice in the country, in Branford, Conn., agreed to assist the group in setting some general guidelines about how to go about it. This is how the Men’s Bereavement Group was formed on Martha’s Vineyard.
The group is voluntary and open to all grieving men, free of charge. Currently there are six to eight regulars and another three to five who come from time to time. The group meets every Wednesday at Mr. Feldman’s home and is open to all men who have lost their life partners.
Why men only?
While all people go through stages of the grieving process, men generally grieve differently than women. They go through these stages with different starting points and goals. Men generally seek activity and coping skills, while women are more likely to speak of their emotions and seek affiliations with other women. Women often report feeling abandoned, rejected and betrayed, while men report feeling lost, dismembered, numb.
As a result, mixed groups of women and men often find it difficult to talk about the issues that really concern them.
What brings members into the group and what keeps them coming back, differs from one person to the next. The answers include companionship and fellowship; someone said, “We can laugh too.” Yes, laughter can be part of grieving, just as crying can be part of joy.
Because of the benefits each member of this group has felt, they decided to reach out to other men around the country who have lost their spouses or life partners. They hired a part-time executive director, formed a nonprofit corporation (Men’s Bereavement Group Inc.), and began building a Web site to provide informational resources on bereavement, grief counseling and support groups. They are reaching out to bereavement specialists at hospice, faith communities, funeral service providers, local area councils on aging and others to foster more groups like this. For more information, people may contact me 508-939-1807, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit mensbereavement.org.