Perhaps because it’s the biggest killer of men under 50 talking about suicide has become less taboo but there’s still a lot of stigma and fear when it comes to actually talking about suicidal feelings. People fear that talking about these feelings will result in panic and chaos, that a counsellor will call the police or prevent them from leaving the room until an ambulance arrives with a mental health team and a straight jacket. Some suicidal people want something like that to happen, for someone to relieve them of all responsibility, to take control and let them rest but anxiety about how that may happen prevents them from taking a first step.
My contract has four clauses that limit confidentiality and one of them is if the client is seriously suicidal, but what does ‘seriously’ actually mean?
If a client tells me that within the last few hours they’ve taken an overdose then I’ll call an ambulance whether the client says they want me to or not – the fact that they’ve told me at all suggests that some part of them wants my intervention. So far that’s never happened to me. What has happened is that a client has told me enough to make me concerned that they may actively try to kill themselves within the next few days. I’ve asked their permission to contact their GP to get them involved. I’ve done this twice, both times with the client and me in the same room and with the speakerphone on. It’s important for the client to know precisely what is happening. Both times the client saw the GP within 4 hours. They weren’t sectioned or coerced into anything and continued to come to therapy.
Huge numbers of people feel more or less suicidal every day. When things seem too overwhelming, when you’re too tired and worn down, when there are too many demands and nowhere near enough resources suicide can seem to be a rational choice. The vast majority of people who feel this way don’t want to die, they dearly want to live, but to live differently from the life that they are trapped in. Poverty, pain, violence, shame, discrimination, fear, exhaustion and a long list of other circumstances can make life anguished and hopeless, compounded by the wretched fashion of positivity that boils down to ‘You are always failing.’
Suicidal feelings can be comforting, they offer a semblance of control when everything else seems frighteningly out of control. If the pain or other struggles become too much then suicide simplifies everything. It’s why prisoners are kept on suicide watch: to stop them having any control whatsoever over their own life. To remove that final aspect of control from a person who sees suicide as their last resort is a form of torture.
Feelings of despair and suicidality are more than worthy of being heard, they are the heart of the matter. Sometimes they are a howl from the past when events took over and swept you away. Sometimes the present is unbearable. You know that no one ever gets over the death of a child or another dearly loved person and the idea of living with this pain seems impossible at the same time as beginning to come to terms with it can seem like a betrayal. Moving into the liminal space between life and death can be caused by cumulative smaller events: being subjected to ‘regeneration’ or being made redundant; the end of another relationship or many long years of a violent one; workplace insults and misery can wear a person down to nothing. Living with suicidal feelings can become habitual, the neurological pathways between anxiety, a sad thought, a difficult event and the solution of death become well worn and more swiftly travelled without us even realising it.
Whatever the case examining these feelings and thoughts is the work of therapy. Bringing a light into these places can make them less mysterious, less alarming. Looking at them squarely can diminish their power and witnessing them honours what may have been longing to be seen for many years.
No counsellor can stop a person who is determined to kill themselves. For some people life is genuinely too complex and painful to endure and no amount of care, trust, relationship, medication, voluntary or involuntary hospitalisation or anything else will ultimately prevent it. Yes, suicide often bequeathes more pain and misery, no one denies that, and there are often ways out of present agony other than death.
If you can choose to die at any time, take the time to share your truth with someone who can bear it.
Maytree - 020 7263 7070
Samaritans 116 123
Think about Russian Dolls: one large figure contains another who contains another and another and another. We too have many parts to our personality: we show one aspect to our parents, another to our friends another to our colleagues and so on. And there are parts of our personalities that tend to make us act in certain ways when we become stressed.
Many of us will have experienced some kind of intense event or events, perhaps falling over hurting ourselves more than usual and being told not to cry, to toughen up. Or spending too long alone too often. Or feeling very frightened and being told that we’re being stupid or silly. It doesn’t have to be horrific abuse or a life-threatening incident: not being heard and seen properly, not being met where we were in those moments when we really needed to be, not being told, “Yes, you’re right, what you’re experiencing is real,” means that we learn that it’s more acceptable to hide those parts of ourselves away.
Very few of us are able to access these dismissed and hidden parts of ourselves with ease. We don’t like it when we become angry or sullen or overexcited and so it seems better to squash those repressed feelings down too. Some people begin to feel out of control, even if it’s just raising their voice at a friend or co-worker or having to go to the loo rather than cry in public. Some people find they begin to need the light on at night, or to check if they’ve switched off the gas, or become fearful of travelling on the underground. Very gently, things start moving further out of control, not in any huge way.
But the feelings begin to impact daily life. They might feel enraged at small things or panicky if a routine has to change. Stress? Absolutely, and there’s lots of ordinary stuff we can do to reduce stress. Some people come to therapy. All of us bring our past with us wherever we go, and it’s often appropriate to gently and at the clients pace begin to explore that.
Michael and I had built up enough trust for him to feel comfortable enough to experiment with what it was like to try speaking with his younger self. Using a spare chair I asked him to imagine that his younger self was sitting there. I said hello and spoke towards the chair as if younger Michael was sitting there and in time began asking him questions. Of course, the person who knew the answer to these questions was Michael himself who was astonished and suddenly much less sceptical.
Michael began speaking to his younger self – it always feels embarrassing the first time you talk to an empty chair - and discovered that a whole new part of his awareness was opening up. He asked questions, got answers and remembered all kinds of things many of them very pleasurable and fun. I was able to observe and note when Michael shut his younger self down by saying things like, “Oh don’t worry about that, don’t be silly” or something similar, and together we were able to think about how useful these kinds of responses were both in real life and in Michaels past.
Michael continued talking with his younger self, then found himself responding to that part; he was able to recognise a feeling of deep sadness that arose before more obvious feelings of feeling stupid or vulnerable or unworthy. He asked his younger self about that sadness and learned that if he was able to do the imaginary equivalent of holding his 9 year old self's hand and say that it was OK to be sad, the sadness quickly diminished and more shameful feelings didn't arise with such intensity and in time, much at all. Which meant that he became very much less likely to be bullied at work.
Conceptualising this process in this way made it more easy to grasp: younger Michael needed empathy, comfort, love – basically positive attention – and in providing it for him(self) adult Michael was healing some old wounds.
I am entranced by this video
The song is about the singers relationship with her father, but it elegantly describes some of the processes that some people – by no means a particularly damaged or miniscule proportion – go through in order to discover more about their problems.
Michael * came to therapy with acute symptoms of stress. His workplace was stultifying, his boss out of his depth and another member of the team was a bully. The workload was too heavy for everyone and Michael had become the earthing rod for the offices collective unhappiness. We worked together to identify the shock and shame of being stressed, addressed the office dynamics and considered why Michael might have become a scapegoat. Michael felt much better prepared to deal with the complexities of his toxic work environment and decided to remain in therapy to explore the other matters that had begun to unfold during our time together.
Most of us have lost the innate power of our imaginations by our mid teens. Our heads are stuffed with factoids that will help us become hard working taxpayers and tremendous machine parts. You don’t have to write poetry or wear a rainbow jumper to be something other than a component: part of being a whole human being is about knowing what you feel and why you feel it, and therapy is a good way of kick-starting that process.
Michael found it straightforward to remember his past but realised that he couldn’t recall how he felt about events. His memory had become almost entirely cognitive. I wondered what his younger self looked like and we began thinking about Michael as a child of around 9 – how did he dress, what did he eat, did he have a nickname, what he liked and disliked, and so on. In a short period of time this younger Michael regained his own voice and began speaking with older Michael reminding him how he felt in some detail.
Like most people who come to therapy there was nothing poisonous or horrific in Michael's past. Part of growing up is, as well has having good times, experiencing disappointments, shocks, fears, loss, unhappiness, the usual stuff of an ordinary childhood and dealing with them. For all of us there are events that stand out usually because the adults around us behaved in ways that were unhelpful.
In therapy this work is never about blame. Circumstances make people behave in certain ways, no one is perfect, and it’s useful just to consider how things happened so that we, as adults, can make better sense of them.
Remembering the difficult feelings – betrayal, abandonment, shock, bereavement, resentment, terror – can be much more difficult and so we tend to say, “Well, that happened, it’s over. Let’s move on.” In fact, those feelings remain, unacknowledged and hidden away.
But they’re alive. And if we ignore them they begin to run us.
I'll be writing more on this subject in my next post.
This is a great description of the process of accepting and submitting to emotional pain in order to address it. Go and visit Bethany Webster's page to see more about her work.
Posted on September 13, 2014
Sitting with our pain is such a simple act and yet it can be one of the hardest things to do.
Feeling our pain and not rushing in to fix it, numb it, avoid it, or cover it up takes enormous courage. This is where surrender comes in. We reach a point in our healing where we’ve read all the books, consulted all the gurus or tried all the fancy techniques and all that is left is the last thing we want to do: Feel our painful feelings. Ironically, sitting with our pain is precisely what will eventually bring us all the things we were looking for through avoiding it.
A major key to healing emotional wounding is the willingness to endure discomfort for the sake of transformation. This willingness is essential to truly coming out the other side of childhood wounds.
Discomfort can come in many forms:
To an unhealed inner child, the only way it knows how to soothe itself is to act in accordance with the patterns that were imprinted by the family of origin, but usually those are precisely the patterns that are causing the pain. This keeps us trapped in a loop. The answer is to cultivate the skill of mothering and soothing our inner child while we make new choices that better reflect our true desires and needs. This inner bond is what helps us to effectively separate from family and cultural patterns that cause suffering.
For most of us, growing up involved a series of self-betrayals in which we had no choice but to create an inner split in order to survive. The split usually involves some form of numbing our feelings and rejecting ourselves in order to be accepted by our families. Healing involves the recovery of our ability to fully our feelings and thus, to feel and express the truth of who we are without shame.
While we are surrounded with messages to avoid our pain, both externally in the culture and internally through early coping mechanisms, it is through being present with our own pain and allowing our feelings to flow that healing really happens.
Truth is found outside our comfort zone. Outside the comfort zone is the space in which we separate from dysfunctional patterns that have been ingrained in us by our culture and families.
There are two main phases of learning to endure discomfort for the sake of transformation. Each phase may overlap at times, but generally we move from resistance to surrender.
Here we usually have a great deal of aversion and avoidance of looking at the painful feelings we experience. We may seek various ways to numb out or repress the truth of what we are feeling. Resistance can take the forms of self-sabotage, forgetfulness, overwhelm and addictions. Sometimes resistance can be helpful as an inner boundary of slowing things down until we are ready to fully see something. And sometimes it can be avoidance of what we know we must face. It takes careful self- examination to see which form of resistance is operating. We may experience some resistance at each new level of healing, but as we grow, we can better recognize resistance and more easily move through it.
Most of us surrender simply because the pain of resistance becomes too great. We eventually cross a threshold where we’ve learned to trust that embracing pain rather than running from it is what provides relief. We fully taste the joy and freedom that come from being in contact with the REAL within oneself. There is nothing like having moved through the pain and into the joy of feeling ONE within yourself. The peace of inner alignment: feeling and expressing your authentic feelings without the need to defend them.
There dawns a harmony between your personal imperfections and your irreplaceable part in the greater perfection of life.
Eventually the longing and hunger for living your truth overshadows all other desires, including the desire to be free of pain. It is seen that this hunger for truth is trustworthy and will lead you to what you need in each moment. And sometimes what you need is to embrace is yet another level of inner pain. The moments of relief and bliss that open up through having embraced your pain makes it all worth it. Over and over we learn that the act of embracing and being present with our pain is what connects us with the larger truth of who we are.
I think that one of the reasons why the crucifixion is such a powerful, pervasive symbol in the western world is because it symbolizes precisely what can be profoundly difficult: the willingness to accept and be present with our painful feelings.
A new inner space is created where you have permission to live from the REAL.
As we do the inner work, eventually a conviction arises; a quickening, a hunger and fierce commitment to living one’s truth. A desire develops to live from each moment from within the fire of your original self. Each moment begins to represent a new, fresh opportunity to live from simple, open, awareness of what is.
We see that awareness itself is an embrace.
We start on the painful periphery and as we become increasingly skilled in enduring discomfort and the uncertainty of the unknown, there lies the potential to merge with the holy presence that lives at the center of our pain and realize that is the truth of who we are.
Many of us have a feeling of homesickness deep within. A nameless longing and aching grief. Many of us experienced this as children in relation to our mothers, a feeling of being groundless and adrift. Embracing the homesick feeling within the mother wound leads us to eventually come to a place where we realize that we can never be truly abandoned. This becomes possible by becoming a loving inner mother to our inner child as we embrace her deepest despair.
In that despair is a door; a door to our source, the unified consciousness in which we are one with all.
In this way, our pain is a messenger. A messenger telling us it’s time to come home; to the primordial home within, which is the realization of our true identity as consciousness, the knowing that we are spirit and can never be truly harmed or abandoned because we are one with all. I recall moments in my own healing process when I would process layers of grief within the mother wound; the sense of worthlessness and wanting to die. And in that willingness to simply feel the full scope of that incredible despair and grief, I knew that this was the bottom. There was no pain deeper than that. That pain was the ground. And by standing on that ground and being present with my deepest pain, I was free.
Feeling our pain frees us from it.
By sitting with our pain, we begin to recognize that the pain we have felt is not the truth of who we really are. We begin to see that the open, loving presence that we embody as we embrace our own pain is who we are, our true identity underneath all our other identities.
The culmination of living as a “self” is to live as the “no-self”; the vast, loving space that lovingly witnesses our pain and embraces it completely. This is what a healthy mother does for her child. Author Rupert Spira has said that awareness is like the space in a room, it unconditionally accepts what happens in it. Likewise, in order to develop optimally, a child needs a mother who is unconditionally present and accepting of her. However, mothers are human beings with flaws who make mistakes. All of us receive some degree of wounding from our mothers.
Through that primary, holy wound, we are called to become that loving mother to ourselves…and to all life.
As we embody the unconditional love of the inner mother, we become re-connected to life itself. We become re-connected to the birth-less and death-less center that is constantly born and dies in countless forms. This is the evolutionary step that lies within the pain of the mother wound.
As women, we grow up believing that a holy power lies outside of ourselves and in the healing process, we start to realize that what we most desire, that which is most holy, eternal and pure is inside of us and has always been there. In fact, it is us. Not just in one or some of us, but it lives equally in all of us, in all of life.
Because we are all connected, each time you lovingly embrace your own pain, you activate the power of oneness in all.
© Bethany Webster 2014
The media is buzzing with commentary and opinion on Robin Williams’ suicide some of it fairly shocking. “Williams was selfish,” “What a stupid thing to do,” “Didn’t he know how much people loved him?”
People who haven’t experienced clinical depression can have no idea what depression is like. When it’s bad it’s a life sentence in an underground cell with no door or window. When depression is just ticking over you know that life is a sea of endless pain and loss and sorrow and that whilst there are little shallow islands of not-misery you know that continuing to live means having to continue swimming through pain and loss and sorrow.
Williams suffered bipolar disorder and had a long relationship with addiction. Other people have suffered bereavements, traumas, illnesses and disappointments that they just can’t recover from. Some people go through the world with one less layer of protective psychological skin than other people, that’s just the way they’re made. Anti-depressants can definitely help some people and other people are not helped by them. The same can be said for therapy: drugs and therapy can work well to begin with and then their efficacy wears off.
Imagine having an illness that isn’t visible, that can’t be seen on an x-ray or CAT scan or be identified in a blood sample. You can understand feeling miserable if you’re made redundant or a relationship ends or someone close to you dies but when those feelings spiral downward into depression that’s less easy to understand. You’ve read about exercise and diet being really good for depression, so why can’t they come out for a run or even a walk for goodness sake? Why can’t they just eat better?
Being around someone who is depressed can be tough. It’s difficult to understand why a depressed person just can’t clear their head, take a deep breath and see that life isn’t so awful – there is sunlight and beauty, joy and pleasure in the world there for the taking. What makes it particularly difficult is that to a great extent this is true, it’s just that for someone who is depressed it’s not. People who don’t have depression can aim to leave this painful place they’ve found themselves in, people with depression can do all the exercise and healthy eating and find god and all the rest of it, and some of it may help but for a significant number it won’t make much of a difference.
You might be surprised to know how many people seem completely fine but think about death every day.
Therapists have a duty to break confidentiality when someone discloses that they are acutely suicidal. That means that if someone says, “Thanks Clare, it’s been great but this is our last session. I’ll be killing myself later today,” or “I’ve taken an overdose,” I am obliged to call the clients GP and possibly an ambulance. That seems sensible to me. And there are some people who have become exhausted from trying to keep their head above the sea of misery. They’ve taken the drugs, had all the therapy, made the lifestyle changes, love their family and friends, feel guilty about the trauma they know they’ll leave behind them and the sheer weight of having to bear life is greater than everything else.
That’s what happens to a lot of people who get cancer, MS, Motor Neurone Disease, osteo- or rheumatoid arthritis or any other chronic condition. Many of us can understand why some of those people make their way to Dignitas because we can see how their illness has reduced their enjoyment of life to nil. That’s what many people with chronic depression feel and not all the love, care or sense of duty can make a difference.
RIP Robin Williams
A link to helpful resources for people who are suicidal is on my homepage, including the Maytree Sanctuary for the Suicidal. If you want to commemorate Williams, consider donating to them.
The Sales are on and every year the news shows us scampering masses plunging into Selfridges to buy a handbag.
There’s nothing wrong with getting something you’ve always wanted but couldn’t usually afford, especially if it’s something you need. But our reasons for buying are often less rational.
Private therapy can be expensive, but it’s more of an investment than buying things that make you feel elated and then make you feel guilty. Corporate employers recognise the value of counselling to their profits by offering free, confidential therapy to their employees via Employee Assistance Programmes.
Normally, I charge £80 to £120 per session (find out more about why I have a sliding scale here) but in the spirit of the times, I’m having a sale of my own. Rather than you paying £480 to £720 I’m charging £360 for 6 pre-paid sessions. This offer is open until the end of January. To offer professional care I limit how many hours I work per week, and if those hours are filled when you call to take advantage of this offer I can put you on my waiting list.
If you’re not sure how counselling can help have a look at the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy website.
Feel free to phone to ask any questions and have a great 2014.
Back in the early 90’s I ran an organisation that advised on everything to do with death and dying, including sitting vigil with the dying, so I’m relaxed around the subject. In general though, people feel that death is something that they can’t speak about, perhaps because it will bring death to them or make people think they’re weird, so I was slightly anxious about how many people would turn up to the first Portobello Death Café, especially since it was being recorded by Radio 4.
I need not have worried. In all, there were about 20 of us, about half of whom looked under 25, and the conversation flowed beautifully. Not surprisingly, older people had developed their philosophy around death, it seemed to hold no fear for them, and they were keen to stress how important it was to live as full a life as possible. Younger people seemed more focused on the deaths they had experienced and how the process of dying, death and bereavement seemed too haphazard, that there were no rituals to guide them or anyone else through something that didn’t just happen for one day but resonated throughout their lives.
(A few days later Selfies At Funerals appeared on tumblr, which confirmed those experiences. I don’t think it’s the end of civilisation but a demonstration that many young people are now totally unprepared to deal with death and are attempting to find their own way based on how they handle other events. They now know that death is not like other events.)
Right at the beginning of the evening we wrote about what death meant for us on Post It notes and stuck them on the wall. Throughout the evening the notes fell off like autumn leaves. No one missed the symbolism. The reporter put his recording equipment away and joined us as an equal, we all listened to each other carefully and respectfully. The age differences in this group were striking and whilst no overt teaching happened it was noticeable and somewhat moving that younger people listened carefully to what older people had to say and vice versa.
Then we fell upon the exquisite Red Velvet cake that Hummingbird Bakery had so kindly donated and I had to remind people to go home so that the venue could close on time. The only thing I wasn’t happy with was the part of the Radio 4 report in which I say “Portobello Death Café” as if I’ve gone mad. I was reading the cake and was fairly overwhelmed by Hummingbirds generosity and the sheer prettiness of the cake. You can hear my shame as well as the wise and useful things that people said at the café here at around 25mins in.
I’m hopeful that tonight’s Death Café will be as successful and that the one on the 13th November that will be filmed by Yahoo will come across well. People do want to talk about death, to explore their fears and philosophy and develop their knowledge by listening to other people’s experience. If you’re around Portobello, join us.
Lighthouse West London
111-117 Lancaster RoadW11 1QT
Here’s a terribly sad piece from a woman who wishes she’d died at the same time as her husband. 14 years after his death her life, she feels, remains pointless without him.
Grief is a complicated, difficult process that we all will have to go through at least once in our lives. Elizabeth Kubler Ross proposed a model of grief that has been misunderstood as a linear journey, from one stage to another to another until we come out refreshed and sorted out in ‘Acceptance’. If you’ve been though grief you’ll know that a more accurate model, and one that Kubler Ross herself advocated, was more of a spiral where over a matter of years we revisit the stages of grief experiencing them as more or less painful depending on the circumstances. An anniversary is bound to be more poignant that most other days, and if that anniversary falls during a time when you’ve lost your home you may experience it as catastrophic. Alternatively, being under urgent stress, you may forget entirely about it.
There’s been some controversy over the DSM understanding of grief, whether it’s a mental illness or a normal human experience, and people from both sides of the argument have interesting, useful things to say. I wonder how it is, though, for this woman who still feels that her life is wasted because her husband isn’t with her? I don’t have any answers for her in particular, not least because she’s not asked me for any, but I think it’s likely that a person in a fugue of loss might be experiencing complicated grief, something absolutely as debilitating as a chronic physical illness.
Counselling can help and there are a number of specialist agencies that can help with specific kinds of loss. It may be that a person who experiences, say, bereavement because of suicide would see a counsellor who specialised in being with people bereaved by suicide and then a few years later a general bereavement counsellor and some time later still a body psychotherapist and then want to return to a suicide specialist. Like the stages of grief, we will revisit our bereavements over the years. But we’re not doomed to live there.
Petrūska Clarkson has been on my mind all this week. “One of the most significant figures in the history of Gestalt therapy in England," therapist, lecturer, academic author, creatrix of the Systemic Integrative model, Clarkson killed herself in the summer of 2006. You can read more about her incredible list of achievements here.
I never met Petruska Clarkson but along with colleagues noted her death and then never spoke about it again. Her death will have had a much greater impact on her personal friends, colleagues, students and of course the many clients with whom she worked over the years but somehow I missed any obituary other than a letter in Therapy Today. A personal and heartfelt forum for people who wanted to remember her is here.
As far as I know there has been no professional debate over what her death, particularly her death by suicide, might mean to psychotherapy. Having spent a day combing the internet either I’m searching in the wrong places or there has been no discussion.
This morning I was very sobered by the realisation that I’d forgotten her name and searched for her under ‘psychotherapy’ on Amazon where she emerged on page 6. Then I searched for the Physis Institute, the training organisation she founded (as well as being a founder member of Metanoia) and came across a good number of therapists who have called their practice Physis with no reference to Clarkson, but was unable to find anything about the Institute.
How can such an important person disappear so completely? Is this a partial clue?
“I insist that there be no funeral, cremation or memorial service of any kind held for me. Instead I wish sincerely that all those who have valued my work just continue to ‘help the people’ in the spirit of Physis as they are”.
Jason Mihalko, a US based therapist, has written about the impact of a client suicide:
"My patient who killed herself told me once that when she died she wanted no obituary, no service, no tomb stone--no marker of any sort that made mention of her life. She wanted there to be "no memory that my sad life ever existed on this planet."
This is an endlessly complex matter and I hesitate to draw parallels between two people I’ve never met who had very different lives. But there is something profound about erasing oneself not just by suicide but also in the insistence that routine death rituals be put aside. Even people with no friends, family or money get their name mentioned by a priest as part of their paupers’ funeral, they’re not simply loaded into the cremator or fed into the earth. But Petruska Clarkson and the anonymous client (and any number of other people who kill themselves) insist that just this be done for them.
Perhaps, just as we could not fulfil the needs of people in life who are adamant that this lack of fulfilment be brought to their death rituals, we may need to ignore their needs in death. Jason’s writing about his experience with one particular person has offered a great deal to his readership over a year, probably extending into many more years. I’m very wary about treading on the broken hearts of people who knew Petruska Clarkson or offering them any offence: speaking for myself I’m disturbed that her desire for erasure seems to have been taken all too seriously. In death, she has yet more to offer psychotherapy.
There’s a great deal more to be thought about here, but perhaps it’s good to end this entry with Jason’s wise words, words that echo Clarkson’s final wishes:
“Treat people like they matter.
It's the most important thing you will ever do.”
From the New York Times 25 July 2011
"Sherry Schachter, director of bereavement services at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx and a grief specialist for 25 years, said in a telephone interview: “While women grieve intuitively, open to expressing their feelings, men are ‘instrumental’ grievers. They’re not comfortable with talking about their feelings, and they prefer to do things to cope.”
In a men’s group she has run for the last few years, she said, “I never ask, ‘How do you feel?’ Rather, I ask, ‘What did you do?’ ”
In some cases, what men are doing is taking grief counseling into their own hands. Mr. Feldman started a biweekly bereavement group for widowers on Martha’s Vineyard, and two years ago spearheaded the Men’s Bereavement Network, a nonprofit organization seeking to establish and support grief groups for men nationwide. The network is helping to establish bereavement groups for men in places as diverse as DePere, Wis.; Clearwater, Fla.; and Danvers, Mass.
At a recent peer-led gathering of the Martha’s Vineyard group begun by Mr. Feldman, eight men in their late 40s to late 80s sat around the dining room table at the home of the session leader, Foster Greene. Dr. George Cohn, a local psychiatrist, sat alongside, for the most part a silent observer.
A retired fisherman, at 85 one of the older members of the group, spoke in a low voice, looking mostly into his coffee cup. His wife of 54 years died in 2010.
“I don’t know about you guys,” he said, quickly glancing around the table of men, “but for me it gets harder, not easier.” The other men nodded.
Later Dr. Cohn said, “Sometimes that’s all a man wants or needs — a sympathetic ear.”
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