Not long ago, I was listening to someone talk about the death of his son who died at age 29 from heart problems. He said something that bothered me that I have heard previously. I really hate to nitpick what someone says in their child’s or other loved one’s memory but it perpetuates a dangerous cultural custom.
He said, “My son never complained about the treatment or surgeries prior to his death.” I had to wonder if his son ever got the chance to express his fear or sadness of early death.
Imagine if you got the prognosis that you had days, months or weeks to live? At first, any normal human being would feel shock and disillusionment. He was nineteen and that’s old enough to understand and young enough to feel cheated out of a future. There is no way that son jumped from getting the prognosis to full, stoic acceptance.
There had to be a process in the middle where he would have grieved his own death and he must have kept hidden the part where he struggled. That’s what bothers me. He didn’t want his dad to know. And that’s a missed opportunity. To imagine this young man struggling with this diagnosis internally, all to himself, made me feel crushed.
Our culture expected this young man to accept the diagnosis with solemn stoicism as if there is some great honor suffering in silence–that somehow it’s more “manly.” There is implied manliness in not talking about pain, or mortality.
That dad meant well. I know he didn’t think he was perpetuating the stigma that is seems to prevail on the subject of men and grief–grief from their own death they might be facing.
It’s important that we don’t hold our males to an impossible standard of “being strong.” Because I do believe that this stoicism is contributing both to the suicide and the addiction rates of males.