"I am really screwed now. My wife Evelyn has just died, and she was the one person I would trust to help me with grief. I'm not likely to share my emotions with anyone else, yet I know that if I don't, I am going to be in big trouble."
This is what I realized when I began grieving. If you're an introvert and male like me, you find it hard to share any strong emotion with anyone, even in the best of times. This presents a problem when dealing with grief. If given the choice, we would close the drapes and hole up until grief was gone. But we sense that grief isn't going to leave without the help of others. We will just descend into a dank, dark pit of funk and sit there.
My wife and I were radically different in our expression of emotions. She could freely and completely express whatever she was feeling at any moment. Me? Not so much. You have to ask how I'm feeling and then wait.
You could order take-out and it would be delivered before I figured out what I was feeling.
There are several reasons why I shouldn't be writing about emotions and grief. First, I'm a man, and talking about emotions almost seems taboo, like I've walked into a women's yoga class. Of the grief blogs and writings that I value, all of them are written by women, and I would love to sit across the table from any of them and share our discoveries and frustrations.
Second, I did not learn how to talk about feelings when I was growing up. My family wasn't into that, partially because my great grandparents were German and Scottish, people not known for being expressive in nuanced ways, and this was passed down to me. So I learned to be reserved, almost stoic, and this frustrated Evelyn to no end because she expected everyone to share their emotions as freely as she did.
Third, on the Myers-Briggs scale, my personality type is INFJ. The "I" indicates Introvert, which means that I do not spontaneously talk about emotions.
When grief hit, the doors holding back my emotions were blown off.
I could not control the flood of wibbly-wobbly emotional stuff that surged through. A few friends showed up willing to listen and encouraged me to talk about what was going on inside. To my surprise, they did not run away screaming in horror, disgust, or boredom when I shared my anger, despair, and a bucket of other assorted emotions. And they came back to listen again, which surprised me even more. I became used to sharing emotions as they emerged.
If you're an introvert, find a way to share what's going on inside you with someone else.
People expect you to be emotional at the beginning of grief. Now is the time to share, because two years from now they won't be so willing to listen.
Grief is easier to bear if you share it.
If you're in your 20s or 30s, don't expect your friends to know what to say that helps. They probably won't because they haven't lost someone close, and because we don't talk about grief in our society. But what we need aren't answers, although they would be nice. What we need is for people to be supportive and to listen so that we don't feel alone as we go through an intensely personal experience.
If people offer to come over for coffee and to listen, open the door. They wouldn't offer if they didn't mean it.
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.