What Do Men Bereaved by Suicide Need?

Men have a chance to answer that question themselves in an anonymous, confidential survey that is available online until Jan. 31, 2014. If you are a man 19 or older who has lost a family member, friend, or colleague to suicide, please go directly to the survey at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/MenBereavement. And whether or not you are someone who fills out the survey, please consider sharing the link with men you know who have lost a loved one to suicide — as well as on appropriate email lists.

The survey was designed by the leaders of two organizations founded by survivors of suicide loss, Sally Spencer-Thomas (whose brother, Carson, died by suicide in 2004) and me (my father, Joseph, died by suicide in 1978). Our organizations, the Carson J. Spencer Foundation and Unified Community Solutions, developed the survey to learn more about the experience of men after a suicide, especially about how to meet men’s needs related to grief and loss. Sally and I are committed to providing more and better help to men who have been affected by suicide, and this survey is a first step toward accomplishing that goal.

For more information, please contact sally@carsonjspencer.org or franklin@unifiedcommunities.com.

In a recent post about the survey on my blog, I share a personal story — not about grief specifically but about “sharing emotions” — that illustrates why exploring men’s approaches to healing is important:

The first experience I had that marked me as a man in therapy (as opposed to a woman in therapy) was in early 1982 in an aftercare support group in Twin Falls, Idaho, attended by people who had completed inpatient treatment for addiction.

It was my second week attending the group, a circle of about 25 men and women of all ages. I had enjoyed the first week immensely because each person who spoke got a lot of help from the counselor in charge of the process, as well as from the others in the group, and I learned some very interesting and useful things about what went on “inside” of recovering addicts.

About half of an hour into the session, the counselor called on me: “Franklin, would you mind telling us how you feel about what was just said?”

I was glad to answer her — and to speak for my first time to the whole group — so I said quite a lot about my feelings on the very engaging and meaningful topic at hand.

When I finished, she said, “Thank you for sharing, Franklin, but you just told us what you think — and I asked about how you feel. So would you mind taking another try at it?”

I looked around the circle at two dozen faces of people who seemed to clearly understand what she was talking about and what was expected of me. Although I myself did not have a clue, I was game (and I was truly invested in the subject matter), so I launched into a more detailed exposition of how I felt, adding — to show my gratitude — how helpful it was for me to share my feelings with the group.

When I finished, she said, firmly but with encouragement, looking only at me and at no one else, “Again, Franklin, what you’re telling us is very interesting. But it’s all about your thoughts on the matter, not about your feelings. Please, tell us how you feel.”

Everyone again looked at me, both knowingly and expectantly. My core body temperature felt as if it increased about 10 degrees, but I was not dissuaded. I looked around the room, nodding my head slightly toward each and every person, with the intention of signaling a message to them all, something like, “Oh, I get it. Now I see what you’re asking, so here it comes …”

This time, I more earnestly than ever shared my precise feelings with the group, artfully rewording and summarizing all that I had meant to say already, speaking skillfully and with great passion and conviction, telling my story from the heart but being brief and coming right to the point.

When I was finished, she again announced that I had spoken about thoughts and not feelings, and she went on — seemingly for my benefit alone, for she never took her eyes off of me — to issue an explanation of the difference between “thinking words” and “feeling words.” Then, for good measure, she touted the immense value of “getting in touch” with and sharing one’s emotions.

But honestly, I heard only the bare outline of what she was saying — because I was suddenly and unexpectedly occupied by grappling with a crucial debate about the fight and flight choices taking shape in my head.

Her voice shook me loose from my internal debate: “Franklin,” she said, “you look like you’re angry. Are you angry?”

To which I said, very quickly but calmly — and with deliberate emphasis on being entirely clear about what I was communicating — “No, I am not angry.” (I didn’t say anything more, but I wanted to add, “… even though you’re doing everything in your power to make me angry while this entire circle of unmerciful people-in-touch-with-their-feelings watches me turn into a stone, but I am going to keep my cool no matter what you say or do to me.”)

She paused, perhaps to allow the dialogue in my head to run its course, then began to describe to me — in exquisite detail — how my body posture was similar to that of people who are angry, how my facial expression and my position in my chair and my breathing and what I was doing with my legs and what I was doing with my arms all added up to a person who was obviously angry.

Then she said, with the utmost kindness in her voice, “But you say you are not angry, so I wonder if you could tell us how it is that you actually do feel about our discussion.”

Much to my surprise, all of a sudden — in what seemed to me like a miraculous flash of insight — I was in touch with exactly how I felt. I knew without any doubt whatsoever that I had unquestionably responded positively to this therapy “technique.” In spite of being immersed in anxiety throughout the process (and doing everything in my power not to show it), I was now, at this very moment, unequivocally clear about what my feeling was — and I told everyone (with absolute certainty in my mind and heart that I was having the last word on the topic, knowing deep down inside myself that I was sharing a personal realization as valuable as any I had ever had in my life):

“I feel crazy.”

And she said, “‘Crazy’ is not a feeling.”

Excerpt reprinted with permission from the Grief after Suicide blog.

© 2013 Unified Community Solutions. All Rights Reserved.


Franklin Cook

Franklin Cook is the creator of a peer grief support telephone service called Personal Grief Coaching (http://bit.ly/copewithgrief). He blogs at Grief after Suicide (http://www.personalgriefcoach.info), and his complete, up-to-date bio is available at http://bit.ly/biofjcook. Franklin is a survivor of his father's suicide in 1978.

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