The data collection methods included two semi-structured interviews using photo-elicitation techniques. Upon completion of the written consent and the collection of demographic data, the first interview included open ended questions that invited participants to share details about the accidental death of their male friend[s], as the foundation to describing their relationship to the deceased and initial responses to the death.
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We also invited participants to share their perceptions about how masculinity and being a man informed their pictures and influenced their reactions to the accidental death of a male peer. Participants were given two weeks to complete the photo assignment, at which point a second interview was scheduled.
The participant brought the camera to the meeting and pictures were loaded onto a laptop computer so that they could be viewed by both the interviewer and participant. The second interview was driven by the photographs that participants had taken. Data was collected in and Participants were provided with contact information for professional grief and crisis intervention services.
Interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed-each participant was anonymised by removing all identifying information and the men were given a pseudonym to link interview excerpts to individuals. Photographs were initially loaded into the digital folder designated for each participant which also contained digital recordings of the interviews, interview transcripts and field notes.
Photos were then imported into Atlas. General notes about the context and basic content of the interviews were attached to each primary document as free memos. Photos were electronically linked within Atlas. Descriptors of photographs present in the interview transcripts were noted and attached as memos to the corresponding image. We also did a narrative analysis, which involved examining each interview in its entirety to discern an overarching theme. Included within the findings are some illustrative photographs and their corresponding narratives.
Second, these accounts of grief are examined in the context of how they reflect particular masculine identities in the aftermath of that loss. Participants typically described an intermediary period between hearing of the death and an emotional response in which they experienced unfamiliar disabling immobility and passivity. Damien and a few close friends were on their way from a pre-party to a school sponsored grade 12 graduation celebration.
Neither wanting to pay for a taxi or drive intoxicated, the friends opted to hitch a ride in the back of a van.
In his haste, he did not see the bus intersecting his path. The teenager was struck and killed in front of Damien and his twin sister as well as the other young party goers across the street. He took Photograph 1 , which showed an empty bucket to illustrate how he felt in the days and months following the accident. A poignant example of this was shared by Joe, a year-old man whose friend had died when he fell through a skylight while climbing on the roof of a house during a party.
He recalled a steadfast desire to be strong in the midst of this tragedy but he was unable to embody such masculine ideals. He shared Photograph 2 , an image that depicted his vulnerability and in describing the house as a frame with half built walls and an open roof he drew comparisons to how he felt following the death of his male friend. The vulnerability that Joe and many other participants referred to suggests that manly virtues of strength, decisiveness and self-regulation were disabled by their sudden losses, in ways that left many men unable to publically align with such masculine ideals.
These stories, among several, highlight the dominant socially constructed ideals about how Western men can do grief. To counter vulnerabilities men tended to remain solitary and stoic in order to reinstate some control as to what could be seen and potentially judged by others. In addition, time alone afforded refuge for sorting through un-masculine feelings of sadness and despair privately. Shawn, a year-old, lost his friend to a motorcycle accident.
Following a pre-graduation party his friend boarded his brand new motorcycle impaired and drove towards home.
The Unique Loneliness of Grief
Hitting a patch of gravel next to the highway, he lost control of his bike and struck a telephone pole. Reflecting on the aftermath of the accident, Shawn went onto explain that he, like most men, is unable to cry. Men learn to control their expressions; most revered as a manly virtue is the strength to maintain that control and align to those masculine ideals regardless of the circumstances:. For example, Aiden and his group of male friends reacted strongly to a friend being shot dead by police intervening in a domestic dispute.
I was consumed with anger and [the girls] went straight to the sadness, not to all the anger and stuff. Aiden acknowledged his fleeting interest in avenging the death of his friend as a form of acting out, later on suggesting that some men actually do take that course of action in the heat of the moment.
As Kilmartin reminds us, anger is one of the few losses of control that men are routinely afforded as a manly expression. Others experienced anger as a counterpoint to sadness. It angered me, not for the fact that he passed away, but for the fact of how it happened.
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Within both examples, however, anger was understood as an emotion men may legitimately experience and express. An intense emotional response of sadness was described by some men, and for the most part this was positioned as a potential site of vulnerability. These participants often dwelt in regret, wondering what they might have done differently. Alex, now 25 was 23 when his friend died after driving his truck over an embankment.
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He heard news of the death while he was at work and remembers going to his car and spending the night in the parking lot, unable to drive away:. I guess we were estranged.
Now we never will. The connections between masculinities, culture and grief suggest that, among this subgroup, it may have been more acceptable to express their sadness directly. This was illustrated by Amir, a year-old, who came to Canada as a refugee from Afghanistan when he was a young teen. While steeped in the dominant cultures of his Western peer group, his household maintained the traditions and practices of his Eastern birthplace. As Amir spoke about his sadness, his eyes filled with tears and his voice quivered as he explained that he had actually lost three close friends.
While assuring us he had moved on, enjoyed socializing and had lofty career goals, his sadness was ever present in recounting the intensity and long term impact of what he felt:. I feel, oh God, why do you always take the good ones? I feel sad. Like sadness is coursing through my veins. Participants downstream grief responses emerged in relationship to three predominant masculine identities and we inductively derived three archetypes; the Adventurer, Father Figure and Lamplighter.
The three predominant identities were labelled using phrases from representative participant interviews, and are presented in order from the most to least common. That said, it is important to note that while individual participants tended to embody a specific identity they are not espoused as fixed nor entirely devoid of other identities.
Included were daring activities such as mountain climbing in Nepal, surfing in Thailand and skiing in Europe. Grief, for these men, catalysed action. For example, Chris, a year-old, had a friend die in a mountain bike accident. He understood and described himself as a man of action who was willing to embrace dangers to ensure he experienced all that life had to offer:.
But we just wanted to get a really great shot of the volcano. Rather than returning home to attend the funeral, he continued to travel for several more weeks. He stated that the way he continued to embrace life was the best way of honouring his friend. Chris, like other participants, described his life as primarily driven by a desire to engage in new and exciting adventures. Their lives were transient by design.
Indeed, a feature of the adventurer was his ability to adapt to the availability afforded by any range of unconventional circumstances. Participants who adopted an adventurer identity valued freedom and they were attached only momentarily to any one landscape, person or activity.
This adventurer orientation towards separateness and perhaps solitariness also influenced connections to family and friends. Adventurers connected to like minded individuals to share and witness snippets of their adventures. But, ultimately the narrative of the adventurer was characterised by hedonism and an insensitivity to others. Engaging in public expressions of mourning with other friends was situated as an uncomfortable and even suffocating experience. Associations with women also figured strongly in the adventurer tales, and again, these connections were typically experiential and short—time focussing on physical rather than emotional relations.
For example, Daniel, now 23, was 21 when his friend died of a drug overdose while on a surfing trip in Australia. He spoke extensively of the life he loved to lead, a surf culture featuring women, drugs and alcohol:. Yeah, so I met these girls on the beach and we did some acid, and then somehow we end up at a house all together in this bubble bath. The girls were both strippers and they stripped for me. I ended up taking some pictures.
The adventurer performs these hegemonic ideals of autonomy and bravery alongside invulnerability to pain and grief. Adventurers identities understood the death of a male peer as an ever-present risk in doing the things that young men need and love to do. The father figure identity provided a sharp contrast to the adventurers, in that their central consideration was honouring their responsibility to care for friends and family. Some participants spoke of being a man in a similar way that one might speak of divinity with the power to created and care for that which you are responsible.
Ben, age 20, whose friend was killed in a motor vehicle accident, explained his virtuous desire to be responsible for his actions:. I think being a man is just about taking responsibility and pride for what you as a person are putting into the world. I wanted to get a picture or two of my stepdad and my mom and my sisters in front of the house… just like, as a provider, a husband, a father, a family man, all those responsibilities tied into one as well as a lumberjack.
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Being stronger and tougher and that kind of thing. Men describing a father figure identity embraced the sturdy oak masculine ideal in the aftermath of losing a male friend in ways that were intent on recognizing, and not adding to, the grief of others who had been directly impacted. In addition, there was a strong desire to ensure their own actions would not lead to their death and the grief related pain they had witnessed in others.
Some men positioned their strength around the death of their male peer as supporting others and controlling the emotional outpourings that might flow from such tragic circumstances. The care and loyalty that these participants expressed towards others extended to the memory of their peer who had passed on. Concerned about the potential for stigma or generalisations that their friend might have been just another young man who took thoughtless risks, many men were quick to assert that it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
How do you label somebody as reckless? How do you label anyone after they passed away? Like how do you, like why should you be able to you know? However, the death of their friend led them away from those practices and inspired, in part or whole, their life change. Moreover they wanted to be role models for helping other men to embrace similar changes.
The death gave them pause, prompted introspection about their own lives and catalysed their efforts towards changing for the better. Noah a year-old and his best friend played in a heavy metal band together with four other young men. Along with making music together, the band spent much time partying, with drugs and alcohol ever present.