By Drew McLachlan
Britain’s national charity for young widows and widowers is hoping that the recent documentary following former footballer Rio Ferdinand’s experiences after losing his wife will lead to a change in the way men approach grieving, breaking down the typical image of a stiff upper lip.
Vicky Anning, a spokesperson for Widowed and Young (WAY), spoke to Eastern Eye about the challenges men often face after losing a spouse.
She said: “Men find it harder to talk about grief and the emotions around loss… There are underlying factors, including the fact that men find it more difficult to ask for help and to turn to people for support.”
According to Anning, WAY, which operates as a peer-to-peer network for bereaved people under 50, has been putting a greater emphasis on bringing men, including those with an ethnic minority background, into the group.
Over the past decade, Anning said, the number of men involved with WAY has steadily increased, though membership remains overwhelmingly female. Of the group’s 2,400 members, roughly 480, or 20 per cent, are male – which closely reflects the ratio of widowers to widows.
Despite the demographic shift, WAY is still struggling to convince minority ethnic men to reach out for support.
“We don’t have a huge population of Asian members, but we would like to reach out to more ethnic minorities,” Anning said.
“If there are like-minded people from similar communities who are involved with WAY, that obviously attracts more people of that interest. People do find it very helpful to speak to other people who have had that specific experience they’ve gone through.”
Ali Azfar, a dentist from West Yorkshire, spoke to Eastern Eye about his personal journey through the grieving process after losing his wife of 17 years, Eleanor, to brain cancer nearly three years ago.
“In my head I had this notion that she would pass away and I would get over it after a period of time, and when that period of time was over I would resume my life again, possibly with someone else,” Azfar, 50, said. “But it isn’t like that.
“It’s been nearly three years since she passed away and I don’t feel like I can or even want to go back to living my life the way I did before.
“You have to learn to live with the fact she’s no longer here, but you still live almost like that part of your life never closes, you never get over it. It’s always there.”
Azfar first got involved with WAY roughly two years ago, and in that time he said he has yet to come across another Asian man at one of the group’s events.
He said that he’s “perplexed” by the fact, and could only guess as to why that is the case.
“They either don’t think it’s for them, or maybe they think it’s a dating agency. People have asked me before if I’m there to meet somebody,” he said. “In general, there are a lot fewer men. Every event I go to, every meeting, every Facebook group, there are always fewer men.”
Azfar said that after a period of time had passed following his wife’s death, he began to feel pressured by relatives to remarry, an experience he referred to as a “commonality in culture”.
He said: “People look upon you as being incompetent, particularly when it comes to children. They expect men to not be able to cope with the situation as well as women, which, in the Asian community, is traditionally the woman’s role.
“Even though that same perception – that men are less capable than women and need help – exists in British society, I think it’s quite magnified in the Asian community. Certainly, the amount of pity and sheer holding your hands up in horror you get is worse.
“They are absolutely aghast that you are in this situation: ‘It must be terrible for you.How are you coping? Have you got your mother to come and help you?’ That’s what I’ve come across.”
Along with Widowed and Young, a number of organisations exist to offer support to bereaved men and women:
- Grief Encounter provides free support to bereaved children and families.
- The Child Bereavement Network offers advice for parents and their children.
- Gingerbread has online tools for single parents.
- Turn2Us offers information for those seeking financial support.