Victoria Noe

Award-winning Author, Speaker, Activist

"He's A Man"

[caption id="attachment_1287" align="alignleft" width="176"]Silhouette of male person against a colorful horizon.[/caption]

Vice President Joe Biden has long been known as a man who wears his heart on his sleeve. Sometimes that results in public statements that are uncensored. You rarely get the feeling with him that his speeches are canned, rehearsed, carefully vetted. That can be a blessing or a curse, depending on your politics.

Author Mark Liebenow wrote recently about why Biden’s public grief about his son was important. Of the five reasons he gave, the first was of great interest to me:

“He’s a man.”

The final book in the Friend Grief series comes out in April. Friend Grief and Men: Defying Stereotypes will introduce you to a lot of guys like Joe Biden. They are a wide variety of men who all struggled with the grief of losing a friend, often their best friend. In the case of veterans and long-time survivors in the AIDS community, the number of friends lost reached double or even triple digits.

I learned early on that I had a unique advantage when I interviewed people for my books. I’m not a mental health professional. I don’t have a medical degree. I’m not a therapist or counselor. Why would anyone tell their stories? Because I’m not any of those things: I’m just someone who’s interested in hearing about their friendships.

I believed – in an admittedly sexist way – that getting men to talk would be akin to pulling teeth. Time and again they proved me wrong. The first man I interviewed is a sports reporter. Armed with my assumptions, I brought a list of thirty questions when we met in the sports bar he and his best friend called home. Ninety minutes after we sat down, we were on question #3.

At first the conversations felt awkward. All of the men warmed quickly, recounting the history of their friendships and their struggles with grief. Some of them cried, which upset me. It was not my intent to make them cry. But eventually I realized it was a compliment: that they felt comfortable enough with me to let their guard down, even in a public place.

They did so because I wasn’t there to pass judgment or diagnose them. I wasn’t there to tell them how they should feel or behave. I was just there to listen. It’s why I tell people who don’t know what to say to a grieving person: “Just listen”.

Some of the men followed up with emails including more information about their friend or a story they’d forgotten to tell me. One asked me to come back to talk more. Every one of them, I realize now, was smiling and happy when we finished. I assumed they were happy our time was up. But it became clear that they were happy to have shared the most important friendships of their lives. For a little while, as we sat in that bar or diner or office, their friend was alive. The stories told, the tears shed, reminded them of the impact of their friendship.

Maybe you’ll be surprised by the depth of emotion in their stories. Maybe you won’t. But I guarantee you’ll never forget them. And neither will I.