AUSTRALIAN cricket captain Michael Clarke choked back tears as he read a statement paying tribute to his teammate Philip Hughes.

"Words cannot express what we all feel as a team right now," he said as he broke down, paused, and began again. It was an extraordinary, heart-wrenching moment.

Those inside -- and many outside -- the world of cricket shared their feelings about Hughes' death on Facebook. There were countless Twitter tributes.

Thousands around the world put cricket bats outside or in windows in an orchestrated memorial. Google put a cricket bat on its homepage.

Australian soccer player Tim Cahill put his football out and encouraged fellow professionals to do the same. Elton John dedicated Don't let the Sun Go Down on Me to Hughes at a Munich concert.

At the 25-year-old batsman's funeral on Wednesday, more than 700 people crammed into the chapel.

Thousands more gathered to watch on a giant screen at a nearby sports field. More still gathered to watch it broadcast at the SCG, Melbourne's Federation Square, the Gabba and Brisbane's Southbank, the Waca, the Adelaide Oval and Bellerive Oval.

Australian television screened it live and the footage was streamed on news websites around the world.

Such a global outpouring of grief is a relatively new concept, unfavourably dubbed "mourning sickness". New technology has proved a catalyst for this collective grief.

University of Auckland sociologist Tracey McIntosh says it springs up when a well-known person dies unexpectedly or in an unusual way.

"The deaths of those we love remain a tragedy for the families concerned -- but they remain private unless one of those people is well known or there's some sort of atypical death. When you grieve as a collective, it draws you together and feelings of isolation may dissipate."

McIntosh says public grief has history -- after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated his body was toured around so people could pay their respects. But the spontaneous memorialisation, driven by social media, compounds the grieving.

It allows us, she says, to think of ourselves as members of a community that cares, which in turn makes us feel less alone.

But one of McIntosh's colleagues calls those who pour their hearts out over someone they've never met "grief groupies".

The most marked example was the 1997 death of Princess Diana.

Thousands of people spent the first 48 hours after news of the Paris car crash sobbing in disbelief. Tens of thousands lined streets in London as the horse-drawn carriage bearing the Princess of Wales' body made its way to Westminster Abbey.

It built to a frenzy as television channels around the world played non-stop images and footage of the princess. People said they cried more for Diana than they their parents.

This year, the sudden death of Robin Williams drew grief from fans and, in the age of Facebook, people around the world posted online tributes to the comedian. The death of 81-year-old comedian and Fashion Police host Joan Rivers drew a similar response and, before that, Michael Jackson's death in 2009 created a frenzy of public mourning.

Val Leveson, of Auckland's Grief Centre, says the fact that people have not met the person they are mourning does not matter. "It's almost as if they know the person because he or she has had such a public life."

People connect strongly to celebrities and care for the person they thought they were, she says. "They become part of the landscape, and their deaths can feel quite shocking."

Not only is who we grieve for changing to include celebrities but how we grieve is also different. What used to be called masculine and feminine types of grieving are now referred to as "instrumental" and "intuitive".

Instrumental grief, traditionally a male trait, is active -- doing things to take your mind off something. Women are typically intuitive, expressive grievers.

Gil Elliott dealt with the brutal murder of his daughter, Sophie, by keeping busy: Arranging a death notice; organising a casket. Six years later, he's still going.

"I'm 72. I probably should have thought about retiring but I'd have to have something tangible to do. I just keep as busy as I possibly can."

Elliott says he didn't feel pressure to not cry but there was so much to do that there almost wasn't time.

"You have to think about the funeral notice, the funeral. I never thought we'd have to do that. There's so much you have to do in a short period of time, you grieve after that.

"[My wife] Lesley cries a lot -- I know because she told me -- even now, 6 years later. I don't. I'm just thankful we had her for 22 years. She was absolutely amazing and I'm thankful for all that."

McIntosh says these differences are driven by social expectations.

"The expectation in many societies is that women experience grief in a more overt manner and men are expected to be more restrained. But there have been real changes in that.

"There's a greater level of openness for young men to experience grief in a more open way, particularly when they lose people significant to them from their own peer group.

"There are a number of ways they can be seen to grieve, or openly cry. It's not just tolerance but a higher level of acceptance."

McIntosh says most of her peers would never have seen their fathers cry while they were growing up.

"Now they're much more likely to have. Attitudes have changed and there is a far greater repertoire of ways to respond to grief for men and women."

University of Otago anthropologist Cyril Schafer agrees a lot of what we think of as the natural male and female responses to grief are social constructs. Responses in other cultures and countries vary.

A study of infant mortality in the slums of Brazil found in communities with high rates of infant mortality and poverty, mothers did not exhibit the emotions we would consider normal in the death of a child.

"In New Zealand a great tragedy brings all kinds of emotions. To not be visibly upset is unthinkable but there, mothers did not exhibit these things. There isn't a universal emotionality."

Men who keep to themselves and don't have a large community around them can also struggle, says counsellor Suzi Wallis. "The way we live here can be isolated and it's tough to get enough support."

She says a lot of men feel pressure to put their own grief on hold to tend to a partner who is more openly expressing hers. "He might put his stuff aside and it comes out later and takes him by surprise. Grief is patient, it sits and waits until you choose to express it or it becomes so uncomfortable, you have to."

After Hughes' death even Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, who had never met Hughes, admitted he'd cried. "When I heard about it I cried because there's something that touches you about it, how unfortunate it is."

The public tears shed by sportspeople are a sharp contrast to 30 years ago. When Kim Hughes, Australia's cricket captain resigned in 1984, his tearful performance made headlines. Rather than break down on camera, he walked away and left his team manager to read his statement on his behalf.

But while young men - and especially high-profile ones - are embracing their right to shed a tear, there remains a portion of the Kiwi male population that baulks at the idea of displaying their emotions.

Tricia Hendry, deputy chief executive of grief support trust Skylight, still sees a lot of men struggling with the expectation that they'll keep a stiff upper lip.

"There's still this idea that grief equals tears, equals weak. Women are a lot more in tune with their emotions but for men it can become paralysing."

When Hendry's husband, Michael Irving, committed suicide 17 years ago, her children -- she had three under 10 -- reacted in different ways.

"One cried for years. Another didn't and said to me 'does that mean I love my dad less?' and I said 'no, it just means you're wired differently, and you're grieving differently. We're all hurting. We just show it in different ways.'"

But for couples it can become a problem when men and women express their grief in different ways.

In many cases marriages fall apart after there has been a sudden or traumatic death. Hendry says that's partly because people expect their partners to grieve in the same way they do.

"It's so easy for women to judge and come to wrong conclusions when that's not understood."

She knew of a couple where the woman thought her husband wasn't feeling anything after their son died.

The husband explained to a counsellor that he wanted to be strong for his wife. But every night he secretly crept into the boy's room to smell his training shoes.

"We went running together most days and it helps me feel closer to him," he had said. "I don't know why I didn't tell my wife. It was just so private and so painful."

Leveson says there is no right way to grieve. You might shed tears at the drop of a hat or you might be the type who would only cry in the most stricken of situations. But if you never express any grief at all, that is a problem.

"Grief does have to happen," she says. The hardest time for a lot of people is four to six months after a loss. "There's a lot of support in the first couple of weeks, then people think they should be over it.

"Four to six months is the hardest time, particularly with the loss of close loved ones. The shock has worn off and the support has worn off. It's very real but a new real," Leveson says.

The bad news is that "closure" as we think of it may not really exist. Leveson likens grief to an earthquake. Soon after, the aftershocks come thick and fast but as time passes they become fewer and further apart.

"It gets less but it can happen years later. People say 'how long will I grieve?' and the answer is 'you'll grieve as long as you grieve'.

"There's not really any such thing, as [closure] -- it's not about forgetting about the person, it's about continuing the bond."

Many people build enduring bonds with the person who has died. She says this is a healthy response and the idea of "letting go" is outdated.

"It's about accepting the person is no longer there and learning to love someone you loved in life, in death. Realising that they'll always be a part of you. You don't have to let them go and forget them."


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