How to In Grief and in Joy Telling Your Story

Recently, I attended the funeral of my uncle, though I found myself making excuses for dismissing my obligation to go. When I read his obituary in the newspaper, I didn’t plan to go to the funeral because I hadn’t seen my cousins in about thirty years. I wouldn’t recognize them, nor would they recognize me.

In the end, I decided that I needed to attend. Even though none of my cousins recognized me, just the mention of my name and whose daughter I was brought forth the dawn of recognition and removed all the barriers that time had imposed. We chuckled over the fact that we all had “aged a little bit” and noted the strong family resemblance that couldn’t be denied.

Telling stories is an important part of healing grief. In our Wings¬© grief education series, we strongly emphasize story preparation that gives the griever control of whatever details and emotions he or she is willing to reveal. We all know the feeling of being “surprised” when someone asks blunt questions about our loved one’s death or says something that empties our emotional deposit of tears.

Plan your response to sensitive questions

Your story should answer: “What happened? How did he die?” This can be a short or long answer, whatever is most comfortable for you. It will likely vary depending upon who is asking the question. When death is natural or anticipated, we may find it easier to tell the story. There may be some relief that suffering is over or that the life was well-lived. When a death was sudden or unexpected, the griever may be very emotional about the details. Some people may be curious and pry for more information than you are willing to share, so plan to prevent a defensive reaction to innocent comments that seem insensitive. People sometimes speak without thinking how their remark may sound-and we react.

When our son, Chad died as a result of suicide, I was very sensitive to this social taboo. I shuddered when someone asked me what happened, wishing I didn’t have to answer. When I wasn’t comfortable, I subtly dismissed the question and volunteered “other” information. People usually don’t press for details when you do that. Know what makes you uncomfortable and plan your story so you can minimize touching your emotional reservoir, even if it means not responding to some questions asked or giving very brief details.

Encourage Imagination

Your story should answer: “I remember the time when… ” Everyone feels comfortable over a good chuckle or an adventurous story. Tell humorous accounts of human blunders or reveal stories of risks taken, accomplishments made and forgotten dreams. When you tell your story, find ways to excite the listener’s imagination so that he or she can visualize exactly what you are saying. We live vicariously through the stories of others.

Some of your best stories will come from people who came to pay their respects and share a memory with you. The evening of Chad’s visitation, my husband picked up a photo that was among our son’s belongings from an Army National Guard training in Utah a few months earlier. Chad appeared in the photo with three officers, but we didn’t know the story that went with the photo. When the officers who came to his funeral saw the photo, they finished the amusing story behind the mischievous grin that Chad wore. This story has been an important part of our memories since that day and reminds us that everybody loves a story and the stories of life are priceless.

Your story is a gift

When you tell it, you disclose your love and the soul connection you have with the person who died. Nothing is more sacred or more respected than the memory that lingers. Stories, whether you are telling them or hearing them from someone else are the windows to the heart. The hope that emerges redefines you. You are who you are, partly because of your relationship with the person who died. The stories of a life lived can enrich and bless you, and the lives of those still living.