“It has been said that next to hunger and thirst, our most basic human need is for storytelling.” – Khalil Gibran
The very first gift I gave to my newborn baby niece was a book. I took it to her before she even left the hospital. My mother thought I was nuts. If I had it to do all over again, I’d still take her a book. Maybe two.
As that baby niece grew and I soon welcomed another baby niece, the books continued, but a different style of “story” began to take place. The bedtime story became a regular request, sometimes read from a favorite book and sometimes a made-up story. Those made up stories often began with “once upon a time….”
Somewhere along the way, the made-up stories became fewer and farther apart when the “I remember” stories caught on. My nieces enjoyed hearing about themselves as babies, and enjoyed, even more, stories about their parents, grandparents, and other family members.
Stories are powerful forms of communication. They’ve been with us as long as there have been people to fashion thought into a form to share with others, in oral tradition forms, and in written forms. Stories tell where we come from and where we’re going. Stories define us and set us apart. Stories connect us and bind us to each other. Stories have the ability to touch all our emotions.
I tend to think about stories in two very broad categories: the “once upon a time” stories and the “I remember” stories. While there may be many commonalities in these broad categories, I see a great difference in their purposes.
A “once upon a time” story may be created out of real events as well as purely fabricated ideas. They are often used for entertainment or to make a point or to help its hearer make a meaningful discovery or better understand a situation. We need stories like this to help us navigate our life’s journey. These stories are told in many different ways: experienced in lectures and conversations, books and movies, art and music and dance, just to mention a few ways.
An “I remember” story comes from real-life experiences. An “I remember” story is born out of the laughter and tears, the struggles and triumphs, the blessings and burdens of daily life. It is told from the perspective of a life lived alone and in connection with the people, we call family and friends.
Both categories of stories are necessary in life and both serve their own purposes in an individual’s life.
Stories, I believe, are also very important in our work with loss and grief in our lives. They may even be an essential part of our grief process. When we share our stories as a part of our grief work, we enter an area where amazing things can happen.
To tell our story out of our grief is a way of affirming the life of the one who died, or affirming that nonhuman entity which we see as a loss.
To tell our story out of our grief is a way of moving our grief along.
To tell our story out of our grief is a gift to others, for they may discover for themselves a much-needed insight from our experiences.
Sharing stories out of grief experiences, although a healthy thing to do, is also a risky thing to do. After all, it takes a level of confidence or, maybe, just raw nerve to be able to do so. If we risk sharing our story we have no idea how it may be received. And it’s in this realization that I find a major difference in my categories for stories.
A “once upon a time” story usually has a definite beginning and a definite ending. Often, the ending we are hoping for in this type of story comes in the form of “…happily ever after.” How wonderful it is when that’s the case, but how devastating it can be in some circumstances if that’s not the outcome.
On the other hand, an “I remember” story is fluid. It will have a beginning of some sort as a thought is shared, but often this type of story ends by simply trailing off or in silence or in a nod or a smile. This story is fluid because it’s told as it continues to be lived, day in and day out, as perspectives change, and personal growth takes place.
Bereavement is learning to live your story and how to share it in order for it to help you move through your grief. It’s okay to tell your story over and over again as often as you need to. It’s in the telling and receiving affirmation from your hearers that growth is given an opportunity to happen. It can be a painful thing to do, but it can, also, be a cleansing thing to do. Find the person or people who will receive your story as a sacred part of yourself and who will hold it as just that.
Hospice & Community Care provides space where you are welcomed to share your story. Support groups and individual counseling are available because your story is important. Give me a call! I’m always ready for a story, especially if it begins, “I remember…”
Lee Ann Livingston, Hospice & Community Care Counselor
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