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Archive for October, 2012

By Pete Reinl, Director of Grief Support Services for Church and Chapel Funeral Homes

My mom, who died 19 years ago, was one of 16 children.  Being one of the oldest she found herself cooking in the kitchen a lot. She cooked for 18 people. Imagine the amount of food she needed to help prepare three times a day.  She was trained to cook in large quantities. I’m one of five children.  Now, imagine the ‘spreads’ mom prepared for us – we had enough leftovers each meal to feed our neighborhood. No matter how hard she tried to keep the amount of food realistic for our family, it just never happened. We would’ve been awfully hungry if we didn’t acquire a taste for leftovers (which I thankfully still have to this day). My mom was quite the cook and loved being in the kitchen. I’ve picked up on her tendency in my cooking to over-do quantity – spaghetti is the worst (mounds of noodles and not enough sauce) – but have also enjoyed inheriting her love of being in the kitchen and cooking.

Oh my, stories and storytelling and story listening…I’m incredibly honored when someone who is grieving chooses to share with me a story about their loved one or a story about their journey of grief.  I believe we’re on ‘sacred ground’ when someone trusts us enough to share such stories. Storytelling is so very important throughout our entire lives, but even more so when we are grieving.

Stories hold such power for both the teller and the listener. In telling their story bereaved people pay honor and respect to their loved ones.  In a sense it is one way of keeping their loved one’s spirit alive. I can’t tell you how often I hear from the bereaved how satisfying it is for them to be able to voice their loved one’s name to others. Equally gratifying is hearing their loved one’s name from someone else telling a story about them. To know their loved one touched others and made an impact in another person’s life can be incredibly moving to a bereaved person. Hearing their name and telling stories help the bereaved shift from a relationship of physical presence with their loved one to a relationship of memory and spirit presence.

In addition, by telling their story the bereaved mark the significance of their loss and want the listener to acknowledge that significance as well. “I want you to know this person in my life…I want you to know how much this person meant to me…And, I want you to know just how significant their passing is to me.”  Often bereaved people find themselves telling their story over and over and over again. This repeating of their story is so important and so natural and so normal. Indeed, it’s in the retelling of their story that the story itself loses its power and gains deeper understanding.  Newly bereaved find themselves tearing-up just at the thought of telling their story and not being able to tell it fully.  While perhaps later – months later – they notice a lump in their throat and tears being shed in telling their story, but they can fully share the entire story. Still later, not only can they tell their story with less detail and fewer tears, but will add to the story more about themselves and how life has changed for them. And even further in their journey of grief the story is yet shorter and filled with more glimpses of how they are re-entering life again.

Mark Nepo in The Book of Awakening writes this about storytelling and story-listening:

Stories are like little time capsules. They carry pieces of truth and meaning over time…It is the sweat and tears of the telling that bring the meaning out of its sleep as if no time has passed. It is the telling that heals…

Often we repeat stories, not because we are forgetful or indulgent, but because there is too much meaning to digest in one expression. So we keep sharing the story that presses on our heart until we understand it all…

The truth is that though we think we know what we are about to say, the story tells us and saves us, in the same mysterious way that breathing is always the same but different.

So, what’s in a story? Well, most everything that’s important. Go ahead, tell the story – tell your story – tell their story. And, please, won’t you please just listen and be fully present and be patient as they share glimpses of their heart, their love, and their lives with you.

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