Why We Need to Tell the Story of the One We Lost
By M. Donna MacLeod
“I don’t want to forget my John,” Regina said, staring at the photograph of her husband that she brought to our group. “But it’s difficult to remember the warmth of his smile, the way he laughed. It’s as if he’s fading from my memory, piece by piece.”
Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a pioneer in the study of grief and grieving, found that telling the story of your departed loved one can honor that love, lighten the burden of loss, and bring you healing and consolation.
Working your way through.
Suffering in silence only intensifies the pain of grieving. You need an outlet for your emotions, a way to think things through, a chance to acknowledge that your spirit may be suffering too. You can get through grief. The key is to tell the story. Let’s look at some ways to do it.
Find a good listener.
Not just any listener will do when you are stricken with grief. You need someone willing to be present to your pain and suffering, to enter into it with you as a caring presence.
When a good listener speaks, it’s to acknowledge your pain, affirm your attempts at coping, or appreciate you as a person. A good listener is willing to hear the same story again and again until you piece together the fragments and make some sense out of them. And don’t be afraid to share your story with God, the Great Listener, who alone can mend your wounded heart and spirit.
Write the story down.
“I never would have written a word about Tommy, my son who died in Afghanistan,” Teresa told the group, “but my daughter, Janine, married a terrific guy who wants to know all the details about her growing up with Tommy. Writing helps me focus on the good times.” By putting pen to paper, Teresa discovered another way to connect to fond memories.
Perhaps you would rather write a letter to your deceased loved one to say things that you didn’t get to say. Or you could send a consoling note to someone who is grieving the loss you are. Or you could keep a daily journal of your grief journey. Just let the spirit within you speak from your heart.
Don’t be afraid to pick up a pen or pound away at a keyboard. It helps you heal.
Perhaps you have a talent that could capture the essence of your loved one. You may have made a picture board for the wake or funeral service. Now might be the time to transform it into a scrapbook that has touchable articles that add texture to the memories. Beyond everyday items, consider how you can honor something that your loved one treasured.
Sometimes grief can sap all your energy, leaving you without a creative thought. Be gentle with yourself. Maybe you can’t sew a special pillow or hunt for secret recipes, but you might be able to light a candle for your loved one or find peace by sitting in his or her favorite armchair. Any act to acknowledge the one you lost may lift your spirit.
Honor your loved one.
You can celebrate the life of your departed loved one with others. On special occasions you could offer a toast, place flowers on a grave or scattering site, worship God to give thanks for your life together, or attend a remembrance service at a hospice, bereavement group, or place of worship.
Telling the story of the one you lost is a fitting way to honor the life and love you shared with each other. As you wait in faith for the Kingdom to come, take heart in the words of St. John Chrysostom: “Those whom we love and lose are no longer where they were before. They are now wherever we are.”