Throughout our lives, we love to tell stories. Telling our children about the day they were born, or how their Mommy and Daddy met. We love to tell funny stories, old stories, and sad stories… but the one that may be most important to share: your grief story.
You may not have ever called it that, but a grief story is something every griever has and it’s one of the most important parts of the bereavement process.
I find for most the grief story follows a familiar pattern:
- The events preceding and just leading up to the diagnosis or event – this is important because it will forever be the last time the griever feels they were living sort of blissfully unaware of the illness and loss that was about to consume their lives
- For a long term illness- the days, diagnosis, procedures and appointments that followed – even someone with a bad memory seems to be able to remember every step of their loved one’s illness…what doctor they saw, the prognosis they were given, and when and where surgeries were performed
- And for both sudden loss and loss after a long term illness- the phone call or discovery – this is the official moment where everything changed forever. Regardless of what type of loss, most grievers will report feeling shock and numbness. Every detail of not just this day, but this moment, will stay etched in a griever’s memory. And for some, the sights and sounds associated with this moment, this loss, or the days leading up to it, can cause an almost post-traumatic stress.
I once ran a support group where I asked everyone to go around, say their name, who they lost, how recently, and some circumstances surrounding their loss. I’ll admit, I expected a 30-second or so introduction that would go something like, “my name is Janet, and I lost my husband to prostate cancer back in July”. But what followed was something totally different. As each person went around they said their name, who they lost and how recently…but they also shared a very detailed narrative that described the timeline leading up to the loss itself.
An hour and a half after we started, the last person had shared their grief story, and I realized our meeting never quite got past the introductions. Though I went in with an agenda and had things I planned to discuss that day, it was clear that one of the most healing things they could do that day was just talk about their loss, and share that story.
Those who haven’t experienced a significant loss may not understand that a lot of grievers feel almost compelled to tell their grief story, however unpleasant that may seem.
I’ve spoken to so many grievers and seen this pattern repeated so many times that I realized that sharing this grief story is not just the result of a talkative griever, but an absolute necessity for some. What’s interesting is the repetition to it and the sense you get that even if you’re hearing it for the first time, they’ve shared it many times (or that they have repeated it in their own heads over and over). It is almost unintentionally rehearsed, like a speech or a message… like it’s something they just have to get out and say.
So why would this be? If telling stories usually brings to mind the joyful memories we like to share, why would anyone want to talk about something so hard and so painful?
In loss, there is simply so much to comprehend. So for some, it may be a way to process what has happened.
In a long term illness, there is a lot of new information coming in at once. Doctors visits, medications prescribed, changing prognosis. And the stress level and the stakes are so high, I find a lot of grievers are still trying to process everything that occurred during their loved one’s illness…even after they are gone.
And for those with a sudden loss? I won’t say it’s worse, but as I’ve said before, it’s different. Bottom line, with a sudden loss there was just no time to mentally prepare for what life would be like without a loved one in it.
So the grief story helps. While it may be incredibly painful, we need to take time to reconcile in our minds what has happened. I won’t call it acceptance, necessarily, as for so many that implies assent. But most grievers realize that if they have any chance of moving forward, it’s only going to be if they can have an opportunity to talk about their loss and make room in their reality for this unbelievable loss.
Because the disbelief lasts longer than we’d think. The direction our life took, the things that were supposed to happen that didn’t or never will…the only way to even begin to understand that is in the re-telling of the grief story.
For most, friends and loved ones are great in the beginning. But a lot of grievers will tell me that over time they feel like they’re saying the same thing to the same people… “I can’t keep burdening my kids with this,” or, “I just don’t think my friends want to hear this anymore”.
And that’s where finding our peers comes in. We usually think of peers in school-age terms, something that signifies an association based on age, similar interests and experiences. But finding our peers is important in all parts of life. In fact, I often say that later in life it’s even more important.
In loss, it’s about finding those with whom we have our grief in common. It’s about finding those who will listen to our grief story and show us that we’re not alone. We’re not “crazy”. This loss happened and every day we’re trying to figure out how to process it. Sharing our story can help…
There’s a reason why our main forum is titled “See & Share Stories“, because we recognize just how important that is. We would love for you to join us, and connect with others who will understand.
And finally, even though our website is designed to connect those who are grieving, and we believe strongly in the bonds grief can create, we recognize how different everyone is, and how unique coping styles can be.
If you’re not a talker, if you’re not a group person, or if you feel that it’s just too painful and too private to share, write it down. Put these thoughts on paper. You’ll be amazed what it feel likes to get it out, and to see how much this type of purge can help.