United in Courage & Grief 

Telling the story of the grief gives a voice to the loss.
- Kirsti A. Dyer, MD, MS
The Healing Effect of "Telling the Story"

One of the things I have been struck by in this event is how important it has been for people to tell their story. Whether a survivor of the incident, a friend or family member awaiting news, families dealing with the painful loss of a lost loved one, the people who have been influenced by the incident or capturing the events on home video, the medical responders they are all telling and sharing their story--again and again. These stories have been repeated in the media, written in magazines and papers and posted on a variety of sites on the Internet.

The telling of the story is helpful for the grieving who have lost someone, or the hopeful who still have a love one;  through story the grieving person can recount the memory of a loved one alive by remembering and sharing the details of the loss or remembering the life of the person lost. Stories are also important to the secondary victims--those who have been traumatized by watching and hearing of the events. For the millions of secondary victims, hearing the stories helps to put faces and names to the incident--turning it from a surreal experience that looked like a disaster film, into the harsh reality of the act of terrorism.

We have heard and watched the stories of courage and bravery of the firefighters, police officers and paramedics who met those evacuating the building on their way into the scene, as they responded to help others still trapped in the building. We have also heard of the courage and bravery of "ordinary" people who heard a call and answered in an extraordinary way--those many of the passengers on Flight 93 who stood up to the hijackers, those who helped strangers down the many flights of stairs to safety, and the rescue workers who have search seemingly tirelessly for survivors

There is a light in this world, a healing spirit
more powerful than any darkness we may encounter.
We sometime lose sight of this force
when there is suffering, and too much pain.
Then suddenly, the spirit will emerge
through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call
and answer in extraordinary ways.
-Mother Teresa

Telling the story and listening to each other's stories is of particular help when trying to reframe a tragic event and make some sense of the loss by remembering the life that has ended too soon. The stories of courage and bravery give us hope reminding us of the healing spirit, the light in this world more powerful than any darkness we might encounter. Sharing the stories not only keep the memory alive, but by the telling of heroism, especially in those who have died, we the living can continue to learn from, be enriched by and in some cases saved by their last heroic deeds. By having places to tell the story, people have the opportunity to try and make sense of the senseless, revealing that even in the face of adversity and evil the human spirit prevails. The healing process begins as the grieving person is able share their story of their grief and give voice to the loss. We need to remember in this time of grief that

One of the most valuable things we can do to heal one another
—is listen to each other's stories.

-Rebecca Falls

For those who would like to share their thoughts, how they are coping with this tragedy, post a remembrance message, tell their story, share resources that have been helpful, or respond to someone else's message we are opening up the new message forum for Journey of Hearts, "Transformations on the Journey." http://www.amip.org/jofh/guestbook

The article that follows is one that I wrote for the Professional Course on the Somatic Aspects of Loss & Grief that I taught this summer through the University of California Berkeley Extension.

Stories of courage and bravery give us hope reminding us of the healing spirit,
the light in this world more powerful than any darkness we might encounter.

Telling the Story and Healing the Loss
As a professional—healthcare provider, therapist, counselor—or as a friend, a family member you cannot take away the pain that friends, family members, patients or clients may be feeling following a loss. This may be a very disheartening, frustrating and discouraging experience. Something you can do, that is potentially very helpful is really listen to their stories. There is a healing, nurturing relationship that transpires between the storyteller and the listener.

Grief involves telling the story of the loved one's death
until you don't feel the need to talk about it any more.

- Rev Charles Bidwell

Telling the Story is one of the oldest healing arts; it is an effective, universal and effective way for the grieving person to cope with a loss and work through the grieving process. The importance of the need to talk, and the need to share the story has been well documented within the grief literature as a means of helping to heal from a loss. Grieving individuals should be encouraged to tell the story as often as they might need to as part of the healing process. Telling and retelling the story of grief is a way of helping to make the loss real. Each time the story is repeated, the reality of the loss becomes more undeniable. [1-3]

Let the person in need of comfort talk! Let him or her talk about people..events..feelings. One of the major tasks of grief is for the loss to become real. Listening to someone talk will aid this process. Each time the story is repeated, the reality becomes more realized. Listen particularly for feelings. Accept these feelings without judgment.
-Hardy Clemons

By telling of story and listening to each other's stories, we are able to make sense of our own life experiences, to reframe the situation and try to make sense of the loss. Stories help us explore other possible ways of doing, feeling, thinking and behaving. It is healing for the grieving person to tell the story of their grief and give voice to the loss. Through story the grieving person can recount the importance of the loss or the memory of a loved one alive by remembering and sharing the details of the loss or the life of the person lost. Initially the story may be told with all of the smallest details included. In time, and with each retelling, the story typically becomes shorter; it becomes a way of acknowledging and accepting the reality of the loss. It is through the telling and sharing of stories that we share our most fundamental truths from one heart to the next. [3-4]

A common custom at memorial services is for friends and family to share stories—the special moments, jokes and treasured memories of the person lost—about the one who has died. These recollections can bring a sense of joy in remembering happy times and serve to lighten the sadness of loss. Telling the Story can be particularly helpful when the death has resulted from particularly painful circumstances. Michael Williams said "Anyone who tells a story speaks a world into being." Especially in difficult situations, there is even more of a reason to remember and "speak into being" the life that has ended too soon. Sharing the stories helps to reinforce the fact that just because a life is over, it doesn't mean that the life can't continue to enrich and bless the living. [2]

One of the most interesting observations we have made in dealing with the grieving population on the Journey of Hearts website has been the pervasive need to "Tell the Story" and share their experiences either as private e-mails, posting their stories or experiences in the "Transformations on the Journey" guestbook, or by sending poems, stories, quotes or inspirational messages to be included on the website. One of our fundamental beliefs is that "recovery [from the loss] starts when you have healed enough to be able to tell your story, to share your experiences or coping techniques, with others who are going through their own grief process." We can heal ourselves in the "Telling the Story." [1]

Creating a Healing Story

Each time I tell my story, I remove one small bit of hurt from inside me.
I ease my wound.

-Carol Staudacher

We all have our own stories by which we explain the world and our place in it. These stories are given to us early in life by those who help to orient us in the world. When change occurs, many of us hang on to the old stories that once upon a time made sense to use, but in the new situation have become dysfunctional. To maintain health, we have to examine how our personal, cultural and religious stories are working. If the stories are no longer working, then we need to rewrite them and create a healing story. The negative, dysfunctional stories learned in childhood can create problems later in life if they are not somehow altered. Rewriting a new story to tell is a powerful and effective way of taking control over life's challenges. Being able to make choices creates a more positive environment, both at an emotion and a cellular level—one that promotes health. Hammerschlag and Silverman believe that "No matter how bad things get, you can choose to create your story in a new and healthier way." [3]

Whosoever survives a test,
Whatever it may be,
Must tell the story.
That is his duty.
- Elle Wiesel

Creating a healing story takes on a new meaning for survivors. Surviving a significant loss such as the loss of a loved one is its own kind of test. Those who survived a loss are forever changed and transformed by the loss. Survivors know of the importance of telling the story, over and over again, until there is no longer a need to tell it anymore. [5] Elle Wiesel, a survivor of the Concentration Camps, tells of "the duty" of the survivor to relate the story of how one got through the ordeal after withstanding a test. Martha Whitmore Hickman elaborates more on "the duty." [2]

To tell our story is a way of affirming the life of the one we have lost—the experiences we had together, the favorite family stories. To tell the story is also a way of moving our grief along, and so contributes to our own healing. But it is also a gift to others—to tell not only the story of the life that has passed, but our own story in relation to this event—how we got through it.
Furthermore, she advises that "It's all right to be confused and not know what to do [following a loss]…if there are moments of light and hope, of wondrous support and faith—why we need to tell those stories, too." [2]

Danish hospital chaplain Christian Busch has used the healing power of stories for many years the practice of palliative care. He advises that the bereaved—patients, families or friends—should write their own individual healing story, starting with the story of loss, grief and bereavement and reframing the story to one of warmth, pleasure and keeping hold of the memory of the loved one lost. [6]

While we can listen to the stories of others, and they can listen to ours,
perhaps the most healing feature is that
We, the storyteller, get to hear our own story.

-Charles Whitfield
Benefits of Honoring the Stories
Alan Wolfelt shares the important lesson learned from his father in honoring his father's life story—how "storying" brings meaning and purpose to the life and death experiences. It is particularly important when working with the bereaved, to honor their stories all of them—the stories of love and loss, pain and joy, hopes fulfilled and dreams lost. [7]

There are many benefits of honoring other's stories:

The need to tell the story and have it heard prevails in many cultures and in many countries. Equally important is the need to have safe places to acknowledge the reality of loss, embrace pain, secure memories, search for meaning and receive ongoing support. It is primarily through having places to "story" that people have the opportunity to try and make sense of the senseless, to embrace what needs to be embraced and to reveal that the human spirit prevails. [7]

In the telling of my story, I share what is most precious to me.
As often as I need to, I will tell my story.

- Martha Whitmore Hickman
1.  Dyer K. Thompson CD. Internet use for Web-Education on the Overlooked Areas of Grief and Loss. Cyber Psychology & Behavior. 2000: 3(2);255-270.
2.  Hickman MW. Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief. New York, N.Y.: Avon Books, 1994,  Readings - January 16, May 2.
3.  Hammerschlag CA. Silverman HD. Healing Ceremonies: Creating Personal Rituals for Spiritual, Emotional, Physical and Mental Health. New York, N.Y: A Perigee Book: 1997. p.5.
4.  Strouse S. Simply Listen: Helping Others Cope With Grief. Ohio State University Fact Sheet, Family Life Month Packet 1999 FLM-NR-12-99 Available at: http://www.ag.ohio-state.edu/~ohioline/flm99/nr12.html
5.  Staudacher C. A Time to Grieve. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994, p. 61
6.  Busch CJ. On creating a healing story: One Chaplain's Reflections on Bereavement, Loss and Grief. Innovations in End-of-Life Care. 2001;3(3):http://www2.edc/prg/lastacts/buschreflections.asp
7.  Wolfelt A. The Awesome Power of "Telling The Story": Why I'm Proud to be a Grief Counselor. December 1999. Available at http://www.centerforloss.com/library/centerforloss/contents.asp
Other Resources and Information:
United in Courage and Grief - Introduction Page
Why does my heart feel so bad?
What is Different about this Event?
The Importance of Telling the Story
Wake-up Call for the World
Health Concerns for Witnesses
Blessings, Lyrics, Poems & Quotes
Remembering Our Children
Helping Children to Cope with Tragedy
More Resources
Ways of Helping & Coping
Share your thoughts Transformations on the Journey
Page posted October 7, 2001.
In Memory of all those lost and forever missing from the events on September 11, 2001, the day our world changed.
This article is part of the syllabus created for the Professional Course on the Somatic Aspects of Loss & Grief  offered this summer through the University of California Berkeley Extension.
The ribbon art was created by Alon Cohen. Available at: http://people.bu.edu/xrpnt/ribbons/
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