Having lost two members of my immediate family recently, I have had occasion to consider grief and the effects that this has on all of us. I have seen how grief affects everyone so differently and have truly worried about how this affects young children.
My questions to myself were … what do I do? How do I deal with this? How do I help my child and my husband with their grief as well? In the end, it came down to what do I do best, that can help?
The answer was ‘Stories’. We are always told that communication is the key, that we must talk about our feelings and express our grief in some way. Not everyone is capable of doing this. Men often don’t have the words that will effectively express their thoughts and feelings, they are taught ( or believe ) that this in some way weakens them, children also may have difficulty speaking up or even wanting to, hoping that it will all just go away.
Stories; however, are different. They are easier to present in spoken or even written form because they don’t directly deal with ‘feelings’ or complicated concepts. Stories may be related in first person or not, depending on the ability or sensitivity of each person. Stories can be funny, sad, recent or drawn from the past and these remembrances may be articulated without the guilt that speaking in such a way is somehow wrong – it’s only a story, not a statement or personal belief or even a condemnation. Stories may even assist by allowing people to gradually take the steps through all the stages and levels of grief.
In our case, the stories were all personal. Every member of the family had a story to share, many stories interconnected so one or two of us could contribute extra information or laugh or cry at different perspectives, thus bringing us closer together. We rediscovered times and places, holidays, Christmases, girlie shopping trips, childhood games … the list goes on ( and on )!
Storytelling is a natural part of communication. Children relate the events of the day, funny ( or frustrating ) things that happened in class or the playground. Adults also share the days events, their conversations with workmates, their child/young adulthood antics and plans for the future. This style of storytelling allows everyone, regardless of age, ability, language. culture or embarrassment level to be able to bring some kind of a story to the table.
These family stories have brought our family together, although we live geographically apart. Extended family, with their own stories, have been able to contribute, express their own grief and bond over each tale. These stories provided the material for two of the most amazing eulogies that were able to appeal to every person at both funerals, regardless of their age, relationship with the deceased and would have been highly appreciated by both of our departed family members as well.
Stories also bring us comfort, they provide real, tactile examples of shared love and experience. Children , particularly, rely on these connections in order to maintain their equilibrium with the necessary changes that death and the resulting grief that comes with it. Stories will also provide for continuance and an accessible platform for understanding the changes, ways to adapt to new conditions within new family relationships and a format for them to find their own place in the new scenario.
To this end, we have laughed, cried, been angry and rolled our eyes. We have spoken of our feelings ( this is where most of the eye rolling happens ) and we have agreed to understand the need for space, silence, angry outbursts and the need for the odd shoulder massage!
Thank God for stories! Without them, this process would have been so much more complex, there would have been less understanding and little communication. Instead, we do have our grief but we know that we can work through it together, in our own unique ways for however long it takes.