I remember when I was making arrangements for my mother’s funeral. Most everyone in my family had funerals through O’Donnel’s so I was quite familiar with this place although I hadn’t been there in many years. As I walked through the back, we went through a small room that I instantly remembered. It was the room where the men went and drank. The women would be gathered in the viewing room. While my mother and aunts would talk and grieve, my Dad and uncles would be back here drinking. And telling stories.
I grew up around story-tellers. My Mom would tell stories about growing up in a family without a mother. My Dad would tell stories about growing up in a multi-ethnic neighborhood. Other relatives would tell stories about war, coal-mining, adventures, lessons learned. Whenever a relative died, a good old Irish wake would involve much-story-telling about that person.
I came to see that this story-telling served many purposes. For one, it is a comfort to hear others tell stories about a loved one. I remember after my mother died having a meal with my cousin Linda who shared stories of my mother. It was a good to hear someone share loving memories.
Sadly, when a loved one dies, there can be a tendency for people to withhold talking about that person, thinking this would be upsetting to the bereaved. Often the opposite is the case. The bereaved may long to hear the stories, finding great peace in the knowledge that others too remember the beloved.
When I share stories, I also affirm my own history. These are people to whom I am connected. Their stories are my story. This gets affirmed when families visit together and share stories from their collective past. My story becomes our story.
Stories, too, convey learnings. I learned from my Uncle Joe in his stories of serving in the South Pacific during World War 2. I learned from Great-aunt Margaret when she would weep over knowing so many men who’d died in war. I’d learn from my Uncle Gaddy when he talked about his days as a coal miner then as a fireman. When I share stories of these and other loved ones with my children and grand-children, these voices from the past become part of my children’s and grandchildren’s stories.
I’ll close by sharing an excerpt from the film “Big Fish”, a wonderful film about the beauty of story-telling in families. As the narrator says, it is through stories shared that we all live on.
Reflections: 1. How much has story-telling been a part of your facing grief?
2. Share a story as a comment if you like.