Monday, September 29, 2014

Grief and story

Humans use narrative to understand our lives. We tell stories to process what we experience, we listen to stories to gain wisdom from others. It is among our most basic of tools for managing the world, for helping us find the small actions that we can control in a universe beyond our control. Whether we experience love or loss, hope or despair, greed or transcendence, there are stories that show us a path.

Storyteller Elizabeth Ellis says that narratives of trial are essential. The teller is saying I've been to hell. I came back. Here is a map. Each map is unique because we all have different inner landscapes, but they offer signposts for the journey. 

There is no one narrative to grief, each person experiences it differently. But the overarching story - love, loss, despair, survival - is an old one, and one everyone experiences. As I travel through the land of grief I am being offered so many story maps. Personal stories from those who have suffered loss. Myths. Fairytales. Each is inaccurate to my journey because each grief is unique, but each reminds me to look for the stacks of stones as I travel my own barren road, landmarks saying I have been here too. You are not alone.

I find myself turning to myths for consolation. At its heart our oldest recorded story, Gilgamesh, is a story of grief and endurance. The King Arthur stories are full of loss and sorrow. These old tales remind me that I am not alone but that I am in the midst of an essential, miserable human experience. Fairy tales, too, have wisdom. They so often begin with loss - I'm talking about stories that long predate Disney and their disappearing mothers - and then they show us that we can recover. We may be transformed into something unrecognizable - we may become the witch, the beast or the princess - but we can endure. 

Even now, as I hesitantly step back into the world of performance storytelling and writing beyond my own experiences of grief, I am handing out maps. My stories are changing as I am changing. Each story I tell says I have been to hell. The road is long but I will come back. I will not be the same. Neither will you. Here is a map. Each story is another stone in the piles along the barren road. I have been here too. You are not alone.
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True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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