Friday, May 6, 2016

The stories we tell

I had the pleasure of teaching a class this past weekend at the Northlands Storytelling Conference. It was called Storying our grief: Loss, transformation and storytelling and it was an unparalleled honor to help this group of 20 or so people think through their grief then begin to craft stories around it. It was difficult and wonderful.

I wanted to teach this workshop because I have come to understand both how pervasive and important grief is AND how taboo it is.

It's everywhere. Everyone grieves. Whether we grief a significant death, the loss of a job or role, a way of life, an understanding of the world or something else altogether, grief is a basic part of the human experience. I have said over and over again, if we are lucky we will grieve. If we are lucky enough to cherish something or someone, we may eventually have to mourn its loss or alteration. We will eventually mourn something. Grief means we are alive, we are connected, we are human

At the same time we are told that our grief should be hidden. We should just "get over it." We do not live in a time or culture that has good ways for supporting loss and helping the mourner embrace what they are feeling so they can eventually return to themselves. Grief and loss are not easily spoken of, especially when we are told to just cheer up and move on. I think this is especially so for men, though I know many women who have essentially been told to get over it.

I find this ridiculous. Loss, grief and contending with mortality have driven more human art than just about anything else with the possible exception of love. If art is how we process and understand our experiences then we have been working to process and understand grief for as long as we have been human.

We need to be able to talk about this stuff.

We need to be able to tell stories about what we have lost, about our experience of that loss and about how we have been transformed. The oldest recorded human story - Gilgamesh - is (in large part) about loss and transformation. The myths, folktales and personal stories about loss and change are vital. We need to hear them. They are our roadmap through a land we will eventually travel.

My workshop was an honor to lead and to witness, not just because I was present with people in the act of creation but because I was watching them listen to, support and help one another. By telling and hearing these stories we were all reminded that we are not alone. You don't need to be a storyteller to participate in an experience like that.

Next time you need to share your loss, please do. Tell your story to those who are willing to hear. Pay attention to their needs, sure, but don't silence yourself.

By being visible as people who have experienced and survived grief, by being heard as individuals who have mourned deeply and been transformed, by speaking up, we show the world that helping each other through grief is not tedious or dangerous.
It is the kindest thing we can do for one another.
It is necessary.
It is sacred.
And everyone will need that kind of help in time.

Here, this is what I learned.
You are not alone.

Here, this is what helped, what didn't.
You are not alone.


(c)2016 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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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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