Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Telling Life: Remembering the dead

My #tellinglife has had some strange moments in it. There was the time I told There's Always Room for One More to the passengers in a crowded airplane. And there was the time I told for a cannibis festival. Then there was the time at the nudist camp or the jailhouse wedding or... All of these were unusual gigs, but no less wonderful for their oddity. None of them, however, eclipse the times I've told stories at memorial services.

You already know that part of why I maintain this blog is to write about the death of my husband Kevin, grief, and life after death. That's not what I'm talking about in this post. Here I am talking about the role of the storyteller in remembering those who have died. It is part of our sacred work.

It has been my privilege to be invited to several funerals, where I told stories that the decedent loved or told stories about them. Each time it has been stirring and I was deeply honored that those who remained trusted me in that careful, painful moment.

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense. We remember those we love by telling their stories. It makes sense to have storytellers do this, so the mourning may grieve and remember without struggling for words. Some people call it speaking for the dead (derived from a book by Orson Scott Card, but not of the book). We sometimes need to hear these stories, these truths from someone else to make them more bearable.

Many Jews believe that no one has really died as long as they are remembered; living memory means the intangibles aren't yet lost. Their laugh. Their scent. The annoying little habits. We often come to understand those we have lost and our relationships with them more through those stories than we ever could while they were still alive. Hearing those stories in another's voice might help.

None of this is to say we shouldn't tell our own stories of those who have died. What I want to stress is that it's important to tell these stories. This is how we keep the dead alive in our hearts.

We are in the dark time of year now and Halloween has just passed. Now is when we explore the hidden stories, now is the time when we remember the dead. Don't be afraid to say their names. Don't be afraid to tell their stories.

I don't know if I will be asked to speak at another memorial service. In all honesty, I hope I am. I hope I can keep the memories of the dead alive through my voice, my memory and my stories. It is sacred work and work we all must do, so it will be done for us in turn.

(c)2016 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

1 comment:

  1. I also consider it a privilege to speak at funerals, occasionally with no advance notice, but always with a brief story. The stories we pick set the mood, either as mourners, or as someone engaged in the holy work of comforting the bereaved.

    I believe we best offer comfort with a story that offers a moment's respite: because it provokes a little laughter, or a smile. My favorites are the little tidbits that came up in conversation. Those are usually the ones the mourners themselves have never heard, and they always get a chuckle or a smile.


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