Monday, January 29, 2018

Ask the storyteller returns!

A few years ago I ran a blog series called #askthestoryteller. It was a lot of fun and a good way to get conversations going about different storytelling topics. I'm relaunching it today, but monthly instead of weekly. I don't think you or I want to have to ask and answer questions quite that often!

I'm starting with a question raised by storyteller Jennifer Cayley. She recently lost her beloved partner and asked me if any traditional tales were helpful to me as I moved through my grief over losing my husband. I am naming her with her permission and gratitude.

Let me start with my deepest condolences on the loss of Jan. I am so very sorry.

Traditional stories have been helping humans understand the tough things in life for as long as we've been human. They deal with love and loss, life and death. It is no surprise that these stories have endured so well; they help us know that our experience is part of the universal human experience and that we are not alone.

That being said, I struggled with traditional material in the months after Kevin died. While many folk and fairy tales deal with bereavement, most aim for some version of "happily ever after" and I had no faith that such a fate was available to me. Even now, in another relationship, it's an entirely different understanding of happily ever after. A few fairy tales about weeping helped a bit, but the happily ever after repulsed me.

Instead what appealed to me were, and are, some of the big epic stories, in particular Isis and Osiris and the story of Sedna.

Isis and Osiris helped me feel less alone. This ancient Egyptian myth is at least four thousand years old, so it helped me place my loss in the continuity of human existence; as long as we have loved, we have lost those we love. As long as we will love, we will lose those we love. I felt part of a timeline and so less alone. Isis loved Osiris fiercely and, even with her magic, could not fully bring him back to life. This helped me feel less helpless in my inability to alter the course of Kevin's illness.

The Inuit story of the goddess Sedna, while not about a lost spouse, helped tremendously. I think there is something about her rage to live and the implacability of her death that gave me solace. There is also the cruelty of the father's action that reminded me of cancer, so perhaps this story helped me see Kevin as transformed instead of gone. Lastly, Sedna is soothed by having her hair combed and I was hungry for gentle touch.

I kept reading stories and looking for the one that answered my pain, but I found no one remedy. As time has passed, I've found the stories of Koschei the Deathless have been helpful, because they remind me that immortality may not be all it's cracked up to be. I have also found comfort in some myths of lovers reunited in the stars.

Jennifer, while this is in no way a complete answer, I hope this helps some. I know you will find stories that give you solace and, when you're ready, I would love to know which worked for you.

Readers, what stories help you when you are in dark places? How do you connect with stories and use them to connect with others? And what would you like me to muse on in the next #askthestoryteller?

(c)2018 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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