The Healing Power of Stories

I attend a bereavement group every week, which surprises me, considering that I’ve always been a do-it-yourself sort. I only started going to the meetings because I wanted to know how to survive the terrible agony of grief I experienced after the loss of my mate. I didn’t learn how — it’s something no one can teach another — but I learned that one could survive those first unbelievably painful weeks when I met people who had survived them. I keep going to the group because of those same people. We have something in common, a shared understanding, a survivor’s respect. And now, after five months, I am one of those who, just by being there, show the newly shell-shocked bereaved that one can learn to live with the devastation of a major loss.

Each meeting begins with a lesson, and today’s lesson was about the importance of stories and how they help us heal. The people who attended the meeting today all happened to be women who had lost their mates after decades of being together, and the counselor asked each of us to tell the story not of our mates’ deaths, but of how we met. We all knew the end of each of our love stories — over the months we have told the story of our grief many times. But this is the first time we talked about the beginning of our love stories, and in those stories we found hope, comfort, smiles, a reconnection to our past.

According to the handout we were given, the benefits of telling stories are:

  • Searching for wholeness among our fractured parts
  • Coming to know who we are in new and unexpected ways
  • We can explore our past and come to a more profound understanding of our future direction
  • We can seek forgiveness and be humbled by our own mortality
  • We can discover the route to healing lies not only in the physical realm, but also in the emotional and spiritual realms.

An unexpected result of today’s lesson was a new understanding of the importance of writing. For me, anyway.

These past months, I’ve spent a lot of time reading. I have always tried to lose myself — and find myself — in fictional worlds during periods of trauma, but this time it’s not working the way I hoped. I’m not finding healing in current books. The authors seem to be going for the shock effect of not-so-good versus unbelievably-outrageous-evil, for story people who have identifiable characteristics but no character, for fast-paced stories with little substance or truth. How does one find wholeness in such stories? How do we come to know each other or come to a more profound understanding of our future in trite mysteries and unrealistic thrillers?

Perhaps it’s not important. Maybe entertainment is all that counts when it comes to fiction, but I want something more. And I especially want something more when it comes to my own writing. I don’t know where grief is taking me — it is changing me in ways I cannot yet fathom — but I hope I will end up writing stories of truth, of understanding, of healing. I hope I will make people smile. I hope my words will matter.

7 Responses to “The Healing Power of Stories”

  1. Lisa Klipfel Says:

    I love your post. It is amazing how much healing can come from a story, isn’t it? There is power in the writing process, but also in the sharing. I think that your words will “matter”. I think everyone who writes about a loved one they have lost, allows that loved one to live in your heart (and in the heart of others) forever. Best wishes to you!

  2. joylene Says:

    I felt the same way when I attended group. The people were awesome.

    Your post also brings to mind something that happened a month ago that I’m just now understanding. I was shopping at Costco when I spotted a lady from a group I’d attended a few years ago. I immediately fled in the opposite direction. I didn’t stop at the time to think why, i just exited. I even experience palpitations.

    During the hour drive home, I realized that I avoided her because I was afraid I hadn’t reached the next level and she would know by looking at me. And somehow she would be disappointed that so much time had passed, yet I hadn’t come to grips with my grief. It never occurred to me that maybe she hadn’t either. All I could think was that my sadness was still hanging on my sleeve for all to see. And that through my failure to grow and to cope, I would somehow disappoint.
    Strange, doesn’t even come to close to describing it.

    We gauge these experiences and place them in categories as part of the grieving process. But in all honesty, I don’t know that it’s wise to grade your process. In the end maybe it’s all about living life one moment at a time.

    I don’t know. Maybe by writing, you’ll gain an insight not otherwise present. Maybe the rest of us will read your words and find solace in what we can’t articulate for ourselves.

    Your words matter, Pat.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Joylene, that’s a good story and an important one. Believe me, no one who has experienced such a deep grief that they went looking for help would ever be concerned that another griever hadn’t reached the next level. We are conditioned to think in levels, but there are only moments. No next level, just coping. You have helped me tremendously these past months, and I thank you for that.

  3. leesis Says:

    Lovely as usual Pat.

  4. joylene Says:

    Your words matter, Pat.

  5. GriefOut Says:

    I am really touched by your thoughts. Thanks for sharing this with us. It’s something many fear, most have been touched by, and all will one day experience.

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