Perspectives on Grieving
Telling Your Story
“A mourner is perforce a person with a story. The pity is how rarely it gets told.” - Christian McEwan
Well if Prudential and Sheryl Sandberg have anything to do with it, that’s about to change. Prudential Financial with its brilliant new Masterpiece of Love and Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B have both provided a way for all of us to tell our stories of loss. And that’s important because telling our story is probably the most important part of the mourning process. And sometimes, in fact most of the time, we must tell it over and over again.
Years after my father died, my mom told me how she must have told the story of my dad’s illness and death at least 100 times, over and over in the living room, to her friend Carlin. And that Carlin just listened. It's then I realized that is what was missing for me and my brother. We never got to tell our story. Our dad died in 1974 when children truly were “the forgotten mourners” as Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote. Our dad died when the myth was that children are resilient. That they bounce back. That they’ll “get over it” and be fine.
We were far from fine and in fact we were text book examples of grieving children, acting out and acting in, in ways typical of grieving children. But nobody knew what to do or what to say. Not my coach when I quit the track team, nor my teachers as my grades declined and I skipped school.
Luckily our society has come a long way since 1974 with many of the schools with which we work becoming “Good Mourning” schools in which teachers, staff and students receive education on grief and loss and where students become peer mentors to other students coping with loss. Schools know now to pay attention when a student or the school suffers a loss. They know the importance of creating a safe place and making some accomodations for grieving students. And they know to reach out for help and support. Most of our referrals to Imagine come from school guidance counselors and social workers.
One of the first things we talk about in a family orientation at Imagine is the difference between grief and mourning. How grief is all the feelings we feel after any life loss and that it is a natural and normal response to loss. Mourning is the expression of those internal feelings, whether through words or art or poetry or play. Mourning is the essential key to how well we cope and are able to carry on after a loss. Imagine exists as a place for people, children and adults to mourn in community because mourning is not something we can do alone, we must have at least one witness to hear our story.
The risk of not telling our stories, is that they stay bottled up inside, with the grief eventually and often coming out in unhealthy or destructive ways. Imagine’s vision is for grieving children to grow up emotionally healthy and able to lead meaningful and productive lives. No child should have to grieve alone and every child should have a place to tell their story, whether at a grief support center, to a caring adult, or to a friend or favorite teacher.
In need of grief support, contact us.