One’s Story Eventually Results in Healing and Finding Peace
It sounds so simple—telling your story. But when it is a story of tragedy, it becomes more difficult. It is also more important. It is the telling of one’s story that eventually results in healing and finding peace. Telling your story over and over again is what helps one begin to accept the reality of the death. Intellectually, one may be able to recite the details but it takes time and repetition to begin to own them. You may find yourself telling details you don’t realize you even know. As you retell your story, the numbness begins to lessen at about the same pace as you become cognizant of the details.
It can be difficult to find someone with whom to share your story. Some people will listen once or maybe a few times but then lose interest or become frustrated, likely from their inability to know how to respond or help. People suffering from acute grief that is complicated by tragedy often wear out their friends and family members. That “wearing out” comes from their inability to “fix” the problem and the length of time it takes to recover.
Indeed, one must tell their story over and over and over again. Often, people are unable to comprehend the length of time it takes to heal from a sudden and tragic loss. Their only frame of reference may be the death of someone due to age or illness or even the death of a family pet. The lives of family members outside the immediate circle will return to normal much more quickly and they may have a hard time understanding why you can’t, too. This can and often does create hurt feelings. Those people we love the most, have the greatest power to hurt us, usually without any realization. This is precisely why it pays to find someone outside the family to share your story and the emotions that accompany it.
Like tears cleanse the body, telling your story cleanses your soul. It truly helps to tell those awful details; once you’ve said them out loud to someone, they aren’t quite so awful. Telling the details begins to let them into your psyche and allows you to gently move toward acceptance and eventually toward healing and peace. It is critical to find someone – be it a friend, a family member, a clergy person, a therapist or a support group – where you feel safe to tell your story. Everyone needs someone to witness his or her pain.
That witness is important for processing your emotions. Processing is crucial for healing and finding peace for yourself.
Share your thoughts and feelings as many times and as many ways as you need to begin to accept the reality of the death and its circumstances. Telling your story to someone else helps to identify the missing pieces. Hopefully, you will receive encouragement to seek out information that is available. Answering those questions is important. Knowing facts is better than allowing your brain to imagine what may have happened. As awful as some answers may be, many people imagine things worse than they actually are.
What Happens When You Don’t Tell Your Story?
When stories aren’t told and shared with others, lives are lived under the shadow of grief. Unresolved issues can manifest themselves through depression and other illnesses. Lives aren’t lived to the fullest and aren’t peaceful when there is an unmet need. People find true happiness and joy elusive. Pain kept inside never goes away; a thin scar that must always be protected covers the wound.
Keeping information to oneself can become a heavy load. You may find yourself the keeper of the family secrets, or at the very least, have that perception. Having that perception also makes you the judge, determining who is privileged to that information – or put differently, who can or cannot handle the information. When the story isn’t shared within the immediate family, it can become unsafe to share information with others. Family members become unsure of whom they can trust or who else knows different pieces of the story.
What About Children?
Children need to know the truth. Answering a child’s questions as openly and honestly as possible is very important. It is appropriate to talk to the child within their developmental and age abilities, just as you would concerning any other important topic. It is better for the child to be told right away what has happened, even if you can only give them a small amount of information, and then give updates as you learn more. If a child is not given information, they may overhear others talking and assume that they aren’t supposed to have that knowledge. That situation can leave them with nowhere to process the information or make sense out of it and no one to answer their questions. Untruths will eventually be found out and as children hear the truth from others, they will lose trust in the family unit that didn’t share with them. Children have the same need to talk about the loss and the events surrounding the death as the adults in the family. They also need a safe place and person to talk with that allows them the space to grieve when the need to and to be a child, as well.
Is It Ever Too Late?
It is never too late to repair some of the damage by sitting down as a family and discussing what happened. Hearing the truth can be difficult, but not as difficult as having to make up gaps in the story or living without information. Allowing each family member to ask their unanswered questions, to share their thoughts, feelings, and information openly and honestly can be a freeing experience.
We have worked with families where no information was shared after the first few days, when shock and numbness were prevalent. Each family member carried different burdens. Hearing families talk about their experiences of revisiting the past tragedy in their lives has been heartwarming. Relationships have been mended and family bonds strengthened. As information is shared and questions are answered, people begin to heal.
The grief process is different for everyone, but it is the same in that everyone must work through his or her feelings in order to lessen their pain. Telling your story is an important part of the process. We encourage you to take this brave step, to find a trusted soul and share your story.