Navigating Grief Gift of Story

Giving the Gift of Story

I read a post on a children’s grief website the other day that asked if anyone knew an appropriate memorial gift or product. Yes, I thought: the gift of story.

I thought about this over a couple of days because the first days of loss are different than a few weeks later. I thought about everything I’ve come across  – clinical, academic, experiential, personal, and anecdotes from bereaved – on the early days of loss and grief. I realized there are  recurring themes:  the need to not feel alone; the role of memories which can be bittersweet, yet comforting; and, how the blur of shock can render time and thoughts invisible or forgotten.

I thought on what our needs as humans are during these changes after loss? Comfort. Love. Support. Can story provide these needs? I think yes, story certainly does provide comfort, love, and support.

Great Gift

What I concluded is that story is a great gift. It is a long term gift that may not be unwrapped immediately, but saved for the right moment. That moment may be today or may be next year. It is up to the recipient to unwrap or view on his or her own time.

Then I thought about how story is delivered. Stories are spoken. Stories are written. Stories are in photographs. Stories are found in montage videos and music. Some stories are silent memories. Some stories are universal. Some stories are specific.

But how can story bring comfort, love and support in the first days of in memoriam?

One of the suggestions on this post was to give a journal. That’s nice, but unless the recipient already writes they are not likely to begin writing out the pain of grief, much less the stories that can comfort. The blank pages can be daunting. If true, would a journal bring comfort or loneliness?

Sympathy Cards bring comfort. Not so much for the canned words as beautiful as they can be, but for the signature and the short heartfelt message of the giver’s support. If you want to start with a blank page, the card is the place – for your words of comfort, love and support. We know that many people hold those cards dear and re-read them later, just as one might with a set of love letters.

Two Ways to Give the Gift of Story

I propose that there are two ways the Gift of Story help heal a broken heart.

In the first days, weeks, or months the stories need to come from outside to the bereaved as a gift of comfort, love and support. After a few weeks or months, the stories need to come from inside the griever, to validate the loved one’s life as well as his or her own life, both together and separate.

A SFH participant once tell me that she was so mad at everyone who was laughing and telling stories the days after her daughter died in a car crash. She didn’t even want to be in the room. Now, years later, she says that she would give anything to know those stories.

In the immediacy of loss there is much for everyone to do and absorb. It is very common for this time to be foggy. So, not everything you offer is easily or even necessarily remembered by the family. The best gift you can provide needs to be something that can be examined again later; which is why people keep and read their cards more than once. The memorial Gift of Story is a written vignette for the closest members of the family.  It should convey, “You are loved by me, and were loved by the person who died. And, here is the story to prove it.”

Here are some ideas:

  • Find a card that has words to address Comfort, Love and Support. Add your personal sentiment and love.
  • If you have a photo, include a copy or make a card along with the story of why you like the photo, or what it means or represents in the lives of the people in the photo.
  • Recall a positive experience about what the person who died said about the one you want to comfort. Not just “loved you” but a specific “he was proud of you when,” “she always said this great story,” “he liked this quality about you,” or even “here’s how you made her feel.” This works well in a blank card.
  • Share an example of what the deceased taught you. This is especially thoughtful from the friends or co-workers to show the extended impact of the loved one on the rest of the world. What positive attribute will you carry with you from having known this person?

These stories may come to you days later or after the memorial. Don’t let that stop you from sharing the memory. It may actually be more appreciated a few days and even weeks later. Send it when it comes to you.

Other memorials gifts can include the written word of others, such as a book that is age appropriate and loss appropriate so the recipient learns they are not alone. Or, choose something cuddly and warm to wrap (comfort) themselves such as a blanket or stuffed toy and provides permission to cry. After a couple of months, offer a commitment to share your time (love) each week or month in an activity that creates a new routine such as tea or coffee talk, walks around the block, workout together, join a book or dinner club, provide babysitting or other appropriate support.  Call it First Monday or something similar so you will both recognize the day for you to get together (support- this does not have to be about the loss).

The Hidden Gifts of Story

After a few months, even years – and this time frame is variable – many people in grief still need to talk about and share their loss. Unfortunately this is the time when most support systems dissipate or the outside world begins to tell the person in grief that it is time to be “over it” and “move on.” Now, the Gift of Story takes a new turn. This time the stories must come from the bereaved to his or her self, to family, to friends and perhaps to others who are experiencing a similar loss.

The only way to get out of the pain from grief is to take action, to work one’s way outward into assimilating the new normal. Writing and Reflection is the SFH method of action. From personal release through writing to research into the life of their loved one, the end result is the tangible storybook that comforts, expresses love and validates the lives of everyone connected to the deceased. Mostly it affirms that the loved one really matters still because we all carry part of that person within us. When someone experiencing grief takes the steps to discover, publish and share those stories there is healing, new energy, purpose and a knowledge that  memories are safe and lasting.

Storybooks for Healing was specifically founded to assist people of all ages to Discover, Publish and Share this second Gift of Story. The important aspect of storytelling at this juncture is support through peers, family, friends or community groups. There are several ways to help someone preserve the important memories:

  • Listen and record. Be supportive and understanding that grief can go on for a long time. Write or audio record the stories for use in a storybook later.
  • Find or request a SFH peer support writing program. This is especially helpful for getting past a loss from months or years past when the griever feels alone in the journey.
  • Order the SFH Start to Finish Writing Guide to Discover, Publish and Share Your Loved One’s Story Writing.
  • For those who already can detail their story, order a gift coupon for a storybook to be written using  the SFH online My Storybook Publisher.

You can give the Gift of Story by sharing and adding to the memories, providing the opportunity to create a lasting memento, and listening. Story is powerful and lasting.  Each one is a gift of love comfort and support to anyone in grief. Help make it last through the written word and Storybooks For Healing.

3 replies
  1. Jayne Flaagan
    Jayne Flaagan says:

    You’re so right about writing things down for someone when they are suffering the loss of someone. It is nice to get a card from someone acknowledging the loss of that person, but if you send a card, try and find something to write on it to make it more personal. Dig deep if you need to. Even if it seems trivial, it’s something.

    For the last several deaths of people close to me that I have experienced, I have made sure to put some things down in writing. I am usually too emotional to be able to read it, so I ask the Priest, Pastor or someone else to read it for me. So many times we want that person who is gone to be acknowledged for the wonderful person that they were, but it’s too hard to speak about it. Often times, people even ask me for a copy of what I wrote so that they can keep it. Putting in writing has really helped me, as well as others.

    • Joan H
      Joan H says:

      Thank you for sharing your experience of loss and compassion, Jayne. The words last and comfort for a long time when in preserved in writing. ~Joan

  2. Gary Roe
    Gary Roe says:

    Joan, I really enjoyed this piece. In my work as a hospice chaplain, I’m privileged to hear so many stories. I especially thought your distinction between stories coming to the bereaved early on, and later from inside the bereaved was very insightful and very helpful to me personally. Thank you. Keep up the great work!


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