Why Do We Tell Stories?

Stories are so important and to grieving people, stories can feel like everything.

After a death, stories immediately begin coming out as memories are recalled to preserve, cherish and underscore the values and quirks of the deceased. We also begin telling the story of their death and our experience of it.

But stories are about more than remembering. Whether we realize it or not, the past connects us infinitely to our present and our future.

Memory stories are connective tissue.

We tell stories about our loved one to maintain a connection to them, to the reality of their life, and to all that they continue to mean to us. In these stories our loved one continues to be with us. It is through stories that a legacy begins to take shape.

  • When I remember my grandpa, I tell the story of how he was a champion of my education. A life-long educator himself, he was the most excited for me to go to college (it also happened to be his alma mater). Before classes started, he took me to the university bookstore and bought me two gigantic CSULB sweatshirts, one in each color, to commemorate my acceptance. He shared the joy I felt in school and I will never forget the treasure of that connection.
Suffering stories are also connective tissue.

Telling the death story can be very important for grievers, particularly in the immediacy following the death. We verbally process what we don’t understand and we have to keep doing that until the story is known, familiar, accepted to whatever degree. Over time, the griever’s own story begins to unfold. The ups and downs, the painful holidays, surprise grief-attacks, and the first time they laughed again, felt ok, or forgot for a second about their loved one.

  • My grandpa died a few days after finals in the middle of my senior year. I was with him the night he died. We told stories about our favorite family memories, past christmases and hoped that he could hear us remember so many of the beautiful parts of his life. When I look back at that night, feel the power of writing about it again, I feel transported to the significance of that moment. Even in writing this I feel the shock of how many years it’s been since I’ve seen him. I feel the grief and love for him that I will always have. I don’t visit that pain as often anymore, but when I do, I’m grateful for the tears because I’m grateful for him.
Stories offer hope.

When we share about the hard things we’ve survived and endured, we can impart huge hope to people sitting in the early, miserable shocks of pain and grief. Silence is the killer, silence isolates, silence turns us inward. Stories open us to ourselves, help us put words to our feelings and movements, and help us to create something meaningful from our pain.

Why do we tell stories? To connect, to assure others they are not alone. We tell stories to mark that we have experienced extreme pain and are still here.

In closing …

The stories we tell matter deeply. In remembering a loved one, we revive their love and spirit and bring it back into the world. In sharing our suffering we bond with others in deeply personal ways that hold an understanding as unique as the suffering. These same stories, all of them, help to propel us forward as we walk with the memories close (just a few words away), and in stride with the suffering, knowing we are not alone.

Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Molly grew up in and around funeral homes her entire life. In 2009 she began working for O'Connor Mortuary and found a bridge between her passion for writing and her interest in grief and bereavement. In 2016 she earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. She is honored to be able to write about these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective.

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