The Need to Tell Your Story
The Need to Tell Your Story, by Jennie Marks
“A mourner is perforce a person with a story.
The pity is how rarely it gets told.”
– Christian McEwan
There is a difference between grief and mourning. Grief is all the natural feelings we feel and is a natural response we have after any life loss. Mourning is the expression of those internal feelings, whether through tears, a display of mementos for a lost loved one, through music, or really any expression of loss that is visible to someone other than the mourner.
Think of grief as internal and residing only within you and mourning as the external expression of that grief. How well we mourn is key to how well we cope and are able to carry on after a suicide loss. One aspect of mourning is in the telling of your story.
Telling our stories is an exceptionally therapeutic way of mourning a loss. The risk of not telling our stories is that they stay bottled up inside and the grief may eventually come out in unhealthy or destructive ways. Sharing your personal narrative may also give you clarity to feelings that have lurked, unnamed, in the back of your mind. Explaining something to others often puts a name to those feelings and “untangles” the confusion and chaos of grief.
What is the story? That may vary greatly from one survivor to the next. It may be a retelling of how your loved one struggled through their life. It may be about all of the things you did to help them with those struggles. The story may be your memories of a child’s first years or of the courtship and marriage you shared with a spouse. Your story may even include details of what you were doing the day that you lost them and any impressions or feelings you had when you found that they had taken their own life.
Important aspects of that story may also include graphic details of the suicide act itself or physical descriptions of the person you lost immediately following their death. While it may certainly be valuable to your healing to recount those details, care must be taken that the person you share them with is not traumatized by them. People of a sensitive nature are not good candidates for this, nor is a grief support group a good venue. Others who have lost someone to suicide or have experienced the traumatic death of any friend or family member may be subjected to a form of secondary trauma by visualizing graphic and upsetting details.
For the more traumatic details of one’s story, it’s important to find a listener who is willing to listen and really listens to your story. Also, it should be someone who has enough resilience to hear whatever your reality of that event might be without any emotional harm to themselves. That person may be a trusted friend, your counselor, or a pastor or religious leader. Bereavement professionals at Helpline are also available and willing to listen and can be reached by dialing 211.
One thing to realize is that once a story is told, the urge to tell it again may rise up again in the future. That’s perfectly normal, and as you experience the release of sharing your narrative, you’ll find that the need will lessen and become less frequent over time.
Telling your story in whatever form that takes for you is an avenue to develop integration and acceptance and helps convert grieving to mourning in a therapeutic manner.