Journey Through Grief: Becoming Keeper of the Story
Adaptation of a speech from Casa de la Luz Hospice’s Celebration of Life Fall Memorial 2011
An astonishing meeting took place in British Columbia in the late 1980s. Government officials of the province informed elders of the Gitksan Indian Tribe that the land they had lived on for thousands of years actually belonged to the Canadian government, and the tribe had no legal claim to the land. Tribal elders could not understand what the officials were trying to tell them and the officials, in turn, could not understand why the tribal elders could not see that the legal document gave the Canadian government rights to the land.
Finally, an elder of the Gitksan tribe voiced what was troubling them. He asked, “If this is your land, then where are your stories?” The government officials did not know how to respond to such a question. So the elders began sharing the stories that told of their relationship with the land and its resources, songs that displayed their people’s history, and shared beliefs that revealed a hope in their future.
For the government officials, this made no sense. What do stories and songs have to do with land and people? If this is your land, where are your stories?
Edward Chamberlin puts it this way, “Stories give meaning and value to the places we call home. They define what we have in common at the same time that they illuminate our differences. Stories teach us where we came from and why we are here, they show us how to live, why to live, and even how to die. Stories not only teach us what to believe in, but even more importantly, they first teach us how to believe. And we all need to believe.” We have to believe that the monsoon rains will fall, that the temperatures will dip below 100 again; we need to believe that the fields we plant will yield a harvest, the bread will rise, and that our lives have meaning.
Our story has brought each of us to this place. We all have been touched by that mystery called death. Now our story calls us to a new life and a new way of living. We are called to be keepers of the story of our loved ones. We are to be keepers of the story, not storytellers—and folks, there is a difference. Lord knows we have plenty of story tellers in the world. And don’t get me wrong, I love a good story teller, folks who can keep us on the edge of our seats with the simple phrase of once upon a time. But the basic code of the story teller says, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”
We are not to be story tellers; we are to be keepers of the story. This means we are called to live and reflect honestly on the story that has been passed on to us by our loved ones who have gone before. As keepers of the story we are called to live into that which affirms life, to live into that which nurtures us and heals us, to live into that which offers the ground of being and a faith to guide us. But just as importantly, we are called to learn from and let go of those parts of the story that have brought us pain and suffering. We are called to free ourselves from those dynamics in our relationships that hurt and divide.
Dr. Rachel Remen puts it this way, “Every great loss demands that we choose life again. We need to grieve in order to do this. The pain we have not grieved over will always stand between us and life. Grieving is not about forgetting. Grieving allows us to heal, to remember with love rather than pain. It is a sorting process. One by one we let go of the things that are gone and we mourn for them. One by one we take hold of the things that have become part of who we are and build again.”
Becoming keepers of the story is an important step on our journey through grief. We know how hard grieving is, don’t we? But the only way beyond our grief is to journey through it. And, it is a practice, folks, it’s a daily practice to begin to heal. It takes quiet courage, the strength to trust others again, and the honest reflection to live fully into our sacred story. If this is your life, then show us your story.
When we live fully into that story, when we walk along that path of grief into healing, we begin to see what we have deeply loved, we never lose, because what we love becomes part of who we are. On our journey through grief into healing we are becoming a new creation. We cannot remain unchanged. A friend who lost both of her parents said she feels as though she were a clay jar that has been cracked. She said that without warning she finds herself leaking—leaking tears. Tears flow from those cracks left by her loss. But on her journey through grief she has learned to value those cracks as well. She tells us that those same cracks have allowed light into her heart that she never knew existed. Through those cracks a little mercy has slipped, times of gentle forgiveness, and she has found new ways to love.
We are called to be keepers of the sacred story we all share. Our story reveals to us that we do have the strength to live into a new chapter. It takes the help of friends and family, support groups and faith communities; it takes the willingness to cry and the courage to laugh again. And by our presence here today we affirm that our story is not finished.
David Fife, ChaplainBack to Articles