Healing from Grief through Family Stories

One of the few things every single person on this earth has in common with each other is that we all experience loss.  It’s not something we enjoy, and it can be something difficult to talk or even think about, but it’s a real life fact common to everyone.  The good news is that the grief and healing processes can be improved by creating and reading family stories.  Paying tribute to a loved one by telling his/her story benefits not only you as the storyteller, but anyone else who loved that person as well. 

The Therapeutic Benefits

Some therapists use journaling and even scrapbooking as therapeutic tools in their practices.  Putting your experiences and feelings to paper gives them validation.  It can also separate them from you for a moment so that you can look at them more objectively.  The process of sorting through thoughts, feelings, emotions, and experiences in order to give them life on paper helps you deal with them.

Pictures especially help with grief and loss.

When we lose important people in our lives, our photos can bring back memories of them, and help us remember everything that made them special and unique. They help us keep that person alive in our minds, through stories and memories — and that’s an important part of making sure our loved ones’ legacies live on.  ~www.picturethisorganized.com

My Experience:  Personal Application

In a way, I wish I didn’t have so many personal experiences to share about healing from grief through family stories.  However, because I do, I can guarantee that this is an effective, meaningful, lasting way to acknowledge, deal with, and gain perspective and appreciation during loss.  I’ve experienced it myself and have seen healing in others as well.  I’ll share with you three of my personal experiences.

A Little One

Although I have lost grandparents whom I love and miss dearly, my first real experience with healing through stories happened in 2012.  Summarizing like this hardly does the experience justice, but my brother and sister-in-law struggled with infertility for 12 years before becoming pregnant through IVF.  IVF was expensive, took a real toll on my sister-in-law’s body, and wasn’t really guaranteed to work.  They were actually pretty scared to try it because it was their last hope, and if it didn’t work, there was nothing left.  (They had decided against pursuing adoption following the heartbreak of two failed adoptions.)  Our family was beyond overjoyed when the first attempt at IVF resulted in a successful, healthy pregnancy.  However, less than halfway through the pregnancy, for reasons unknown, my baby nephew was born.  He lived about 15 minutes.

The real-life angels at Angel Watch really took care of my grieving brother and sister-in-law and provided them with, among other things, photos of their little boy.  As I sorted through my own grief over weeks and months, I decided to make a storybook for them using those photos.  In thinking about how I would tell the story of the little life of my nephew and his impact on our family, I felt inspired to focus on the miracles.  I was half a country away, but my sister and parents were there, and as they all kept me updated, I heard story after story of tiny miracles and tender mercies that happened over and over that helped my brother and sister-in-law feel God’s hand and love through this frankly horrific experience.

The storybook I created for them recounted all the miracles and all the ways they felt loved even in their breathtaking grief.  Writing the story helped me through my own grief, and reading it helped them through theirs.  Now, five years later, they can also share the life story of their oldest son with their 3-year-old daughter, too.  Connections like these are priceless.

NOTE:  If you know someone facing infant loss, please let them know that Heritage Makers will provide a free storybook to them.  You can read more here.  I also volunteer my time to put those books together if the family prefers.  The photo above is an example of an available template, but it’s completely flexible so the family gets exactly what they want.

A Parent

I lost my mom a year and a half ago.  It wasn’t a big surprise; she was diagnosed and we could easily see her decline.  I had opportunities to visit her several times before she passed away.  I honestly felt that the circumstances were as good as they could be.  We wrote her obituary with her before she died.  We said everything we wanted to say to each other.  We knew she was going to a happier place and would be seeing her parents again.  We know our family is eternal.  But grief is grief.  Loss is loss.  It wasn’t fun.  Being without my mom is not a place I enjoy.

Before she died, my mom gave me a few boxes of her mementos.  She had kept photo albums, and although these boxes did contain a few photos, they were mostly keepsakes– awards and thank you cards and graduation programs.  She asked me to just DO SOMETHING with them.  I decided to make a life storybook.  I added a few pictures that weren’t in the boxes, and I scanned the mementos to tell the story of her life.  It is a beautiful book, meaningful to my whole family.  Everyone got their own copy last Christmas.  It was truly the best gift ever.

Healing from grief through family stories is real.  My heart healed through the hours I spent organizing mementos, reading old letters, and sorting through my mom’s keepsakes.  As I said before, the circumstances of her passing were really as good as they could possibly be.  I had no regrets.  So I wasn’t dealing with unresolved issues– I was just dealing with loss.  I missed her.  But creating this life storybook gave me a special opportunity to get to know her a little better in a different way than I had before.  I still miss her constantly, but it doesn’t hurt quite as much.  Healing, for me, came because as I went through the process of writing her life story, I was able to focus more on my abundance than on my loss.

A Grandparent

When my mom passed away, my brother and sister-in-law were really concerned that their then-2-year-old would miss out on the opportunity to get to know her grandma.  Although my niece will have access to the life storybook I published (above), it’s not a toddler-level book.  We talked about how to break down my mom’s life into kid-sized chunks.  We wanted to help my niece remember Grandma as much as possible, and help her get to know Grandma better as well.

As I thought about how to proceed, I decided that the main message we wanted my toddler niece to know is that Grandma loves her.  I made this sweet board book called Grandma Loves Me.  It touches on about 10-12 things that Grandma loved to do and has a lot of pictures.

This is obviously a kid-friendly version of a grandparent story, but healing from grief through a grandparent’s story can also be told the same way a parent’s story (above) would be told.  Tell your family story your way.  Paying tribute in whatever way you can– recording the story and memories and photos –honors the person and keeps their memory close and easily-accessible.

Healing Happens

I can obviously speak from experience here when I say that loss is never, ever easy.  But healing happens.  In my experience, healing doesn’t mean you feel “back to normal.”  I don’t think you can possibly feel whole again because that’s just not the nature of love.  We feel the loss because we know something is missing.  We feel acutely that something is missing.  But that’s only because we love so deeply.

“Wouldn’t it be tragic if we didn’t feel great sorrow when we lose a child? How grateful I am to my Father in Heaven that He allows us to love deeply and love eternally.”  ~Shayne M. Bowen

Healing, to me, has been a peace and an appreciation that I got to love someone so worth loving.  Preserving stories and experiences has helped me in miraculous ways to get to that place.  There is an inexplicable connection made between you and someone you love through creating a tribute or telling a life story.  It’s real.

“Grief, like joy, is holy.  Grief is love’s souvenir.  It’s our proof that we once loved.  Grief is the receipt we wave in the air that says to the world:  Look!  I loved well.  Here is my proof that I paid the price.”  ~Glennon Doyle Melton

~Jennifer #familyhistoryfriday


References

  1. americanpregnancy.org. (2017). Retrieved from http://americanpregnancy.org/infertility/in-vitro-fertilization/
  2. Bednar, David A. (2005). lds.org. Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2005/04/the-tender-mercies-of-the-lord?lang=eng
  3. Bowen, Shayne M. (2012). lds.org. Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/10/because-i-live-ye-shall-live-also?lang=eng
  4. Heritage Makers. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.heritagemakers.com/storybookcharity/NowILayMeDownToSleep.cfm
  5. Intermountain Healthcare. (2017). Retrieved from https://intermountainhealthcare.org/services/womens-health/women-and-newborn-care/pregnancy/high-risk-pregnancy/angel-watch-bereavement-program/
  6. Kessler, Julie. (2016). picturethisorganized.com. Retrieved from http://www.picturethisorganized.com/743/how-photos-can-help-us-in-times-of-grief-and-loss/
  7. Mormon Channel. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.mormonchannel.org/watch/series/mormon-messages/the-blessings-of-the-temple-3
  8. Pinterest. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/161144492896858289/

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Jennifer Wise

consultant at Heritage Makers
I'm Jennifer, and I'm passionate about connections.I enjoy helping people discover the very real benefits of preserving stories, photos, and memories because of the impact they have on children, families, and individuals. I blog weekly at www.lifetalesbooks.blogspot.com sharing tips, ideas, solutions, and inspiration, and I'm over at www.heritagemakers.com/jenniferwise, too. Learn more about me at the "About" tab.

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