Telling Your Grief Story Without Turning Off Listeners

Every mourner has a story to share. You may share your story with family members, close friends, and community groups. But you need to share it without upsetting listeners so much they turn you off. How can you do this?

I have shared my story of multiple losses with many groups and take a “then and now” approach. It begins with the darkness of multiple losses, moves on to coping, doing my grief work, and the new life I am living today. You may take a similar approach.

Jenna Baddeley offers some tips in her “Psychology Today” website article, “Speaking of Grief: Tips for Grievers, Friends and Family on Talking About Loss.” Mourners are eager to share their stories, but society is not eager to hear them. “Weeks or months after a loss, grievers are expected to have rejoined ordinary life,” she writes.

According to Baddeley, listeners are more comfortable with negative emotion if it is in the past and the person has moved on to something better. Your grief may not be safely in the past, yet you may still share your life experience. In fact, I encourage you to do so. Keep these points in mind as you tell your story.

1. Avoid the rehash trap.

Telling a negative story again and again does not help you and does not help listeners. Grief is a sad story, to be sure, but it can become a story of resilience. You cannot control life events, but you can control your response to them. People appreciate my story because I have created a happy ending.

2. Observe body language.

Look for shifting positions and drastic changes in facial expressions. When you speak to a large group there is always someone sleeping in the back. I look for that person, and the instant I see drooping eyelids, perk up the pace of my delivery and/or tell a story to illustrate a point.

A person that moves away from you is a person who is uncomfortable with your story.

3. Add a dash of humor.

Life was not funny in 2007 when I lost four loved ones. I thought I would never laugh again and you may feel th same way. Thankfully, humans are meant to laugh, and as the months pass, your humor will return. I use humor to educate listeners about loss and grief. After a recent talk to a support group a woman came up to me and said, “Thank you for your funny stories and your smile.”

4. Limit details.

It is not necessary to cite every detail to get your story across. Death is painful enough, without adding suffering, blood, and gore. State the cause of death quickly and in one sentence, if possible. I say my daughter died from the injuries she received in a car crash and leave it at that.

5. Share coping tips.

Journaling is one of my best tips and I have developed a talk about it. What is working for you? Why is it working? Share these insights with others. You have a story to tell and can tell it in ways that help others.

Copyright 2010 by Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson has been an independent journalist for 30+ years. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association of Health Care Journalists, and Association for Death Education and Counseling. Her 24th book, “Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief,” written with Lois Krahn, MD is available from Amazon.

Centering Corporation has published her 26th book, “Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life” and a companion journal with 100 writing jump-starts. Hodgson is a monthly columnist for the new “Caregiving in America” magazine, which resumes publication in August. She is also a contributing writer for the Open to Hope Foundation website. Please visit Harriet’s website and learn more about this busy author and grandmother.

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