Telling Their Stories

There are many different reasons and purposes for telling our grief story. Telling our story is important for so many reasons but understanding why we are telling it helps us to formulate the story for that purpose and to get the reaction that we wanting from telling it. There are three basic reasons that we tell a story and as we move through grief these reasons may change.

1. We tell our story to understand that it is real

    The death of someone we love is so intensely painful and the details around the death are forever imprinted on our minds. We remember the tiniest detail and we find ourselves wanting to tell it again and again. We tell details about the cause of death, the things that went right and the things that went wrong.  In the telling we ask why and what if and maybe we should have. Sometimes we tell it with the odd feeling that maybe telling it this time the ending will be different. At this time intertwined with our stories are all of our raw emotions. We are trying so hard to understand how something so unimaginable.  We don’t need others to do anything but sit and listen and absorb the details and the pain. We may find ourselves telling people that we have just met, in a store or on an elevator details about our loss. We have no greater purpose but to tell it over and over.

2. We tell our story to connect with others

    There is a shift that comes in time where our story becomes a way to connect with others. We share our story to find others with similar experiences. We want to know that we are not alone in our grief and pain. We want to know that there are others that have had similar losses so that we can learn and share with them. We also use our stories to reach out to others to let them know that we understand because we are also on the grief journey. The stories start to contain details about our loved one their interests and passions in life. We want others to know them through us and we seek to introduce them to people who understand. Our grief journey becomes intertwined at this time in sharing the loss, our love for them and we also share how we live without them. We may share our stories in writings on websites, blogs or Facebook. There may be emotions but they are not as raw. Our goal is to connect, to not feel alone and to make sure that others know that they are not alone.

3. We tell stories to make a difference and to honor them

    At some point we may decide that the story of our loved one’s life and death needs to be shared for the purpose of making a difference, to individuals or entire countries. These stories focus on why the person died and what message can come of it. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers was founded on such a story. Laws, medical practice and societal norms have been changed by tragic stories being shared. Individuals have taken different paths in life after hearing the stories of our loved ones. There is a lot of power in these stories, but there are some things to keep in mind when planning to tell them either verbally or in writing. These include:


  1. Make the message simple and directly related to your story. Try not to cloud the message with many details that pull people’s attention away.
  2. Anger has a part in grief but not in trying to make a point. It is easy to dismiss someone who is angry; the message is not being listened to because the anger is in the way. If you are looking for things to change anger, bitterness and blame will not help.
  3. You may want to tug on heartstrings but not so much that the focus is more on your personal loss than the issue. It is the best when we can personalize the situation to your loved one but still clearly tell the message of change.
  4. Remember who the audience is and plan accordingly. What is going to move them the most about your story?
  5. Finally know that your story will touch, move and inspire the people it is meant to, and sometimes we will not know who they are. Share your message, gently with everyone.  

      Whatever the reason for wanting to tell their stories we can embrace all the wonderful resources available for doing so. Share your stories on websites or blogs. Submit them to magazines and journals or apply to speak to larger audiences at conferences or in workshops. In sharing their story I hope that you find peace, understanding and purpose. ©The Grief Toolbox

About the Author

Tanya Lord was a special education teacher when Noah died. After his death she read The Institute of Medicine’s report To Err Is Human and realized that the errors responsible for her son’s death were not unique. This created a desire and determination to better understand and work towards improving health care. Currently she has completed a master’s degree in public health and a PhD in clinical and population health research and is completing a post-doctoral fellowship. Lord shares her personal and professional experiences in presentations and workshops for medical staff and students focusing on the importance of effective communication with patients before and after an error. She also is a co-founder of The Grief Toolbox (, which offers tools to help those along the grief journey. Lord may be contacted at [email protected]

Grief In Action