If there’s something powerful about telling your own stories, there is something equally profound in hearing someone else tell your story to others. For centuries, we have been telling stories. Well before we could write, the most important and valuable knowledge we had as humans was passed down through stories and spoken word. And although our modern culture has become removed somewhat from traditions of telling stories in the same way, it is no surprise that spoken word seems to touch a very ancient part of our being. A part of us all that remembers our ancestral traditions. Something inside us that knows... stories spoken were stories we valued, ones we wanted our civilization to remember decades to come.
Every time I have had someone else put my story into words, it has changed me. It has changed how I view myself, for the better. It has added another layer of meaning to this horrendous journey of widowhood, too.
I’m going to say that one of the greatest occurrences of this happened just a few days ago. Many of you know our Friday writer, Kelley Lynn, and that she was selected recently to do a TEDx talk on grief and living on. I’ll spare the details, as I am certain she will be eager to tell you all about her own experience of doing this talk, but what I will share is that my story was a part of her story. She chose a few individuals to make examples of to drive her inspiring message home, and one of those examples was from my own life.
I hardly have the words for what this experience was to me. Initially, as I logged in to watch her talk stream live online, I was just excited to see my friend up there, doing her thing so well. I was excited to be a part of it with her. I was excited to think of how meaningful this moment was for her. But I wasn’t prepared for just how it would make me feel when she got to my story...
Immediately, as the slides for her talk move to talking about my life, and Mike and Shelby’s lives, tears pour out of me. She talks about all the shared love in our life together - not only between the three of us, but from my family, his family, and the families of both of the people we have lost. She talks about how each person made a choice to love, and to thereby honor those we have lost be choosing to expand our love outward even more.
I am crying so hard and at the same time, so surprised by it. And in that moment, in a way I haven’t been in quite a long time, I am completely overwhelmed. I can see the past 5 years of my life flashing before me… playing like an old slideshow in my head, all these images of both the joy and the pain of it all begin to flood me. The night I got the phone call that changed my life… the animal screams that came out of me uncontrollably, into the phone, at my fiance's dad who was telling me he didn't survive the crash. The first week, when I lost ten pounds because I couldn’t even feed myself I was in so much shock. My sister leaving her life for nearly a month to be there for me, halfway across the country. The first Christmas, which was terrifying and agonizing at best to make it through. The many, many times my fiance’s mother and I cried helplessly into each other’s arms, pouring our pain out unapologetically together - creating a bond between us that will never fade. The first time I laughed that year - truly laughed, deep from my belly, and exhaled… realizing that maybe, just maybe, I will make it through this.
The first time I went to Camp Widow, and got to meet Kelley and other long-distance friends in person for the first time… and all the laughter and tears shared with these amazing new people. Leaving Camp, and feeling totally transformed by the hearts I'd met there. Fearless, inspiring, brave people. The art shows I entered my grief photography in, and the awards I won for work that was about something so painful and so deeply personal. Meeting Mike, and then Shelby, and the unfolding of a whole new adventure that has been one of the best and also scariest things I’ve ever done. The many nights of silly laughter and board games and exploring life together now, with two new people, while two other people missing from our lives, but still somehow so much a part of it all. The continued love of my fiance’s family, who we actually might be visiting for Christmas this year.
All of this and more flooded my heart… the good, the scary, the painful, the beautiful, the brokenness, all of it - all at once. And there I sat, as my good friend told the world a small piece of my story and my heart just spilled out of me with gratefulness. I had expected initially that it would just be exciting to be a part of her talk. What happened instead, was that she showed me my own story in a way I had never seen it before… because to hear it from someone else is always to hear it in a new way. There was a depth of gratitude not only for having the privilege to be hearing her share those words, but to happen to even be the person who has gotten to live this life.
Five years ago, I probably would have punched you if you'd told me that one day, I would feel so grateful for this happening to my life. While there are still and always will be moments that I hate that this happened to me - and to my best friend who lived far too short a life… it is a life so incredibly rich. There was a new a new layer of meaning given to it all this week. A layer that changes everything, just as every new meaningful thing that happens on this journey does.
It makes me think about not only telling our own stories, but telling each other’s stories too. And how meaningful telling each other’s stories can be. Going all the way back to our most primitive days, there is a power given to someone’s story when another stands up and tells it. Whether that is with a friend over coffee, in front of a campfire, or up on a stage - the power is there. It reminds people that their story is beautiful, and meaningful, and has value. Enough value that someone else would want to tell it to others, too.
This week, I was reminded that, when we tell each other’s stories, it allows us to hear our own in a new way. And that to be on the receiving end, as a listener, we are also giving something to the experience. We are honoring. These exchanges of stories - a thing we have been doing for thousands of years - blankets even the most painful events in our lives with these: meaning, belonging, and love. It moves all of us closer to one another, and validates something so important to our healing…
Yes, your story is worth telling.
Their story is worth telling.
And we want to hear it.
Not just once... but for all of time.