Saturday, May 25, 2019
Sharing Stories to Make a Difference
I'm not sure what I was expecting, launching the Memorial Day weekend by attending a funeral. Though the person whose memorial I attended was not a close relative, he was a member of the community worthy of recognition, and I wanted to be there to pay my last respects.
Events like that can easily serve to turn one's own thoughts to personal mortality, and from there to meditations on the meaning of life...and perhaps ruminations on how well one's own life might have measured up, should it be we who were being eulogized instead of the dearly departed. In such a melancholy turn of mind, my husband and I found ourselves continuing such a conversation over dinner that afternoon, sharing life stories and those hard-won nuggets of wisdom that often are appreciated by others to whom they might accidentally be passed along.
Life isn't always easy for people, and some people have had a rockier start than others. That, however, cannot always be judged by current appearances, a lesson reflected upon by those sitting at our dinner table. The conversation brought to mind the difficult childhood my husband and his siblings experienced while their father grappled with what likely was the aftereffects of emotional trauma from his service during the second World War.
Though Frank Stevens certainly did not offer the ultimate sacrifice during those war years, a part of him never did return home when the war was over. That loss became a lifelong affliction, eventually costing him his life within two decades of his return home.
Following that personal evolution through the letters Frank wrote home during his years in the Navy revealed, at the start, a fun-loving, buoyant spirit, but by the time he returned to his home in Chicago after the war was over, his own father passed away from heart trouble. In many ways, life for Frank took a downward spiral from that point until his death in 1966.
Those for whom that event hit hardest—his own immediate family—each suffered the loss differently. In my husband's case, that loss was seen through a five year old's eyes, leaving a lifelong impact. While a tragedy like that can become a topic one never wishes to talk about—at least in public—in his case, that five year old's pain grew up to become the empathetic mentor's encouragement to others in a new generation suffering agonies of their own. He has learned to become willing to tell that painful story.
Sharing that story once again at the dinner table yesterday gave one more chance to encourage another hurting person to perhaps consider how one's own story, bravely shared, can make a difference for others. It isn't an easy offering, and the words may stumble out at first, but people who are hurting can recognize the sound of someone else who knows what it's like. Sharing one's story is like granting permission to let the pretenses down and get to the words that can bring relief. And, hopefully, healing.
With all the pain that is in the world, hopefully the brave offering of sharing a story will transform those humble tokens into words of encouragement that bring strength to others. At the funeral I attended yesterday, I certainly heard such a story of an overcomer. We can expect eulogies to be like that, of course, but that insignificant detail of funerals makes me wonder how many other such stories of overcomers are represented by all the rest of the headstones in our cemeteries. How much better if we found a way to share those stories before the words can no longer be our own.