Is it Time for a New Version of Your Grief Story?

Oprah has one of the top shows on television, but I rarely have time to see it.  Last week, however, I watched part of Oprah’s interview with Rosie O’Donnell.  For decades, Rosie had been portraying herself as a child whose mother died when she was in fifth grade.  Rosie’s former partner asked her if it was time to tell a different story – the story of a loving mother of four children.

Rosie agreed that time had come.

After the interview I thought about my own story of multiple losses.  Would I always be seen as a bereaved person?  Could I describe myself in new ways?  If so, what would those ways be?  I thought about the answers to these questions.

Clearly, multiple losses had changed my life and changed me.  These losses had been fused into my identity.  I will always be a bereaved parent, the mother of a brilliant daughter who died too soon.  I will always miss my father-in-law, brother, and former son-in-law.  The challenge, at least for me, is to learn from grief and create something positive from its ashes.

You may have come to the same realization.

This realization has changed my grief talks.  While I still state the facts – four of my loved ones died within nine months – I do it quickly and move on to the purpose of my talk.  Similar changes appear in the grief articles I write.  When I write an article, I have two goals.  One is to inform readers — in other words, to provide a few research findings — and the other is to offer hope.

Today, I portray myself as a grandparent raising her twin grandchildren and someone with a new life purpose.  Happiness is a personal decision. Instead of portraying ourselves as life’s victims, we can choose to portray ourselves as loving people who are grateful for the miracle of life.  The ability to do this comes with time, pain, and grief work.

Your grief story cannot be changed, but the way you tell it can be.  You may weave colorful descriptions and happy memories into your story.  Slowly and surely, you may weave humor into your story as well.  Telling a different version of your story does not change the facts.  A new version of your story, however, makes it more powerful and compelling.

Bereaved people are more than survivors.  We are searching beings, grateful for the gift of life.  Our stories are worth telling.

Harriet Hodgson

More Articles Written by Harriet

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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  • Sid Korpi says:

    I champion your new outlook on grief! I wrote “Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss” after a similar tsunami of loss (my mother, stepfather, uncle, two dogs, two cats, cockatiel, and 15-year marriage in a few years’ time). But the point of the book is not to wallow in grief, but to find ways to move through it as positively as is possible, finding as a result depths of strength, wisdom and compassion you’d previously not known. Instead of shutting down one’s heart, reopening your heart to love again is the challenge/lesson grief presents us with. Grief is transformative, to be sure. The trick is to make the choice to have that transformation be for your highest good.

    The last of our human freedoms is to choose how we respond to any given event. (A paraphrase of Elie Wiesel’s famous phrase.)

  • I do like this very positive outlook on grief. As a bereaved parent of 2 1/2 years am starting to realise that it’s so important not to let our grief become our identity as I see with so many people. Thank you.

    • For you, Julie, it is such a fresh time of suffering. Be kind to yourself and merciful. Find places and friends who can invite you to say your child’s name out loud. We need to hear our child’s name spoken over and over again.

      Kind regards and prayers, too,
      MJ

  • I truly admire your strong courage to portray yourself as life’s loving person instead of a victim. Not many people has this ability to lift themsleves up and become positive messengers especially the amount of loss you have gone through in a very short time. Ensure that those you have lost and have loved, their stories are told and passed onto the next generation so that they will better understand them for who they were. You are one brave women and I salute you for this.

    • Dear Sanjay,

      Thank you for your encouraging comments. There are days when my courage falters, but all I need to do is look at my twin grandchildren and my wellspring of courage is renewed. Thanks to them, I am living a new and exciting life.

      Harriet