When to Tell – and Not Tell – Your Grief Story

Last month, my husband and I went to a holiday party. We enjoyed the food, piano music, and visiting with friends. As we prepared to leave, a friend asked what I was doing these days. When I told her we were raising our twin grandchildren because their parents had died in separate car crashes, her jaw dropped.

“That’s unbelievable,” she said.

Another person overheard our conversation and was obviously uncomfortable with my honesty. This is not the first time this has happened. Years ago, I had a similar experience. I answered a question honestly and a guest commented, “Please don’t spoil the party.” She was partially right. There is a time and place to tell your story, but sometimes you tell it because you are surprised or caught off-guard.

You have a story to tell. But Vamik D. Vokan, MD, and Elizabeth Zintl, in their book “Life After Loss,” say the American culture prohibits the expression of grief. “We are a culture of death deniers,” they write. Death deniers, which may include family members and friends, do not want any connection with your pain. Yet you must tell your story in order to cope, do your grief work, and create a new life.

Grief changes you forever. Not telling your story is to deny your identity and life experience. Though you are temporarily lost in the darkness, telling your story helps you find your way through grief. At least, that is my experience after losing four loved ones in nine months. If you are like me, you may have wondered how long you should tell your story.

Tell your story until you can do it without sobbing. In other words, you are starting to accept loss. Judith Viorst writes about this in her book, “Necessary Losses.” Some mourn quietly, she explains, while others mourn vocally. We experience terror, tears, and terrible emotions. “In our own different ways, having managed someow to work our way through our confrontations and unacceptable losses, we can begin to come to the end of mourning.”

Tell your story until you can idenfity feelings. Repeating your story will help you identify confusion, anger, frustration, and stress. You may also recognize feelings of aloneness and abandonment. I didn’t realize how worried I was about money until I wrote an article about tracking down my deceased daughter’s assets. Getting feelings out in the open helps you cope with them.

Tell your story until it gets shorter. Your story will change over time. Though it still includes the basics — cause of death, memorial service, secondary losses, and other facts — you start to condense your story. Surprising as it seems now, the time will come when you can summarize your story in a few sentences. This is a sign of reconciliation.

Tell your story until you start to see progress. Humor may start to creep back into your story. The results of your grief work become apparent. You may use more positive words. Repeating your story will help you reinvent yourself. Today, I give talks about grief to help others. How long should you tell your story? As long as you need to, and then hold it close to your heart.

Copyright 2009 by Harriet Hodgson

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.

2 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



  • Continue telling your story, people who share your grief and is there for you in your hard times are your true friends.
    There is always somone who wants to hear your story, so keep telling

  • Siona says:

    Thank you so much for this, so very much.

    I can think of no greater honor than to be able to listen to the story and the memories of someone who has died, and no greater honor than to witness the love that fuels the telling of such stories. I hope that anyone grieving can recognize this–and see that those who don’t wish to listen are merely and only scared.

    And oh, Harriet… four beloveds within a year? I can’t imagine. Thank you for carrying with such grace and such tenderness their stories, too.