Every mourner has a story to share. You may share your story with family members, close friends, and community groups. But you need to share it without upsetting listeners so much they turn you off. How can you do this?

I have shared my story of multiple losses with many groups and take a “then and now” approach. It begins with the darkness of multiple losses, moves on to coping, doing my grief work, and the new life I am living today. You may take a similar approach.

Jenna Baddeley offers some tips in her “Psychology Today” website article, “Speaking of Grief: Tips for Grievers, Friends and Family on Talking About Loss.” Mourners are eager to share their stories, but society is not eager to hear them. “Weeks or months after a loss, grievers are expected to have rejoined ordinary life,” she writes.

According to Baddeley, listeners are more comfortable with negative emotion if it is in the past and the person has moved on to something better. Your grief may not be safely in the past, yet you may still share your life experience. In fact, I encourage you to do so. Keep these points in mind as you tell your story.

1. Avoid the rehash trap. Telling a negative story again and again does not help you and does not help listeners. Grief is a sad story, to be sure, but it can become a story of resilience. You cannot control life events, but you can control your response to them. People appreciate my story because I have created a happy ending.

2. Observe body language. Look for shifting positions and drastic changes in facial expressions. When you speak to a large group there is always someone sleeping in the back. I look for that person, and the instant I see drooping eyelids, perk up the pace of my delivery and/or tell a story to illustrate a point.
A person that moves away from you is a person who is uncomfortable with your story.

3. Add a dash of humor. Life was not funny in 2007 when I lost four loved ones. I thought I would never laugh again and you may feel th same way. Thankfully, humans are meant to laugh, and as the months pass, your humor will return. I use humor to educate listeners about loss and grief. After a recent talk to a support group a woman came up to me and said, “Thank you for your funny stories and your smile.”

4. Limit details. It is not necessary to cite every detail to get your story across. Death is painful enough, without adding suffering, blood, and gore. State the cause of death quickly and in one sentence, if possible. I say my daughter died from the injuries she received in a car crash and leave it at that.

5. Share coping tips. Journaling is one of my best tips and I have developed a talk about it. What is working for you? Why is it working? Share these insights with others. You have a story to tell and can tell it in ways that help others.

Copyright 2010 by Harriet Hodgson

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Harriet Hodgson

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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