What is the story you tell yourself about your loss?

Even as a child, I understood the power of stories. Through words, I could escape into worlds far, far away. Between the covers of books, I could find characters I could relate to when I felt misunderstood. Stories gave me comfort, sparked my imagination, and made me curious about people and places outside of my own environment.

Storytelling has been a part of the human experience since our early days. History is built around the word. Stories are how we pass down knowledge and information to future generations. They are also how we learn – about ourselves and others.

The stories we tell ourselves have a profound impact on our lives. They can build us up or they can tear us down. Recently, I watched George Monbiot’s Ted Talk about stories. While he speaks particularly to stories in politics, his ideas have a much wider application. I was inspired, by the talk, to ask myself, “what story did I tell myself about my loss?”

At first, it was a story of disbelief. “I am a widow” was the story that flew through my mind a thousand times a day during the early days following his death. A more subtle story crept in a few months later – that he wasn’t gone, he was just away working on a film as he had done from time to time during our years together. I know now that my mind fabricated this thought to protect me from the reality that he was never coming home.

Over time, my grief story slowly evolved. It went through variations as I worked through the process of rebuilding my life without him.

If I’m not Gary’s wife, friend, lover, and art department coordinator, who am I without him?

We were supposed to build a new home and start a family. Now that future is gone along with my dreams and goals.

If the person who mattered most to me is gone, what matters to me now?

Over time, I finally made my way to “If I’ve been given time on this planet that Gary was not, how can I make a positive difference for others?” This became my mission and my passion.

In watching the video by George Monbiot, it reminded me of the power of the stories we tell and how, as our story changes, so does our experience of life. There is nothing wrong with any of the stories I told myself about my grief. Some inspired self-exploration to help me understand who I wanted to become as I moved forward in my life without Gary. Others held reality at bay until I had the strength to embrace it. What’s most important is to ask, does this story serve and support me or does it tear me apart and defeat me.

Monbiot says, “Despair is the state we fall into when our imagination fails. When we have no story that explains the present and describes the future, hope evaporates.”

For me, it perfectly describes the process that occurs as a result of loss and grief. We despair over the loss of our loved one and are left with little energy or desire to imagine a future without them. It’s hard to find a story that explains the loss when the grief is new. It takes time to create a story that ‘describes’ a new future.

As a writer and speaker, I believe in the power of words. They can define who we are in a way that limits us…“I am a widow”…or they can inspire us to grow and become someone we never thought we would be…“I help people lead extraordinary lives.

Recently, I facilitated an event for patient advocates. As an ice breaker, we all wrote our story in 6 words. Mine was…“To live without him took…everything.”

This is my truth. It took time, energy, support, and coaching to rebuild my life. Through the tears and the pain and the deepest missing of him, I struggled to rewrite my story.

What is your story of loss? Is it serving you or defeating you? How can you rewrite your story in a way that describes a future that inspires you, so you don’t despair and lose hope? As the author of your life, you may not have chosen the storyline of losing your loved one, but you can choose the story after loss.

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Tambre Leighn

Tambre Leighn is a published author, speaker, and outspoken patient/caregiver advocate. Her background as a professional athlete and her personal experience caregiving for her late husband along with her struggles with grief-related depression after being widowed inspired Tambre to become a coach. After years of coaching individual clients, she now provides consulting and training to healthcare organizations to improve the patient and caregiver experience. In her down time, she enjoys dancing Argentine Tango and writing.

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