By Dr. Peggy Determeyer
Director, Community Bioethics and Aging Center
When my mother died and our family gathered for her funeral, my dad used the occasion as an opportunity to share some of their stories – his youth and formative years in Indonesia; experiences during the second world war; and his meeting my mother, their courtship, and marriage. This was the first time that we all heard the stories (and so many!), and gained a new appreciation for my dad’s ability to tell stories. It also gave my brothers and me a new appreciation for our family of origin. Eventually, I was even able to get my dad to write some of his stories down so that we could keep this bit of family history, and it has become a treasured keepsake.
Our lives are full of stories – not just our own, but how we come to be who and how we are as a people of faith – consider the Bible – it is full of stories that give us grounding on our connection with God and others. It is in story that we learn who we are and how we have grown.
Some say that the difference between humans and animals is their construction and use of tools. Others have argued that a far more definitive trait is language and the reflective exploration of meaning (Sierpina et al, 2007), giving us space to define ourselves, make sense of our world, learn about ourselves, share our experiences and define group identities.
We do this through storytelling, the interactive art of using words and actions to reveal the elements and images of a story while encouraging the listener’s imagination. Why is this important now? We are living in a time when we are closer to our families, with more extended time together. One way to find blessing is to start to share our stories in a more intentional way. When was the last time you talked with your family about some of the important threads of your lives? Alternatively, how would you reflect on life – how do we make meaning at a time when our lives seem to be on hold?
What do we accomplish when we listen to stories? There are a lot of benefits! The storyteller and the listener gain literacy skills, describing events, considering what happened and the lessons we learned, enhancing our critical thinking about meaning, and placing them in chronological order. It is a gentle way of sharing our values. It is also a way of reflecting in this time of challenge to remember our blessings.
There are also health benefits to telling our stories: we stimulate our minds, improve our memories, and connect our histories with values. For those with memory issues, research and experience has shown that it is helpful to provide a photograph and talk about it instead of asking someone to “remember”.
Storytelling can even take different forms: write a poem, draw or paint a picture. We all have stories – use whatever means to tell yours!
Sierpina, V. S., et al. (2007). “Regaining Our Humanity Through Story.” Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing 3(6): 626-632.