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"Oh, I Could Never Do What You Do!!!" (April 2019) Conference Recording

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Most likely anyone working in our field—and attending this conference—has become accustomed to hearing some variation of the question, “How in the world do you do that for a living?” Perhaps they think we are chronic depressives or super-humans who can do the impossible work of living in the world’s emotional backwater. Either way, what they don’t “get” is that the secret to doing “this” work is learning how to hear stories, how to offer hospitality to stories.

In a death-phobic culture which emphasizes facts, graphs, charts, and percentages, newspaper and online obituaries string facts together: date of birth, date of death, graduations, marriage and parenting details, memberships, place of employment, hobbies. Strung details, however colorful, fail to capture the particular-ness of the deceased and, consequently, the particular-ness of one’s bereavement.

Hawaiians sometimes say, “We need to get together and talk story.” In groups I lead, I have borrowed from the Hawaiian tradition of humuhumu or “fitting the pieces together.” Our data-driven, information-overloaded culture needs to rediscover active storytelling, particularly during the dying and the bereaving. Everyone’s story, at whatever stage of development, needs to be offered generous hospitality because in that storytelling, bereavers often find hope, insight, and encouragement to encounter, engage and to integrate their grief. So, although over the years I have heard many bereavers’ stories---I have never heard this particular bereaver’s narrative. Grieving persons need to hear: Your story counts!

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