Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Your Story is Important

Your Story is Important
Dr. Jess E. McCrosky, DMin, BCC

In my work with Community Hospice I have grown to appreciate stories. Sometimes stories are shared purposefully and explicitly. One man was in a nursing home bed, was unable to communicate, unable to tell his story. Normally, this means that I have little to go on to know much about the person. But in this case his family had written up a little biography and taped it to the wall. It told about his family, and about his work. He was a founder for a new business in Jacksonville in his younger years and was quite successful in his work. Having the stories gave me great insight into the person I was there to see. Other times, stories are not so explicit. I see pictures of family, of travels, of hobbies. I see items reflecting interests and faith and I am able to begin building stories on behalf of the person. Stories can be a valuable way to share who we are and to learn about others. 

One time, when my daughter was in the 6th grade I found myself learning to rollerblade. (We won’t talk about how many years ago that was. Suffice it to say that my hair was more brown than gray.) For several years I had been taking her to the skating rink and roller skating with traditional skates. She wanted to do rollerblades, and being a young hip father, I figured I would learn along with her. Everything went well as we practiced at the rink, and we began practicing outside, near the house. One day we decided to venture out into the neighborhood. As we were going down a sidewalk, we were literally going down, down a little hill. That meant we were picking up some speed. I could see a street ahead of us, and I suddenly thought, “How do you stop these things?” Lesson number one, if you are ever going to learn using skates, learn to stop. When i tried to stop, I ended up going down, only my leg turned one way and my foot turned the other. It was a pretty bad break at my ankle. The doctor gave me the news: I’d be out of work for about 6 weeks. I had an appointment with a hospice patient I had been seeing, so I called her to let her know that someone else would be following up with her. She suggested that maybe God was trying to tell me I needed to slow down. Slow down is exactly what I did for a while.

If you’ve ever had a broken leg, you know how badly it can hurt, at first. It hurts so bad you don’t feel like doing anything. It takes all you can do just to move from the bed to the recliner. That was one of the few times I was actually willing to let my wife and even my mother bring me my lunch and fix the pillow. It hurt too much to do anything but take the time to let the healing begin. But after the first week, or so, I was ready to test it out. It was still too early to do very much, but I knew I needed to be up and moving a little. But with a little moving around, I was easily worn out and needed to withdraw to recuperate. With a broken bone there comes a time when the bone needs to be exercised. The exercise helps it become stronger and without it, the bone would not return to the strength and agility it once had. The problem is that exercise is also painful. So when the injury was fresh the pain caused me to stop and allow healing, and later the pain was what I needed as I worked back into a new place of wholeness.
Does anything in that story sound familiar to you? It could, just as easily, be a story about surviving the death of someone you love. At first there is the pain of the loss that can be crippling, that prevents you from engaging in familiar activities. Perhaps you find that you don’t want to remember the person, because remembering hurts too much. Eventually, you begin testing out your legs. You venture out. You run across some pictures or you visit a place that was a favorite of your loved one. You don’t run from the memories but they take their toll and you need to withdraw for a time to recuperate. Eventually, you may find that though it still hurts and is tiring, you need to re-enter activities of life. You begin to embrace some of the memories and you welcome when friends remind you about your loved one. It still hurts, but you know that working through the pain, at this point, you find that you are growing stronger. Stories are important. Your story is important, just as the story of your loved one continues to be important.

A friend of mine spoke at the funeral service of his father-in-law. My friend is a long distance runner. His father-in-law was a long distance swimmer. He had plenty of stories to tell about being athletes, but also stories of being family. One of the stories had to do with his long term illness and his eventual death. My friend said that he disliked the popular comment about how in death a person has lost their battle with cancer or whatever illness they had. He recalled the perseverance that enables an athlete to press on through the difficult stages of the race. He quoted from the Christian scriptures where a fellow named Paul, at the end of his life, said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Paul goes on to talk about the prize that is given to the athlete that finishes. His father-in-law did not lose the battle, he finished the race. He received the prize. For my friend, telling the stories of his father-in-law, telling his own stories in relation to his father-in-law, gave his experience of loss a new sense of meaning. Stories are important. Your story is important, just as the story of your loved one continues to be important.

There is so much more that I would like to say about story telling, such as telling the story of your life as you anticipate how the future is going to unfold. A death, or other loss can shatter your vision of the future and it takes time to begin re-imagining what the future can be like after the loss. But stories are for telling, and it is for you to be telling your story. When we have our time of remembering in a few minutes, perhaps you can give us a glimpse into the person you are here to remember and to honor.

But would you permit me to share one more, brief story? This one comes from a book called Spinning Gold Out of Straw: How Stories Heal, by Diane Rooks. This story is titled “Greevin’”.

A Florida backcountry woman was hoeing out beside her weather-beaten house. A neighbor stopped by and leaned on the fence. “Effie Mae,” she said, “you know it ain’t fitten’ for you to be hoein’ out here today when the whole town knows that you just had a letter from the government sayin’ that your Jim is layin’ out in one of them furrin’ heathen lands, dead! It just ain’t fittin.’ Why you oughtta be dressed in your funeral clothes and actin’ more respectful.”

Effie Mae rested on her hoe and looked at her neighbor with level eyes, bloodshot from staying awake all night. “Friend,” she said, “I know you mean well, but you just don’t understand. This is Jim’s land, and it rejoiced his heart to see green things growin’ because it meant that the young’uns and me would be eatin’ and cared for. This is his hoe, and when I’m hoein, I can feel his big strong hands on mine and hear his voice sain’, “That’s good, Maw. That’s real good!” I can’t even afford a stone monument for Jim. Workin’ not weepin’ is the only headstone I can give him. So if you don’t mind, neighbor -- if it’s all the same to you, I’ll do my greevin’ in my own way.”

Here’s to you. To your stories shared. To those stories that you are not ready to remember, but are waiting patiently for when they are told. And here’s to your greevin’ in your own way.

A Service of Remembrance
Community Hospice of Northeast Florida

April 27, 2011

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