In The Needs of the Dying: A Guide for Bringing Hope, Comfort and Love to Life's Final Chapter, David Kessler takes us through the dying process in a way that is accessible and touches our hearts. From knowing the right thing to say to our loved ones to being prepared for the physical manifestations of death, he answers the questions we don’t know to ask until we face death up close and personal. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is dying or has a family member who is dying. Your situation is unique, but it is helpful to have a bit of hand holding.
“Storytelling is a primal human need that does not diminish as our bodies weaken.” - David Kessler
One theme throughout the book piqued my interest: storytelling. Songwriting is one method of storytelling so, as a songwriter, this topic is often at the forefront of my awareness. In fact, The Great Blue Song Project was formed so that people could tell their stories, through song and through connection with their family and friends, before it’s too late. The pastor who delivered my grandfather’s eulogy introduced me to aspects of Grandpa Herb that I would have never known. He did that through storytelling and he drew from my grandfather’s memoir — his story in his own words. I’ve heard many people talk about writing down their story but not many people actually take the time to do it.
Whether or not it’s possible to type up an entire memoir (which will inevitably be incomplete), it is important to tell our stories — the funny ones, the sad ones, the fantastic ones, the simple ones, the old ones, and the ones that happened today. Kessler reminds us that it is important for us to listen to those who are dying and to see beyond the illness. He says, “Seeing beyond the illnesses is one of the most meaningful gifts we can give them. It is a greater gift to ourselves.”
Through storytelling, we can delight in each other’s humanness and we remember that no story is complete without a challenge.
We #SeePerfection in our imperfect selves.
If a dying loved one is unable to tell their story because they can no longer communicate, that is the time to tell them stories and express our love. Kessler tells us that hearing is the last sense to go, so even if a loved one is unresponsive or comatose, they can probably still hear us with their ears and they can always hear us with their hearts. The storytelling imperative is a two-way street. We all need each other to be heard and we need to hear the stories of others.
Storytelling need not be a mystery or only something some people know how to do — we all tell stories every day. This is how we relate the events of our lives and connect with others.
The challenge becomes knowing how to continue storytelling when our relationship has changed due to illness.
We often don’t know what to do when our loved ones are sick. Which stories do we tell? What do we talk about? It can seem that the illness takes over. Kessler suggests that we continue telling stories as we usually would, but respond to the needs of the person who is sick. If something is upsetting, ask what they would like to talk about. Above all, be yourself and don’t worry about getting everything right. Communicating your love through storytelling and through your presence is better than shying away because you might mess it up.
If you need some help initiation a conversation with your loved one, you can download the Starter Question Workbook (scroll down to the footer) or check out the "Questions Over Coffee" posed in the blog each week. Both tools are there to inspire conversation. You may just find out things you never knew and that is its own adventure.
Please share, ask questions, leave comments, suggest topics, and tell stories! I want to hear about your moments of magic, miracles, and synchronicity.
Dare to be immortal.
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