Everything we know is built upon storytelling: film, music, television, literature, the news, scrapbooks, photo albums, art, letters, greeting cards, dance, advertising, the theatre, debate, the list goes on and on. Stories help us make sense of our world. We build our lives on them, we base our cultures upon them, and, we create our reality with them.

The personalization of funerals and the movement toward life celebrations puts you, the funeral director, in the position of master storyteller, with all the tools at the ready to compose and create a life narrative customized to fit the one being honored. The more tailored, personal, and accommodating the story you tell, the more significant, compelling, and meaningful the experience for the family. You know this already. You’ve seen the power of a thoughtfully arranged memorial. You create these moments daily.

But, if stories shape us, bring us meaning, and essentially, create us, then they also heal, bring us comfort, and alleviate pain. In this way, aftercare becomes conflated with at-need and, in some cases, in the pre-need phase of planning. You know that the first phone call, the first discussion about arrangements, and the first visit to your home sets the stage for a healthy grieving process, the beginning of your aftercare program. As you begin to build the tribute and create a memorial story, you are also building a strong and robust arena for healing.

You have heard the laughter emanating from the refreshment area, you have seen the smiles as the family looks over picture boards with rarely-seen relatives, you’ve seen the hands clasp in recognition of a favorite song, a shared memory, and a recognizable memento tucked away into the casket. You have seen the shoulders slouched in pain, heard the wavering voices full of grief, and looked into eyes red from countless tears shed, but you also know how the story you create straightens those shoulders, steadies those voices, and brightens those eyes. You are not only the author of joy, you are the author of recovery.

You have seen healing begin before the formal aftercare. And, you have seen how the therapeutic sustenance of storytelling, as you perform it, has worked to provide warmth, cheer, and enjoyment during a time when one least expects it. So, consider structuring your aftercare program to continually encourage storytelling, sharing memories, and reflecting. Whether your program includes inviting families to update online tributes on landmark occasions and share them on social media, providing an annual memorial service during which families can contribute a few words about their loved one, or informing families about opportunities to memorialize their loved ones, your program should, at its core, promote and reinforce storytelling, in any way possible.

The creation and maintenance of a healthy grieving process is a special, personalized, heart-felt reflection of the life which has been lived because well-adjusted mourning occurs as a beloved’s life story is told and retold, passed on and on, and through the generations, treasured. Encourage your families to speak of the dead. To speak loudly, speak clearly, and speak often, in whatever manner they choose. Because our stories don’t only create us, they sustain us. FBA

Petra Lina Orloff is president and CEO of Beloved, which produces custom, personalized, handcrafted obituaries and eulogies. She has been a professional writer for over 20 years and also completed the PhD program in English at Wayne State University in Detroit, where she taught literature and cultural studies. Her academic area of specialty is storytelling. You may contact her at [email protected] or at (248) 894-7076. www.beloved-press.com.