Living with Dying: Storytelling

There is immense significance in being able to share our stories at the end of our lives. The Living with Dying Partnership recognizes this human need to review and relate the meaning within our lifetime — with all the joy and suffering we have experienced over the years. We have compiled some testimonies that will demonstrate the richness of the giving and receiving of these memories and how learning the stories of elders, friends, patients and those who grieve, expands the capacity for their caregivers to connect to each person’s whole, fully-experienced and unique life.
Diana Barnard, MD, assistant professor of Family Medicine, Division of Palliative Medicine, is a story gatherer:
“As a palliative care provider, I offer a variety of services to patients and families living with serious illness. To be effective, I must explore who people are, how they live, and what is important to them. In essence, I need to hear their story.
“In our busy world, it is not always easy to create time and space for this essential element of high-quality care. Allowing patients to tell their story while listening closely can help me to better understand ‘what makes them tick.’ Often, a short story can be a wonderful metaphor for their larger Life.
“In listening, I often hear details that help me understand deeper emotions and to explore hopes and worries for the future. Telling and listening to life stories is an important reminder that my patients are not their illness, but human beings who want to live life to the fullest for as long as possible.”
Similarly, Matt Wollam-Berens, chaplain at UVM/Porter Medical Center, finds stories an essential tool for tending to patients at Porter Hospital, Helen Porter and the ARCH rooms:
“At Porter the best way to care for someone as a person and not just a patient is to ask them about their ‘story.’ Each morning at 8 a.m. I lead the department managers in a brief ‘centering moment.’ I call to mind our common purpose in caring for all those who come to Porter in search of healing and wholeness — whether it be in body, mind or spirit.
“When I have permission and it does not violate confidentiality, I sometimes pass on stories people share with me during visits. A department manager, especially in places like the lab, food services, pharmacy, housekeeping, etc. does not always have the opportunity to hear the stories of the people they serve. Sharing a story can be a great way to connect the hard work they do behind the scenes with the person who is at the receiving end of what they do!”
Margaret Olson, Bereavement Facilitator at Hospice Volunteer Services, feels the depth of human emotions and resiliency when she meets with community members:
“Storytelling is one of the oldest methods of self-exploration, self-expression and self-discovery. Recently, members of our Writing and Storytelling Group at Hospice Volunteer Services, shared their first endeavors at speaking personal stories of grief and loss. Each had a chance to see, hear and share their words in the presence of a compassionate community. Following each story, members had a chance to reflect upon what inspired them and later several members spoke about a ‘shift’ happening and a ‘heaviness’ lifting. The evening reminded me of the words of author Francis Weller who wrote, ‘Grief is a uniquely private experience that must be shared in the presence of community.’”
The Addison County Living with Dying Partnership is sponsoring the annual event “Stories from the Hearth” at American Flatbread on this coming Sunday afternoon, Nov. 12, from 4-6 p.m. After some refreshments we will settle into hearing tales of loss, grief and transformation shared by several local storytellers, interspersed with musical interludes. At a time when our world is holding so much pain and suffering, we invite you to join our community in a time of hope and healing. 

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