≡ Menu

The Gift of Story Telling

Guest blog by Olin Dodson, author of Melissa’s Gift

When my daughter passed away from cystic fibrosis in 1997, it felt like my life ended. Melissa was only 18. I had known her for just 7 years—and that’s a long story—but we had a wondrous life together. Her abrupt passing, on top of her continuous struggles and hospitalizations, left me bereft and despondent.

It took nearly seven more years before I found an interest in living once again.

One of my greatest problems in those days and nights of darkness was the sense that each passing day was taking me further away from the Melissa I knew and loved. I feared that the experience of looking into her deep eyes and cradling her hand would become a faded memory. I existed under the power of two ideas: a) grief never ends; and b) you must let go and get on with your life. I was fortunate to learn that those two hope-shredding ideas were incomplete. Fully formed, they are: grief never ends, but love never dies; and let go you must… but not entirely.

Thomas Attig, in his book, How We Grieve, describes loving in absence as a desirable activity. He writes that, through story-telling, “we maintain a living rela­tionship with our deceased loved one, one in which we allow ourselves to be transformed by the gift of the other’s life. Searching for lasting love in separation is our best hope for tran­scending suffering and reaffirming the continuing meanings of the life now ended and of our own.”

After Melissa died, as I wrote the story of our years together, I soon discovered that she was with me every day. And, four years later, when I finished the book, Melissa’s Gift, I realized that I had not let go of Melissa; she was closer and more real to me than she had ever been. I saw her face and talked to her. I detected her handprint in different places in my life. I got on with my life with her. Melissa’s presence with me grew through my process of re-engaging with her in my imagination and writing, and delving deeply into the details of our love and sorrow.

Once I found a publisher for Melissa’s Gift, I studied contemporary thought about grief and loss. I began teaching workshops on grief, mixing the insights from my studies with conversations, dreams, and stories from life with my daughter. With each telling of stories, we continue to experience the love for—and from—the one we lost.

The stories, dreams, ceremonies and honoring of those who have passed enrich us. Together, we are part of a subculture of people who seek to fully embrace life in all of its joys and sorrows and see no point in merely “moving on” from loss. In our dif­fering ways we let go, but allow ourselves to be continually touched and influenced by a love which never ends, and the person who is so, so dear to us.

(This article was first published by Cystic Fibrosis Research, Inc. and is used here with their permission.)