How recounting the stories keeps them alive long after they’re gone

April 19, 2022

A story about a bison in Yellowstone. And all about the remembering.

Found among her personal effects

When my late girlfriend’s husband emailed me a photo of mementoes she’d saved of the fly-fishing trip she and I took to Montana and Yellowstone, I thought about the bison story.

“You know it, right?” I asked.

“It bears retelling,” he responded. So I did:

There’s one road through Yellowstone so when wildlife appears traffic can really slow down…almost to a standstill. The wildife viewing protocol on that road is to have your look at the magnificent creature you see close-up and move on, so others can see, too.

A huge bison appeared and began trotting alongside the line of traffic.

recounting-the-stories

Robin’s mementoes of our trip

Two cars ahead of us, a family in a small travel trailer decided they would hog the sighting. They slowed down, keeping pace with the bison, who remained alongside them….and they stayed that way for some minutes, allowing no one else a close-up view. An impatient line of traffic grew behind them and us. We all wanted our sighting, too.

Robin was driving our rental car and, when she’d had just about enough of them, mashed the horn, a New Yorker’s response that disturbed the park’s quiet.

In response, the bison turned and smashed its horns into the travel trailer ahead of us a few times, denting the shit out of it. The family pulled off in shock (!) to examine the damage, and as we all passed, they all gave us the finger.

Ah, Karma in action! A beautiful thing. They totally deserved it. We couldn’t have laughed any harder. And so did Robin’s husband on the retelling.

Recounting the stories, sharing the moments–that’s how we manage grief. In remembering that anecdote, I put myself right back in that car, in that scene and I couldn’t help but laugh. It was a balm of sorts, for my grief. And maybe her husband’s. Even though we knew there’d be no more fun times with her in this life. The thought of which still brings tears to my eyes.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.

Grief is never entirely managed. There is no end time when it’s all “handled.”  It doesn’t go away. A lifetime can pass, and grief can still be ever-present.

But it IS soothing to recount the happy moments, the funny ones, the times that meant something.

Found on my father’s fridge, circa 1999

I found this Post-it in my father’s handwriting on the refrigerator of my parent’s home while my mother was in her final hospitalization. It was 1999 and my father was in his late 70s, already in the grips of Alzheimer’s disease. He’d never used a computer and maybe had never seen one close up. The note made me smile.

The other week my hometown’s Facebook page asked if anyone remembered doctors who made house calls and who the docs were. Half a dozen people mentioned my father, a pediatrician who, yes, made house calls. To the end.

When my father asked that question about email all those years ago, he couldn’t have envisioned “social media” or even that he’d be mentioned in a social media post more than a decade after his death. But in the memories of his patients, some of whom posted a little bit about him, he is present.  And in the generosity of their sharing their stories, he is present in mine.

Don’t hesitate to recount stories about someone who has passed. It won’t make them sad. Not in a bad way. It brings a loved one back to life, if only in our mind’s eye.

These days, I’m recounting the stories about my friend that I remember so well in my Guided Journal through Grief, answering each prompt in writing or with my child-like art (a brave act, because she was a gifted artist– she’s probably smiling at this from the other side). Because I remember the details of “us” now, but maybe I won’t in 10 years. Then, I can pick up the journal and page through, remembering her smile and all of our laughter.

Check it out in my Etsy shop HERE. 

 

18 comments on “How recounting the stories keeps them alive long after they’re gone
  1. Pictures often inspire the telling of stories.

  2. Diane says:

    Oh, I SO agree with this! Tell those stories. Write them down. It DOES keep your loved one alive!
    I remember when a close friend lost his father. The funeral was in Saskatchewan–during covid–so there was no way we could attend. So, when he and his wife got back, we packed up some treats and told him we were coming over just to spend the evening talking about his dad (whom we only knew through our friend’s stories). We spent three hours looking at slides and just hearing the stories. It changed something in our friend. Gave him peace and closure. And it was a wonderful evening for the rest of us.

  3. Hot Hubby and I have lost many, many people in our lives and I always say, “I don’t collect things I collect stories”. We just spent a weekend with a very, very old friend and we were recounting stories about all of them.

  4. Alana says:

    I remember reading your post about your late friend and also reading her obituary. I enjoyed this peek into your relationship. I think it’s important to remember those in our lives who have passed onto the next act, and to remember the funny or good things they did in our lives, to keep that energy alive. Not only that, but you reminded me of witnessing a bison/obnoxious tourist encounter years ago in Custer State Park, one that my then teenaged son still laughs about today.

  5. Lauren says:

    This tugged at my heart. Thanks for sharing this.

  6. Rita says:

    Yes, it’s nice to have remembrances of your parents after they’re gone. When I was looking for some information on gravestones, I ran across a website that had the marriage certificate of the people deceased. It warmed my heart to see the signatures of my mom and dad.

  7. Laurie Stone says:

    Seeing your father’s note brought back memories of my own dad who died seven years ago. He never had a cell phone and barely went on email. They were men from a different generation, and so missed.

  8. It’s amazing how thoughless people can be on the road. Although being hit by a bison could be scary.

  9. Jennifer says:

    It’s how I keep my sister alive, by telling her story…which when I was involved were usually hysterical!

  10. Nancy Hill says:

    Stories are EVERYTHING!

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