Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Storytelling (Fucken) Heals (Duh!)

The evaluations that day indicated that people were pleased with the workshop, felt understood for the first time since 9/11, and wanted to continue meeting in the large group. In that setting, they asked to continue working with the therapist assigned to them.

Teenagers and children could join if they wished, but were clearly listening even as they did artwork. They always moved in when stories were being told about their lost parent. The kids seemed hungry for such stories. 

One of the interactions in the multiple family meetings that was most poignant occurred when a worker spoke up. An operating engineer we shall call Bill (not his real name) had survived, but was injured, bumed, and traumatized. On the recommendation of his therapist, he and his wife attended the meeting with his fellow workers’ families that day. He wanted to connect with the families of his missing coworkers, but was afraid the wives would ask him about their suffering in the inferno just before he was miraculously blown out. What happened instead was that Bill told a story. After being quiet all day, he shifted in his chair, leaned over toward a young girl who was crying, and said:

Honey, I want you to know that your Daddy led out a thousand people. He knew the building, and it was complicated. He led them out-and then he went back in, but that’s what we do. That’s our job. He was going in for more people, but he didn’t make it out that time. The next time you go to a ball game, I want you to look at the crowd and see what a thousand people looks like and know that your Daddy saved that many people. 

For centuries, storytelling has helped heal trauma and loss by providing access to meaning. Nothing a therapist could have done that day would have equaled the healing power of Bill’s story for the little girl, her mother, and for himself and his wife. Brothers and sisters in the union family were connecting by breaking their isolation, sharing stories, painful as it was. Everyone, including therapists cried, but with a new and more positive meaning about the tragedy.

Pauline Bossl, Lorraine Beaulieu, Elizabeth Wieling, William Turner, Shulaika LaCruz
Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, Volume 29, Issue 4, pages 455–467, October 2003

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