Who among us doesn’t enjoy a good story? Some tale of our personal lives or the lives of others. Storytelling can be particularly significant when the story helps someone else to grow and overcome something difficult they are going through in their life such as a serious illness.
True storytelling is an art form. However, there is an emerging field called narrative communications and the professionals in that field are identifying the effects of telling stories on the health and happiness of patients. It is through the connected feeling a person has when hearing a story that helps patients get through the tough news of a diagnosis or helps them to make changes to some strongly ingrained behavior in order to improve their health; like smoking or a drastic change in diet.
So why does this work? Well, storytelling is very human experience. From the earliest time, it was a way our ancestors told about the important moments in their lives and the lives of those around them. It was necessary for survival. It was also the earliest form of learning. It helped people make sense of their lives and the world they shared.
When a patient is suffering from a life-limiting illness, it is important to stay connected to family and friends in order to ensure greater quality of life. Storytelling helps loved ones remember times they have shared; memories collected and cherished. It sometimes invites laughter, sometimes tears, but always love and a connectedness that makes the patient and the loved ones feel close and united. It helps them to cope with whatever lies ahead knowing that they are sharing the experience.
So how does storytelling work? Humans all feel the need for a sense of identity, their place in the order of things. It’s instinctual. Tackling traumatic physical and emotional issues means an extreme shift in our own personal stories. Suddenly the story of our lives is being rewritten, usually without our permission. Storytelling helps a person assimilate or change direction. When it is an abrupt change or when the loss is great, it can cause a person to feel lost and alone. Storytelling helps them to reconnect, to find themselves again and to find a direction back onto the road of life.
As a family caregiver, your role in the storytelling process can be as the instrument of promotion. You can be both storyteller and active listener. Telling the story is vital, but so is finding an attentive, empathetic listener. Have you ever told someone a story and felt like your listener would rather be somewhere else? It made you feel unappreciated didn’t it? Being an attentive listener means tuning out all the other distractions and focusing on what is important at that moment – giving the storyteller your undivided attention. It is only then that storytelling produces its full benefit to both the teller and the listener.
You might even want to record these stories to share with others; perhaps with friends and family who live far away. Maybe you could preserve them for future generations who might benefit from the positive ripples caused by the impact of these stories. Today’s access to a multitude of multimedia tools makes it easier than ever. And you will have created a lasting family treasure.