I found myself in a courtroom again recently, but this time I was there as a plaintiff in a civil matter instead of as a newspaper reporter.
As I took a seat and waited for the judge to arrive, I glanced around. I checked out the at-ease lawyers in the front row and the anxious faces of the unsettled masses in the back.
Me? I was relaxed. The only discomfort I felt was at the point where my sore hamstring met the hard, wooden bench. I’ve been inside courtrooms dozens of times. I’ve reported on federal drug trials, police misconduct trials and capital murder trials. I was in my element.
Crime Scene Interviews
As the judge delayed her start by 30 minutes, I reflected upon the early years of my career. As a police scanner crackled, I’d whip out a map and push the speed limit to get to a crime scene. I’d look for witnesses, bystanders and family members to tell me about assaults, robberies, vehicular accidents and shootings that ended in deaths. I wanted their story.
If family members weren’t on site, sometimes I’d look them up the next day, drive to their neighborhood and stand outside their home, wondering if they’d want to talk or get angry for the intrusion. As their door cracked open, I spoke in a hushed voice.
In the case of a murder, I always apologized for their loss. I offered them the chance to tell me – to tell readers – about their loved one, about how they spent their years. About what they loved. About their hopes, dreams and accomplishments.
Really? You Want to Talk?
Admittedly, I was surprised these people agreed to talk. And though I was turned away a lot of times, I also was welcomed many times. I honored their trust. I did my best to tell readers that the person gunned down in the street wasn’t another homicide statistic but a precious life. He or she meant all the world to a mother, sister, husband or brother, and that mattered.
As I sat in the courtroom the other day, I realized these experiences as a crime reporter seeded my understanding of how people often want to be treated in the midst of grief.
They want to talk about their loved one. They probably want to talk about how they died.
We’ve got a ritual for this. It’s called a funeral.
A Story to Tell … and Tell
At the wake or visitation prior, we queue into a line to offer our sympathies to a wife, a daughter, a mother, and they talk. They tell the story over and over. To one person and then another.
How Harry died. How he worked so hard to support his family. How he visited each state except for Hawaii. He got sick. “Every state but Hawaii,” his widow repeats.
We should allow them to talk. We listen. It’s therapeutic for them. And after the funeral – we should let them talk some more. And more. To talk for as long as it takes. Let them tell the story.
We Talk, We Heal
If you are the one who lost a loved one? I urge you – tell your story. Not necessarily to your friendly neighborhood reporter. But to someone who knows how to listen. To someone who will not judge you nor remark “isn’t it about time you let go?”
Why? Because it’s therapeutic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve retold a story and found nuggets of truth and perspective I didn’t see the first 39 times I told it. That was healing.
We find healing in telling the stories. We find humanity at one its best moments – one soul lifting another up by the simple act of compassionate listening.
Are you telling your story to someone? If you haven’t found a friend or good listener in your circle, will you consider finding a grief support group today? Or check out social media sources of support. On Twitter, search #grief and find people who’ve lost loved ones, too.
Copyright © 2019 by Toni Lepeska. All rights reserved. www.tonilepeska.com