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Telling the stories of life at death

How storytelling can help us see beauty in the end of life

Early this year my family unexpectedly lost one of our most genuine and generous family members.

At the tender age of 57 and in fairly good health, the shock of my uncle’s death stopped time. As the disbelief of our loss swirled around, we did the only thing we knew how to do at the time, we gathered and told stories. We reminisced about moments large and small — moments that altered our lives, moments of simple joy and moments that grounded us. We spoke so much that tears turned to laughter and our eyes and smiles turned bright as we spoke of the sheer goodness of the man we loved.

I know that speaking of death is hard, and I know for some, the topic is just too much, and that is OK. Everyone is different and we must honour our own way of dealing with what life brings.

For me, I know that life inevitably brings death, and I don’t say this in a morbid way; rather, a reality that helps me focus on how much I think we should embrace life while we have it.

In my experience, both raw and recent, and in years gone by, death is a time of reflection and I can’t help but smile at the memories the end of a life suddenly brings — and I’m grateful for that.

My amazing uncle taught me so much in life and I was always in awe of his generosity and authenticity. He showed me that every human is equal and everyone deserves a chance. And that legacy was shown repeatedly at his memorial service on a hot Thursday afternoon in the beautiful and comforting beer garden of a local pub.

As the beer garden filled, a few tears were shed, but the area was also alive with stories. Stories of the impact one man had on his workplaces (one of which I was honoured to be part of) and on his family,  friends and even some others who only saw him briefly. And also stories of his time as a football player and coach.

I — and my brothers, partner and others close to my uncle — listened as people told stories of my uncle’s kindness, courage, and the very positive impact he had on their lives. People who had not seen my uncle in over ten or even twenty years told stories with such passion and joy, showing the lasting impact we can have on people’s lives, long after we have moved out of each other’s immediate lives.

This is why I see beauty in death. It doesn’t stop the sadness, the grief, the tears or the moments questioning why; but, for me, it helps process the experience and gives me an important reminder to live your life with authenticity, being who you are and letting others be who they are, too. When we are genuine, we help others and make impacts that often we will never know about. I don’t know if my uncle realised the impact he had on people, and I suspect at times he probably didn’t, because he was just living life as himself and in the moment.

I think the death of people close to me has taught me to reflect on those around me often, and this recent experience has made me look at how I express gratitude. I have always been very grateful for life and those around me, but what I have noticed is I tell stories about people to other people to inspire them and express my awe of people. But I don’t do this enough with the person I am expressing gratitude for. So now, I am looking to express gratitude to people directly and remind myself that you can’t take anything or anyone for granted. Life is to unpredictable for that.

I’d give anything to stop the loved ones in my life passing away, but I know that with life naturally comes death. So for now, I will keep storytelling, with myself and with others, remembering so fondly my uncle and everyone else who has left this world after leaving a very lasting impact on my life.

They will all live on in my stories and the stories of others, and that’s the beauty I see in the end of life.

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