Midweek Musings

The Stories We Tell

“My mother was very sick,” she began, “and I made my bed on the floor right beside her so that I could be close to her in case she needed me.” Rose told me about this occasion every time I visited her. “Yes, Mama, we’ve all heard that story a hundred times,” her daughter sighed and said and then exited the room, leaving me alone with the patient.

           Rose would talk about growing up on a ranch in western New Mexico, the life she had with eight brothers and sisters, her father’s job as a watchman in a fire tower miles away from their house, and her mother’s illness, complications that arose after the birth of her last child. Rose was thirteen when this happened, the oldest of all the children and though she’d remember and share other stories from her childhood, it was this memory that was always spoken, this story that was always remembered with more passion than any other. Rose never forgot the fear of losing her mother.

           I read once that when a person repeats a story over and over that they are “reaching towards God’s thread in their garment;” the author suggesting that repetition is a means of trying to find the Divine Presence throughout our lives. In my work as a hospice chaplain often serving elderly people suffering from dementia, I heard stories repeated. Sometimes, I’m not sure if the person was stuck, sorting through some life-defining moment or was just hung up in the enigmatic details of a past event. Often the stories were not nearly as poignant as the story Rose told; in fact, sometimes the stories appeared small and insignificant raising the question, are the memories that get repeated really that important or are they just the random thoughts floating around a diseased brain?

           I guess we’ll never have a definitive answer. The truth is I don’t know why in grief I keep repeating the same stories about those I have loved and lost; and yet, somehow, it feels necessary. So that in the same way that I believe in sorrow we are trying to sort through the details, I believe that in later years we are doing the same thing with the events of our lives. I think we are ultimately trying to make sense of why things turned out the way they did. And I suppose if that’s what is happening, then we are reaching for God, for a thread of Divine Presence, trying to find comfort and hope and purpose. Maybe like Rose remembering the long weary nights at her mother’s bedside, we somehow intrinsically know that it is the stories that make us what we are; it’s the stories, even the insignificant ones that shaped us and our relationships. And maybe instead of trying to hurry the memories along we can recognize and honor them for what they are, memories of meaning, true stories of the Divine.


You are the light of the world.