The last piece in my trilogy about loss, ‘let me tell you a story’ is about the excellent piece of advice we received from Val Sutter, who officiated at my brother-in-law’s memorial service.
Val, a recently retired Army Chaplain, was a tremendous gift to us for a number of reasons: one, he was someone Jeff admired for his service to our country; two, he and his wife, Lisa, care very much for my sister, Lori; and three, he has a lot of experience comforting families in severe grief.
Val spent the first year of his marriage to Lisa in Dover, Delaware, honoring our nation’s fallen by ministering to the families who came to meet the caskets of their loved ones. I can’t imagine the fortitude this job must have required, I can only say that Val is one of the kindest, most gentle souls I have been fortunate to come across.
We sat with Val at my sister’s kitchen table and he patiently guided us through the main elements of the service. Lori was able to tell Val the wonderful stories of her courtship and marriage to Jeff, with Val taking notes and asking gentle, probing questions.
When it came time to discuss the speaker portion of the service, Val provided the following advice for us to share with family members who planned to talk a bit about Jeff. Rather than discuss Jeff’s qualities, suggested Val, tell a story that actually illustrates them. He said, “Start off by saying, ‘let me tell you a story’ and then go into detail within that story to say what it was about Jeff that was so special.”
This sounds so simple but it’s very profound. Anyone can be described as a devoted family man or a fun-loving person. But it takes a meaningful story, like the one my father told about Jeff ‘foraging’ for food at an AM/PM mini mart in Hawaii when we were stranded in a residential neighborhood without a car, to really give everyone a terrific sense of how Jeff sprang into action in a crisis. It helped us hone our stories so that everyone at the service got to know a real person, not an advertising poster for father or husband of the year. And it greatly humanized Jeff and made sure he would be remembered as the extreme giver he was.
Thank you for reading my posts about what I learned from losing my brother-in-law, Jeff. I learned a lot about what I can do if someone I care about experiences a similar loss. I hope it’s made me a better responder and I hope this advice will benefit others who truly want to know how they can help in a crisis.
P.S. The amazing flowers above were sent to me by my sister, Lori. Many thanks to Judy Sieber and the wonderful staff at Emily Joubert for designing something that so beautifully reflected my sister’s sentiments to me.