My stepfather died last week.
He was 99 years old. He lived a good and long life that I truly believe he enjoyed. His death was quick. He was a good man who did a lot of good in the world. And 20 years ago he did something that hurt my siblings and me so deeply I couldn’t get past it.
My mother, his second wife, died 22 years ago. 2 years later my father died. My older sister, brother and I, along with our spouses, gathered in our hometown Rochester, N.Y. to celebrate my brothers graduation and to scatter my fathers ashes. My stepfather chose this weekend to tell us all something he planned to do that deeply hurt us. So much so that we didn’t speak for the next 14 years!
The story I created
In my mind I had created a story that said if he could do what he did to us it meant he never really loved my mother. I now see that it was a work of fiction I had created to protect my heart.
8 years ago I decided that this story no longer served me and it was time to extend the olive branch. My husband, myself, my brother and his wife, my stepfather and his wife all met for lunch.
I was ready to leave my victim story behind and move forward.
I knew he was never going to budge or reach out and I decided that family connection was more important than me holding onto my small story around this. Over the past 6 years we have kept in touch and seen each other a few times. My brother and sister-in-law, who lived in the same city, kept up an ongoing relationship.
Monday morning I learned that he had died. After the initial wave of sadness throughout the day I felt a tidal wave of emotion ebb and flow. The sadness, grief, love, hurt and anger. Deep hurt and anger. Rage. I thought I had let it go years ago yet here I was repeating the story of hurt over and over in my mind all night long. My wounded little girl telling her victim story. When I got tired of hearing it I got out of bed and decided to listen. To really listen.
She was hurt, angry and felt powerless. I knew I had a choice to either live in my small story or to let myself process this and choose a more empowering one.
A week before he died my brother and he had what may have been the longest and most real conversation they ever had together. A blessing. Never a very warm or philosophical man he reflected back that if certain painful things hadn’t happened in his life he never would have met my mother or his next wife. Two women he loved and relationships that he cherished. Consciously he didn’t know how near death he was but I think a part of him did. I think he was ready to let go of his small story.
“People often discover at the time of their death that they’re much more than the small, separate self they’ve taken themselves to be. What’s amazing to me is that we take all that we are and shrink it down to such a small story. And then live into that story as if it were true. At the end of their life, people realize they were living too small a story.” Frank Ostaseski
I was given a gift this week when I got to see that I hadn’t completely let go of the small story I had created around our relationship and what happened 22 years ago. I was choosing to tell my Victim Story, again. Noticing this, allowing myself to fully acknowledge it and learn from it, is allowing me to live into my Great Story. There is still some processing to be done around this and I am so grateful to be able to embrace doing it, knowing it is leading me to greater freedom and joy in my life.
We all have 2 main small stories that we tell in our lives. Our Victim Story and our Overcoming Story. Each one is rich with opportunities for learning and growth. We also all have a Great Story that is waiting to be told. We live all three stories at the same time and yet we generally have one that we gravitate toward when life gets hard.
I am sharing my story and my process with you as an offering for you to get curious about what small story you are telling, to know that it is rich with opportunities for learning and that you have the power to change it and author the story you want to live. This is how you live into your Great Story!