by Diane Rooks
Salt Run Press
Book Review by Kathy McGregor
Diane Rooks suffered the sudden death of her son and went on to write about. In her book, Spinning Gold Out of Straw; How Stories Heal, she examines a lot more than how stories heal she affords us the unique opportunity to see why story heals.
There are a lot of books on the market about death, dying and grief work. There are also a lot of books on the market about using story in death, dying and grief work. What makes Diane’s book unique is that she is a storyteller who has lost a son and has experienced, first-hand, the importance of story in her grieving process and ongoing healing. She weaves the story of her son, David’s, death into each chapter allowing us the unique opportunity to move with her out of the theory of the healing art of storytelling and into reality of the healing art of storytelling.
The 12 chapters are put together in ways that can be visited as one feels called at each reading. Each chapter is filled to the brim with quotes and references from storytellers, authors, and other experts in grief work. Diane also includes a generous number of chapter specific stories. Anyone looking for new insights and ideas will find this book to be an invaluable resource. Diane holds a M.Ed. in storytelling. Diane has included her Research prospectus, How and Why Stories Heal, her research paper, The Scottish View of Death and Dying, and an extensive list of healing stories in the book to provide a wealth of reference material.
She writes, “In the stories of others we find guides for our courage, determination, and hope. Realizing we are not alone in our grief, we begin to accept the events in our own lives. Stories lead us to our inner strengths and point out new solutions that we might not see otherwise.” I found this to be true in reading your story, Diane, and am glad that you took the time and had the courage to share it.
Following is an excerpt from Chapter 3 of Diane Rooks’ book, Spinning Gold Out of Straw; How Stories Heal: “Stories validate listeners as individuals”
Entering a closed mind
In the early days following the loss of my son I would not have believed I could survive and be stronger and more whole because of my experience. While struggling to cope with my grief, my mind was not open to new ideas and concepts. My survival instinct erected barriers to anything unfamiliar. Stories with simple visual images gradually allowed me to see new possibilities even while I rejected the facts surrounding David’s death.
My mind seemed to revert to my childhood, a time when I was comforted by stories and fantasies. I was out of touch with reality and my brain did not function normally. At times I even pretended David was still alive, although I knew that he was not. Because their concepts are simple and easy to remember, stories were all my thought processes could handle. Oddly enough, a story or part of a story that I had heard in the past would pop into my consciousness and leave me to contemplate its meaning.
Even in the midst of grief when we are not open to anything constructive, stories can get through and do their healing work. They come through the back door without pretense, much like a good neighbor or an old friend. Our resistance is down because they seem familiar. Stories can silently touch our broken hearts and help them open enough for healing to begin.
I read Shel Silverstein’s book, The Missing Piece, years ago and found it entertaining and insightful, but discovered new meaning in it following the loss of my son. Then I knew what it meant to have my heart ripped out so that indeed, a piece of me was missing. In the story, which is described as an adult fairy tale, a circle sets out to find the pie-shaped wedge of itself that is missing. It searches everywhere, finding many pieces, but none of them fit. As it bumps along, the circle realizes it cannot travel as fast as when it was whole, but finds the slower pace allows it to see and enjoy more along the way. After days of searching the circle finally finds the missing piece and quickly reconnects with it. The fit is perfect, but the circle lets go of the piece once again. The circle realizes that the process of looking for the missing piece brought more growth and wholeness than merely being complete. The story opened my mind to the possibility that my life could be more meaningful than it had been-even without David. I did not understand how, but the idea was there for me to explore.
Discovering a new self
Maybe a redefining of self becomes necessary following a loss, even though that process causes additional pain in the beginning. Some times even the words don’t fit. We have a word for a child who loses his or her parents–orphan. We have words for people losing their mates–widow and widower. But we have no name for a parent who loses a child. Is that person still a parent–a mother or father–without a living child? In The Missing Piece, a circle is not a circle when it is not complete. Through the metaphor created in this story, the search for that missing piece can help to redefine a new being that is stronger even after a part is missing. What a thought! It makes no sense to our logical minds, and yet through the story we understand. By applying that knowledge to our own lives, we realize that even greater possibilities may await us down the road.
I certainly never dreamed I would be where I am today. What started out as a nightmare has made me more compassionate and in many ways a better person. The simple story of The Missing Piece opened my mind to possibilities I never considered. As time passed, I found metaphors that offered inspiration and hope in every story I heard and read.
Harold Kushner in his book, How Good do We Have to Be, talked about the lesson he learned from The Missing Piece. “We are more whole when we are incomplete, when we are missing something. There is a wholeness about the person who can give himself away, who can give his time, his money, his strength, to others and not feel diminished. There is a wholeness about the person who has come to terms with his limitations. There is a wholeness about the man or woman who has learned that he or she is strong enough to go through a tragedy and survive, the person who can lose someone through death, through divorce, through estrangement, and still feel like a complete person.”
“The Missing Piece and other stories led me to decisions and conclusions I would not have reached without them. Through the use of metaphors, stories have the ability to create simple visual images, like a circle with a piece missing, to explain a paradox or other complex concepts in a way that can be accepted and applied to our lives. The results can be a powerful agent to accept change and healing in our lives.” Diane Rooks