On storytelling – “Relative Stranger: A Life After Death”



I find it really difficult to title this post, but ultimately I think it’s mainly about the importance of storytelling. I have recently read “Relative Stranger: A Life After Death”by Mary Loudon. The book is a personal account of a woman’s journey to re-discover her relationship with one of her sisters…just after receiving the news that her sister passed away. It’s a well written, very moving story which on many pages makes you stop and read a sentence over and over again. It’s one of those books you could read with a pencil in your hand to mark your favourite quotes. It’s a story of a journey that many of us at a certain point in our lives might have to take too. It touches upon few problems I myself feel very strongly about family relationships, mental problems of people close to you, systems we live in and society we rely on…and finally the core problem: how do we handle death of our relatives and how do we fill out the gap and all the unanswered questions?

All those notions were really important to me. You can say that the book has changed me a little, made me more sensitive to some issues, crystallised attitudes I had already. But what really is important about this particular book is the context of the story. You see, Mary Loudon is my son’s best friend’s mother. She lives down the road and we meet quite often. I did not connect that she writes books and only about two weeks ago Mary gave me this book to read – it happened to be on her desk when I was around. Reading such a personal account from someone you already “know” is pretty powerful. Mary’s father used to work together with my landlord (both doctors) in the main house of our current property, so when in the book, Mary quoted his diary I felt something I have felt few times in my life: a touch of reality.

Since I was a kid I used to argue the value of fiction and reality with my parents, friends, later teachers. The two are so insanely connected that very often one cannot tell them apart! So as a student I used to rage against all the categorization of authors and books (which obviously did not help my studies!;)). I used to hate boxes we would put the past and contemporary writers. Those I met offline at the time would most definitely hate the boxes they belonged to and prefer to have a drink or a coffee with me. So…when does it leave me now? I know that linguistically speaking we need to categorise things and name them to be able to talk about things but ultimately it is the effect the stories have on us that matters!

Mary’s book combined with few conversations we had in the past (and few very personal events from the last few days) have inspired me to open up and plan writing about topics I have left for my Moleskine so far. It reminded me of the value of storytelling for public consumption. If you tell your story right it can actually shift the boxes in our heads so much that the changes will come. Hopefully for better. It also made me realise that if you want to use the power of storytelling you need to do it right!


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