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Healing through the Holidays

AUTHOR: Jackie Naginey Hook

PHONE: 814-404-0546

AGENCY: Koch Funeral Home


Author, poet, and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou, wrote, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I witness this every day in my work with the Helping Grieving Hearts Heal program at Koch Funeral Home.

First, I witness this as I listen to families’ stories, and then use those stories to create and officiate at personalized services. Some of these families initially questioned whether to have any type of gathering after their loved ones’ deaths. After choosing to do so, they often share gratitude for their choice. A common refrain is, “We get it now. These gatherings took us where we needed to be. It felt so good to tell our stories and to hear stories of how our loved one touched others’ lives.” Their agony was lessened by telling and hearing stories.

Second, I witness this as I facilitate various grief education and support gatherings. People enter these gatherings carrying agony from the deaths of their loved ones. Through the healing power of storytelling, I can see the weight of their pain begin to lift, one story at a time.

And third, I witness the agony of untold stories as I companion people around death. Individuals given a terminal diagnosis sometimes experience what has been called “enlightenment at gunpoint.” They retell some of the stories of their lives and make new meaning out of them. This meaning can involve forgiveness and unfinished business as well as recognition of legacy. Their agony is diminished.

As I’ve described, it is not only in the telling of our own stories that we find healing, but also in the hearing of others’ stories. As Annie Brewster, MD wrote in her book The Healing Power of Storytelling: Using Personal Narrative to Navigate Illness, Trauma, and Loss, “Sharing your story with empathetic listeners, while requiring tremendous courage, will ultimately make you feel less alone, and, equally important, it will be a gift to others. We all feel safer and more connected when we hear honest, vulnerable, human stories.”

This holiday season, we’re offering several ways to share stories. One way is to “Have the Talk of a Lifetime” by participating in meaningful conversations reflecting on the past and planning for the future. Other ways are to attend our grief education and support programs, including Healing through the Holidays. In conjunction with Juniper at Brookline, Brenda Oyler Kim, MSW, LCSW, and I will be offering this four-part Healing through the Holidays program on Tuesdays, November 28 through December 19 from 4:30 to 6:00 PM.

For more information, please visit the Bereavement Gatherings and Events page of the Koch Funeral Home website, Join us to reduce your agony of untold stories.

Jackie Naginey Hook, MA, is a spiritual director, celebrant, and end-of-life doula. She coordinates the Helping Grieving Hearts Heal program through Koch Funeral Home in State College. For more information, please call 814-237-2712 or visit


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