The Story Behind the Stories
I believe my love story and my life story deserve to be told. I believe yours deserve to be told, also. So, that is what I am committed to doing. Life goes way too fast, and all we are are experiences and stories and memories and lessons to pass on. My goal is to help families capture those stories and to help families make these defining occasions personalized and special. The road of my life led me here, and I’d like you to know I didn’t arrive here overnight. One could say it took a lifetime to get here, but this is exactly where I am meant to be. I work from my heart and soul and I guarantee that I’m heart-broken enough and humbled enough and grief-stricken enough and hopeful, grounded, genuine, and determined enough to be perfect for this service-oriented business I have created. My goal is not merely to survive all that I have been through. I survived so I can help others. This is how Stories of A Lifetime came to be.
The first eulogy I ever wrote was for my grandmother. I was 24 years old, and my grandma (my favorite person, my biggest fan, my everything) passed away unexpectedly eleven days before my wedding. I had no experience in writing life tributes at the time, but I knew in my soul that this responsibility was mine. I knew that I was the one who was going to pay tribute to my grandma. I told my family that I would be doing this, and everyone seemed relieved that I would handle it and they trusted me. It was a heavy responsibility. It was hard. It was scary. It’s what I absolutely had to do. It was meant to be. I felt so compelled to get those words onto paper and share them with all who loved her. This woman had given me so much. The least I could do would be to preserve her memory on a few pieces of paper and celebrate her story with our family and friends.
The response was overall gratitude. Family and friends were grateful to hear the memories, they were grateful to have laughed and cried, and most importantly, they were grateful that they could hear the story and have the experience that they each needed to take that first step on their own grief journey. I was unaware that this event turned the road I was on by a degree. It wasn’t noticeable at first, but as I ventured farther down my road of life I realized how far this moment had taken me from where I thought I was going and what I thought I was supposed to be doing to where I was meant to be and to exactly what I was meant to be doing. With a smile on my face and tears in my eyes, I now think “Of course!” Of course it would be my grandma doing one last thing for me- her Hollyberry. Thank you, Grandma, for all the gifts you have so lovingly given me, especially this precious gift of a purpose in my life. Please click here to read an excerpt from Grandma Helen Smith’s story.
The second eulogy I ever wrote was for my step-father. Two years prior, my family had been so grateful that I helped tell Grandma’s story and helped celebrate her life in such an articulate way that the expectation was I would of course do it again. It’s not the most comforting feeling to be tasked as the family eulogist. The best that I can explain is that the responsibility while extremely heavy is clearly mine. I feel it in my soul that I can honor the person’s story and it must be obvious to those closest to me who keep expecting me to be the one to accomplish this. So, for the second time and for another one of my most favorite people, I wrote a few pages to capture a lifetime. Please click here to read an excerpt from the memorial for my step-father, my Papa Arnie Norris.
If my grandmother’s service drew me to writing memorials, then it was Papa’s service that gave me a greater understanding of the need for a personalized celebration of life filled with meaning and love. This man who gave me a beautiful childhood not because he had to but because he wanted to deserved to be honored in such a special way. I wanted everyone to know how amazing he was, and all the aspects of his funeral came together to help show that.
I clung to this experience as a way to cope. Actually, I still do. I take out the pieces of paper that I wrote. I read them. I think about the actions we all went through those two days. I remember. I understand more and more as time goes by how much I and everyone else there needed that experience of a service specifically tailored to honor Papa’s life. It’s not about closure. With grief I don’t know if closure is ever the right word. It’s about taking a solid first step on your grief journey. I believe it to be imperative. I know how important this was to me. I feel passionate about helping others take their own solid first step. It’s a gift I can give to others, and I’m honored to have the skills and the soul to help.
Then came the third eulogy I wrote. This is the one that sealed the deal for me in fully being aware that this was my calling. Using my skills of writing and public speaking along with my profound personal experiences and compassion, I knew this is how I was meant to serve my community. This is an excerpt from the celebration of life for the man I married- the man who rushed home to pick me up off the floor when I got the phone call that my grandma died suddenly eleven days before our wedding, the man who willingly left our amazing wild west life in Montana to move back to Wisconsin with me when my Papa got sick, the man who gave me the gift of motherhood, the man who was my best friend and partner in life, Brian Stiner. While our marriage sustained only one whirlwind decade, our friendship and co-parenting dedication to our son remained forever strong. Please click here to read an excerpt from Brian’s story.
Brian’s service was such an important experience for me, for our son, and for all who attended. I needed to honor this man. I needed my son to see his dad’s life be celebrated. The service had to be full of personalization, meaning, love, and ultimately him. His personality and spirit needed to shine through. I believe I accomplished this with the words that were said, the songs that were played, and the poem that was read which had been part of the Matron of Honor’s speech at our wedding. My main concern for was my son to have the solid first step on his grief journey that he needed. I think because Brian was so young and this was such a different grieving experience for our family that, to my surprise, I helped more than just my son. We are more accustomed to losing someone when they are old, but to lose a young man, this made everyone evaluate their own mortality in a new and very real way. I knew how much I needed this service, but I was shocked when a family member approached me after the service to express condolences and he told me, “We all needed this. I needed this.” One of my newer friends who had never met Brian also approached me and said, “From your speech I feel like I knew him. Thank you for that.” I was stunned. I was also gaining clarity. A meaningful celebration of life is imperative and experiencing it helps each person in a unique way. And I needed to be a part of helping other families experience this. I need to…because I feel it in my very being…and because I told Brian I would.
It is because of these three people and these three stories that I have been able to shape my vision for a business that serves my community. I have now written dozens upon dozens of memorial stories for grateful families. I work from my heart and it shows. A former colleague who had witnessed numerous memorial services that I officiated asked me one day to officiate her wedding. I looked at her and said, but I make people cry for a living. She said, no, you bring all the feels, all the love, and that’s what I want at my wedding. It’s a perfect fit for me, for what is life without love? I feel blessed to be able to help families during these occasions of a lifetime. The stories deserve to be told, and I’d be honored to serve your family in celebrations of love and in celebrations of life.