Getting through difficult feelings with storytelling

Southern Utah University’s Ask. Ponder. Educate. [X]. series invited Stanford School of Medicine’s Director of Writing and Storytelling, Laurel Braitman, to campus as a Grace A. Tanner lecturer on Oct. 5. The title of her presentation was “What Looks Like Bravery: Loss, Resilience, and the Survival Tool Kit,” the same title as her memoir.

Braitman shared her traumatic experience of her dad passing away after a decade-long battle with a rare bone cancer. She was only 16 at the time. Two decades later, she discovered storytelling as a form of therapy. 

She started her presentation by saying that she wanted to take today to talk about some of the things that don’t get talked about enough in American society, which would be our difficult feelings and how we get through some of the hardest things that happen to us. 

“We often blame ourselves,” said Braitman about the grieving process, “because to admit bad things happen for no reason is scary.” 

Braitman was a volunteer to support grieving children at Josie’s Place for many years. There, she was able to not only help the grieving children around her, but also the grieving child within herself. During her time as a volunteer, Braitman learned the importance of embracing negative feelings. 

One of the children, Maria, age 6, said, “The worst thing you can do when you’re sad is to try to not be sad.” 

Braitman explained that anger is also a form of grief. 

“We have so little outlets in our culture to talk about [grief] that when it goes unacknowledged I believe it comes up as other feelings that are socially acceptable,” said Braitman. “Anger in America is one. It’s easier to be angry here than it is to be sad or in grief.”

According to Braitman, a way to deal with those pent-up emotions inside you is by storytelling. 

“Storytelling is the oldest medical technology,” said Braitman. “It brings meaning to the events that happened to us. Good stories remind us we are not alone.”

Braitman ended her speech by encouraging the audience to embrace the meaning in their grief.

“You want people to read till the end of your story,” she said.

To purchase Braitman’s memoir or to learn more about her, go to

The next A.P.E.X. event will take place on Thursday, Oct. 12 with a lecture titled “Civil dialogue: Should the government regulate A.I.?”

Author: Christina Schweiss
Photographer: Joseph Roberts
Editor: Nick Stein