The only deaths I recall being aware of as a child are family pets, and farm animals raised for food. Perhaps living in the country was an early introduction to the reality of death. It was a normal part of everyday living. I was an adult before my life was touched by the death of a beloved grandpa. I learned a lot through those experiences.
I learned that some people or things die old and some die young. I learned that the depth of love felt for someone or something can affect the depth of grief felt. I learned how very different ‘alive’ and ‘dead’ look and feel. I learned how there is a wide range of reactions from people at the time of a death. From stoic, never crying, stiff-upper-lip behavior to body-racking sobbing, hysterical giggling, and everything in between, grief response is as varied as the people expressing them. I don’t remember ever really talking about death, it just was.
I have discovered three picture books that do a very good job of introducing and exploring the topic of death to children. They each approach death in age appropriate language and gentle exploration. I highly recommend them if you, or someone you love, could use a little help with a child’s grief.
Good-bye Fish is an Animal Square book originally published in Belgium and Holland. The English translation of this story was done by Clavis Publishing. Its heavy paper pages lends itself well to the 2-5 year age range. Written by Judith Koppens and illustrated by Eline van Lindenhuizen, the colorful pictures and simple story will reach the youngest listeners. While this story is about the loss of a beloved pet, it can also be a gentle introduction to the topic of death when children experience the loss of people they love.
All the Dear Little Animals is written for ages 4-7. Written by Ulf Nilsson and illustrated by Eva Eriksson, this book originated from Sweden. It was translated to English by Julia Marshall. This ingenuous story follows children who find something to do on a day when they have nothing to do. Written from a child’s perspective, it shows the energy, emotion, and childlike curiosity children have about most things, including death. I believe this book shows how children deal with grief in the real world. They often will cry and be sad, then run outside to play. They move into the grief, experience it, and then move out of it again. It is a good lesson for all of us.
Cry, Heart, But Never Break is my recent favorite. Written by Glenn Ringtved and illustrated by Charlotte Pardi, this book was translated to English from Danish by Robert Moulthrop. The author wrote this for his own young children when his mother was dying. Her words of comfort to him were, “Cry, heart, but never break”, and inspired this book. While it is listed as appropriate for those 4-8 years old, this 50+ year-old has learned much from this timeless tale. Explore Grief, Sorrow, Joy, and Delight and share this book with someone you love.
Grief is a universal experience. It is no respecter of persons, and visits all of us at some point in our lives. Friends of Hospice desires to assist all who make this journey. Willow Center, Inc. For Grieving Children is located in Lewiston, Idaho. Their sole focus is to help grieving children. Willow Center partners with us in this important mission by serving those under age 18. They can be reached at Willow Center, Inc. Lewiston: (208) 791-7192 or Moscow/Pullman: (208) 669-0730. For more information visit their website at willowcenter.org
Watch this blog for further book reviews and recommendations. The Whitman County Library system and Neill Public Library have many helpful books, and will soon own the three mentioned here. Check them out! For questions or more information, please contact us at 509-332-4414, or firstname.lastname@example.org.