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Books

Death, Dying, and Grieving: Books for Kids

Death, dying, and grieving are the main topics of the news lately. It seems we just can’t get away from it. And as much as we try to shield our little ones from tragedy, sometimes there are issues you must face. Death is a common situation in life and while you can usually filter what your children are exposed to, the deaths of pets, grandparents, or sick friends, will eventually crop up. If you’re like me, you want a book to turn to to support your child’s emotional understanding of death.

There are a surprising number of books available that discuss death. Kids don’t need or want a heavy handed book discussing the ins and out of death and dying. Save that for biology class or for church, depending on your beliefs. What kids want in books is to understand that it’s ok to have certain feelings and that other people have similar feelings as yours and also probably that things will get better. Following are books for kids of varying ages that discuss death, dying, and grief in ways that they will be able to handle.

1. CHARLOTTE’S WEB BY E.B. WHITE

I have two words for you: “Some pig.”  Is there anyone born in the past half century who hasn’t been moved to tears by this beloved title?charlotte's web

Everyone cheers for our favorite pig and his friends. Not only do we learn the meaning of friendship from Charlotte’s Web, we also learn the value of the brevity of life on a farm and we learn about death and grief. Sure there’s a death in the book, but there is also the invaluable lesson of how to grieve when someone you love has died. This little gem can teach even the youngest of readers about life and death.

2.  BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA BY KATHERINE PATERSON

bridgetoterabithia

Here’s another classic that inadvertently teaches middle graders the value of friendship and the process of grief. I love this story because at this age kids don’t care whether their friends are boys or girls. They just want a friend. Jess and Leslie become friends and during their time together they help the other one become better people. The magical land they’ve created helps them deal with the issues they each face. In the end when one of them dies, the remaining child must confront their fears, the loss of a friend, and learn how to move on.

3. NANA UPSTAIRS & NANA DOWNSTAIRS, BY TOMIE DE PAOLA

 

Tomie dePaola writes such good books, there’s practically a book for every situation. Grandparenting seems to be his specialty, though. Little Tommy loves his grandmothers: he has a grandmother upstairs and a great grandmother downstairs. You know where this is going, right? Naturally the grandmothers die and Tommy has to learn how to grieve. There’s a bit about a falling star that will have you in tears remembering your own grandmother’s kisses.

4. TIGER EYES BY JUDY BLUME

It’s a Judy Blume book. Do I need to say anymore? The woman who has helped every young girl grow up  in the past 50 years? Yeah, her. This time, Blume discusses a very sensitive issue at the time; the death of a parent.  Not only does Davey lose her father, but he is killed in a violent crime. Books about this topic were unheard of in its day. But somehow, shockingly, kids today are experiencing this type of tragic loss and will need help getting through it. The book also discusses the dysfunction that’s left behind when a family member dies tragically: depression, alcoholism, family instability; it’s all there.

5. FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH BY JENNIFER L. HOLM

A magical realism story about a girl whose goldfish dies and is reincarnated as her grandfather dressed as a bespectacled new friend. At first i thought perhaps the lesson might be too “out there” to catch; but I love this story and I’m sure someone will too.

 

6. THE BOY IN THE BLACK SUIT BY JASON REYNOLDS

Matt wears a black suit every day. No, not because his mom died—although she did, and it sucks. But he wears the suit for his gig at the local funeral home, which pays way better than the Cluck Bucket, and he needs the income since his dad can’t handle the bills (or anything, really) on his own. So while Dad’s snagging bottles of whiskey, Matt’s snagging fifteen bucks an hour. Not bad. But everything else? Not good. Then Matt meets Lovey. She’s got a crazy name, and she’s been through more crazy than he can imagine. Yet Lovey never cries. She’s tough. Really tough. Tough in the way Matt wishes he could be. Which is maybe why he’s drawn to her, and definitely why he can’t seem to shake her. Because there’s nothing more hopeful than finding a person who understands your loneliness—and who can maybe even help take it away.

Here’s one you might not of heard of. It’s by the always fab Jason Reynolds. Here you’ll see that people cope differently with death and you might get some insight into what it’s like to work at a funeral home. Hint: more dignity than creepy.

 

Isn’t it great that there are so many books on this topic says that kids never have to go through any situation alone, that there is always a book available to lend an ear, lean on or to provide other ways of support?

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Books

How to talk to kids during times of tragedy: 3 books to help

In light of yet another horrific hate crime, this time in my hometown of Pittsburgh against the Jewish community in Squirrel Hill, I thought this was a particularly good time to revisit how we discuss tragedy, violence, death, and dying with our kids. This is a conversation no parent dreams of having but more often we are faced with. What are we to do when wanting to comfort a scared or grieving child? We are struggling to process it in our own minds; the last thing we want to do is explain tragedy to our little ones. When I am faced with my own tragedy, I turn to books.

To be sure, books don’t have all of the answers but they are a start. Books are an excellent resource when you don’t know what to say, where to go, or how to begin. Books can comfort you and let you know that you’re not alone. The following are three books that have helped me during a difficult time in my life.

1. HEALING A CHILD’S GRIEVING HEART: 100 PRACTICAL IDEAS FOR FAMILIES, FRIENDS AND CAREGIVERS BY ALAN D. WOLFELT

“A grieving child’s life is like a piece of paper upon which every passerby leaves a mark. What kind of mark would you like to leave on the life of the child whose heart and soul have been touched by the death of someone loved?”

I found this book to be amazingly helpful. Inside it contained more than 100 helpful activities for dealing with grief and mourning. Tip 12 is an example: “Consider the child’s relationship to the person who died…Each child’s response to a death depends largely upon the relationship she had with the person who died…Set aside your own thoughts and feelings and enter her world as you consider this point.” See what I mean? Useful stuff. A child’s grief is not the same as your grief and must be treated differently than yours. Once I grasped that concept, I was able to move through the other practicalities of the book and construct a strategy that worked for each of my children separately.

 

2. THE GRIEVING CHILD: A PARENT’S GUIDE BY HELEN FITZGERALD

Fitzgerald helped me understand my own death history and confront my feelings about death. “Before you begin talking to your child about the death of a loved one or about death in general, be sure you know where you stand.” The author reasons that “the more you understand yourself, the easier it will be to avoid letting those feelings influence your child.” This, too, was helpful. You don’t want to muck up your child’s understanding of death with your own conflicted feelings. Throughout the book, Fitzgerald offers honest and useful ways handle such situations as whether or not to take the child to the funeral, or deciding when it’s time to seek professional help.

3. TALKING WITH YOUNG CHILDREN ABOUT DEATH BY FRED ROGERS

Talking with Young Children about Death is a brochure I received from a children’s grief therapist. As a long time fan of Mister Rogers, it is not surprising that I would turn to him to help me understand a child’s point of view while dealing with grief. “Children’s sensitivity to ‘vibes’ is extremely keen. At a time of sadness in a family there are so many facial cues, so many disrupted schedules, new people coming and going, lots of conversations to overhear, and a general aura that clearly states that something important is going on.” When you think about it that way, is it any wonder children act out? They know something is going on but no one will tell them in a way that they can understand. That must be incredibly frustrating and scary.

I’ve discovered that by turning to books for any occasion, even tragedy and dying, I can find what I need. Sometimes I find answers to questions, sometimes I find inspiration, sometimes I find a comforting poem or story. Talking with children about tragedy isn’t easy, but if you’re not sure where to begin, why not open a book?

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Adult Fiction Diversity Reading Challenge

I Did NOT Want to Finish Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

I’m such a goober when it comes to this book. Ok, not just this book but lots of books. I’ve been wanting to read Another Brooklyn for a while and put off scooping it because of this dilemma: once you read a book for the first time you can never read it again for the first time.

Weird, right? So that first time is magical. It’s like opening up a present you’ve been waiting for and you can never get that euphoria back. I purchased Another Brooklyn from Busboys & Poets in DC a few months ago and I promptly put it on my desk promising myself I wouldn’t read it.

I wanted to read it, mind you. It’s just that once you read it, you can never read it again for the first time (see above). l put it off and put it off until I couldn’t wait any longer and I finally cracked the spine. Now I warn you this book is not a YA book but older teens could certainly handle it. There are mature issues inside but I’ve read rape scenes in YA books that are more chilling than the facts within this  beautifully written novel. And to be sure, there are no rape scenes in Another Brooklyn. It’s the tale of one young woman who grows up learning to lean on a circle of girlfriends as they all mature into womanhood.

As the girls grow, there are perhaps your typical scenarios that you might encounter in an inner city neighborhood: drug use, dating, sex, unnecessary advances from older men, school, hunger, homelessness, etc. Written in prose, though, the story unfolds so beautifully  that I literally DID NOT WANT TO FINISH THE BOOK.

I dragged the story out as long as I could, which is difficult because the book is short, a mere 177 pages.  I loved reading the book, getting lost in the prose as if Woodson were writing a poem just for me. As my own son now lives in Brooklyn I like to imagine what the town looked like in Woodson’s 1970s Brooklyn, before cell phones, and iPhones, and Uber.

I will definitely revisit Another Brooklyn, because books can be enjoyed more than once. Another Brooklyn also qualifies for the Diversity Reading Challenge.

Categories
Books Reviews

We all Grieve Differently inspired by Signs of Life by Natalie Taylor

Signs fo Life by Natalie Taylor“Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still…yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.” –William Penn, More Fruits of Solitude

Natalie Taylor wonders if JK Rowling placed those words in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for her. In fact, Taylor holds a conversation with Rowling on the phone.  I didn’t know that there was someone else in the world who talks to book characters or their authors.  I’ve had plenty of conversations with Jane, from Jane Eyre.  I commiserated when she was abused by her cousins.  I was one of the friends who comforted her when she was publicly humiliated at school.  I told her that Rochester was a little moody and she could do better.  Given Natalie Taylor’s love of literature, I am not surprised she turned to literature during her grief.  While the books she turned to would not have been my picks, I understand just the same.

Natalie and I are both widows.  Widowhood is a distinction few wish to hold. Natalie became a pregnant widow after her new husband died in a carve boarding accident. I, too, am a widow.  I’m a divorced widow.  What exactly is a divorced widow, you ask?  I was married, then divorced, then my ex-husband died.  Prior to becoming a divorced widow, I had never heard of that phrase. The government thinks of everything.

I am currently happily remarried, but at the time, I was devastated.

My ex-husband and I had been divorced a few years and had moved on with our lives.  We had two children together so he saw #1 son and Pumpkin frequently.  I decided that just even though our marriage couldn’t be saved, it was still important for the kids to see their father as much as possible.  I moved from Austin back to Pittsburgh, my hometown.  One day, as you’re going about your day you receive a phone call.  Of course, you’re not expecting bad news so when you answer and it’s one of your ex’s relatives, you’re not surprised because you’re very close to her.  You cannot believe the news you’re hearing, your ex is dead. He was 38.

My ex left behind 3 children, one from his first marriage and two from his second (me).  Just like Taylor, I was in shock.  I couldn’t believe it.  My family rallied around for support: my mother helped me tell the children.  It was unbelievably the worst thing you ever want to tell your children: their Daddy was dead. The kicker? It was suicide.  How’s that for a double whammy? So now not only are my kids different because their father is dead, but one day I must tell them their father chose death over them.  THAT is a stigma no one wants: abandonment. I was angry. So very angry.  The depth of my anger scared me.

I had no way to express that anger except through physical exertion. Pittsburgh weather in February can be brutal and I couldn’t get out of my driveway to get to the airport to attend his funeral.  The city was shut down. Flights were barely taking off. There is no better physical activity in mid-February Pittsburgh but shoveling snow.  And shovel I did.  I shoveled my sidewalk. I shoveled my neighbors’ sidewalks. I shoveled my car out.  I shoveled my father’s car out. The snow was thick and heavy so it was hard work.  I shoveled to the point of exhaustion. When the men came outside and offered to help, I turned them away.

I’m sure you’re wondering why I would care to attend my ex-husband’s funeral.  Believe it or not, despite how bad our marriage was (and it was bad) I wished no ill for my ex.  He was the father of my children and a human being.  I had been able to put my life back together and was happy to be out of his control.  I would rather have my ex-husband alive than knowing my kids could never see him again.

Unlike Taylor, I avoided grieving.  Like Taylor, I graciously accepted phone calls, cards, and condolences as the strong widowed mother of two young children.  I hurt inside, though, and my body took the beating.  Unlike Taylor, I did not seek help.  One day, after getting kicked out of a graduate night class due to my coughing, I finally went to the doctor:  Bronchial pneumonia.

Can you imagine the author with whom I had a conversation?

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,

And Mourners to and fro

Kept treading – treading – till it seemed

That Sense was breaking through –

 

And when they all were seated,

A Service, like a Drum –

Kept beating – beating – till I thought

My Mind was going numb –

 

And then I heard them lift a Box

And creak across my Soul

With those same Boots of Lead, again,

Then Space – began to toll,

 

As all the Heavens were a Bell,

And Being, but an Ear,

And I, and Silence, some strange Race

Wrecked, solitary, here –

 

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,

And I dropped down, and down –

And hit a World, at every plunge,

And Finished knowing – then –

 

Yes. Emily Dickinson: I Felt a Funeral in my Brain. Yes.

She knew how I felt.

During the fifth month of her pregnancy of her first child Natalie Taylor is devastated by the sudden death of her husband. Her journey with grief is chronicled in the memoir Signs of Life. Join From Left to Write on March 29 as we discuss Signs of Life by Natalie Taylor. As a member of From Left to Write, I received a copy of the book. All opinions are entirely  my own.

How do you grieve?