When I was 27, I sat next to my grandmother as she took her final breath. It wasn’t easy but it was a promise that I had made to her on the day that we found out she was sick. I don’t make promises I can’t keep. In the days, weeks, and months after she left, I tried SO hard to figure out why the rest of the world was operating as usual when my entire world had fallen apart. Why was everyone else laughing and having fun while things like strawberry jam, grape Tootsie Pops, or the sight of a ball of yarn with knitting needles would make me cry? It’s taken years for me to find a place to put those feelings and to figure out how to live a life without her. I don’t have it all figured out yet and I don’t think I ever will but if it’s been this difficult for me, a grown adult, to cope with the loss of someone that I love so deeply, how is a child supposed to figure it out?
Death is inevitable. As much as we’d like to avoid the idea of it, everyone is going to experience the loss of a loved one at some point in their life and sadly conversations about loss and grief are ones that some children are going to be forced to have. If you’ve been around my corner of the internet for any period of time, you know that I’m a firm believer in the power of picture books so naturally, I have some to share with you today. Here are five must-have picture books about grief that will help you guide these difficult discussions in an age appropriate way.
“Grief is like a snowflake. Each snowflake is different and everyone shows grief differently.” In this book, Little Tree begins to cope with his feelings after losing his father. He questions things such as where his father went, who will protect him from the winter wind, and wonders if he’s really good, will his father come back? Mother Tree explains to him that she doesn’t have all the answers to his questions but reassures him that they’ll work through their grief together.
When Sadness is at Your Door is a simple story that offers suggestions on how to cope with the feeling of sadness. It portrays sadness as a visitor who arrives at your door unexpectedly. It can sometimes follow you around or it sits so close to you that sometimes you feel like you can’t breathe. Sadness is something that you can’t hide and in order to help it go away, you need to give it what it needs. Maybe it needs some time to sit quietly or it needs to listen to music, color, or go outside. Sadness just needs to be addressed so it knows that it isn’t alone.
This story holds a very special place in my heart. My little brother and I were given this book by our neighbor when our great-grandmother died. At the time, I was in third grade so I was old enough to know what death was but too young to know how to cope with it. This beautiful story is about a little boy named Tommy. Tommy had a special relationship with both his grandmother and his great-grandmother. Since his great-grandmother was ninety-four years old and spent most of her time upstairs, he called her Nana Upstairs. Nana Downstairs was his grandmother who cared for Nana Upstairs. Tommy loved spending time with Nana Upstairs. They would sit in chairs next to each other, share candy mints, and talk. One morning, Tommy’s mother tells him that Nana Upstairs died the night before. When they arrive at Nana Downstairs’ house, Tommy runs to find Nana Upstairs but she isn’t there.
“Tommy began to cry.
‘Won’t she ever come back?’ he asked.
‘No, dear,’ Mother said softly. ‘Except in your memory. She will come back in your memory whenever you think about her.”
A few nights later, Tommy sees a shooting star and his mother suggests that it was a kiss from Nana Upstairs. The end of the story shows Tommy as an adult and states simply that now both Nana’s are Nana Upstairs.
One night while asleep in their beds, Liza and Jeremy are startled awake by the sound of thunder. The sound of the storm scares them and they run to their mother. They tell her that they want to be close to her and she comforts them by explaining that even if they aren’t together, they’re still connected by an invisible string. This special string is made of love and their mother explains that “Even though you can’t see it with your eyes, you can feel it with your heart and know that you are always connected to everyone you love.” The string can connect them to their cat, Jasper, and to their best friends. It will reach them if they’re in a submarine, dancing in France, exploring outer space, and their string can even reach all the way to their Uncle Brian in heaven. Although this story is based on the loss of a loved one, the author, Patrice Karst, teaches readers that you don’t have to be physically near each other in order to be connected and to feel each other’s love.
Chester Raccoon gets home from school one day and tells his mother that he’s feeling sad because his friend Skiddil Squirrel wasn’t at school. The teacher had told the class that Skiddil Squirrel died. Chester Raccoon’s mother suggests that they do something to honor the memory of Skiddil Squirrel. On their way to the pond, Chester sees his friends from school and invites them to the pond too. Eventually, deer, raccoons, skunks, opossums, rabbits, squirrels, a beaver, doves, chipmunks, snakes, a bluebird, and more, are off to the pond to make their memories of Skiddil Squirrel. As they’re all sharing their stories and memories, Mrs. Raccoon says that she knows where the acorns from one of the stories are planted. She points to a hill where they see a handful of trees that were growing from the acorns Skiddil Squirrel had buried. In the end, Chester Raccoon learns that talking about someone you’ve lost is a great way to keep their memory alive.
I hope you found a title or two that can help you guide these difficult conversations with your tiny humans. Do you have a book to add to this list? Leave me a comment and let me know!