Our community is mourning the loss of Kenley, a bright-eyed, curious toddler who died this weekend in a tragic accident. How do we, as grown-ups who are heartbroken and confused, make sense of any of this for our children or give them comfort as we grieve for this little girl? Many books written for children about death and dying focus on the loss of a pet, or an elderly grandparent. The loss in these books is often made easier to bear by describing the long, happy life that came before death. When a child dies, there is little comfort to be found and no easy answers. Here are two books that you can share with children that offer gentle reassurance no matter what your faith is.
The Purple Balloon by Chris Raschka is a very simple picture book that can be shared even with very young children who are grieving. Raschka writes, “There is only one thing harder to talk about than someone old dying – someone young dying.” What can help, he explains, are family members and friends, doctors and nurses, neighbors and classmates and teachers “all listening or talking, sitting or holding, being noisy or being quiet. Good help makes dying less hard.” Raschka draws people as balloons, because health care professionals have found that terminally ill children, when asked to “draw their feelings”, often draw a purple or blue balloon floating free.
The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: a story of life for all ages by Leo Buscaglia, Ph.D. is a longer picture book. There is a great deal of beautiful language that can be abbreviated for younger listeners. Freddie sees his fellow leaves change colors and fall, and he is afraid. His wise friend Daniel explains that all living things grow and change and eventually die, and that life with all its beauty is a great mystery to be embraced. Finally it is Freddie’s time, “and as he fell, he saw the whole tree for the first time. How strong and firm it was! He was sure that it would live for a long time and he knew that he had been a part of its life and it made him proud.” This book can be a springboard to talk with your children about your personal beliefs and faith.
Grieving is so difficult, especially for a child, but some solace can be found in the arms of people who love you. Cuddle your little ones close. Share a book. Talk about feelings. Draw or write if it helps. Know that in time the pain will ease.