In August 2022, my mom died. It hasn’t been easy being a mother to young children (ages 6 and 3) through this period of grieving my own mother, and while their memories of my mom are so beautiful, sometimes it was also difficult to answer their questions about what happened to Grandma Gale.
My daughter, age 3, took to drawing lots of pictures of Grandma Gale. Here are some of her pieces.
My son really took to books about death, grief, and life. These were very helpful in answering his 6-year-old questions about what happened.
If you’ve lost a loved one, I am so sorry for your loss. Perhaps these books will help you navigate this loss with your young children.
In The Memory Tree by Britta Teckentrup, Fox dies and his animal friends gather around and share happy memories they had with fox as they process their sadness that he is gone. A tree grows in the place where fox laid down to rest and it shelters the animals in their future lives, just as we carry memories of our loved ones forward in our lives.
What Happens When a Loved One Dies by Dr. Jillian Roberts was my son’s most requested book in the months after my mom passed away. He’s very science-minded and likes non-fiction books that explain things. This book was a gentle and accurate way to explain what happens when someone dies. It answers questions like “What does death mean?”, “Do people die too?”, “What is a soul?” “Why do I feel sad?”, “What can I do to feel better?” and words like funeral, heaven, afterlife. Even though it includes words like heaven, it is explained in a broader context – that are are many different ideas and beliefs about what happens after someone dies. Some people believe this, some people believe that. It was a good explanatory read to my son who was encountering a lot of these concepts for the first time.
Lifetimes by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen was another gentle but accurate way to explain death to children. It focuses on how every living thing has its own lifetime.
Tomie de Paola is one of my favourite kids authors. We are loving his autobiographical series (26 Fairmount Avenue) as family read-alouds and Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs is in a similar style. It tells the story of Tommy’s love of his great-grandmother and how he feels when she dies. It’s a beautiful story and my kids love it.
The Invisible Web by Patrice Karst is not so much about death but about the interconnectedness of people both past and present. It is a lovely story about how we are still connected to our loved ones even once they’ve passed away.
All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon is similar to The Invisible Web – it is a poem about the interconnectedness of the world and how we come together in community as part of living. My kids and I had conversations about all the people that came to Grandma Gale’s funeral and how she knew them all and how her life connected us to all of them.
Someday by Alison McGhee is more for me than for my kids. I don’t actually think it was written for children, but for adults. It brought me a lot of comfort in losing my mom, reminding me that it is part of the circle of life, and that losing my mom is what is naturally supposed to happen (and not the other way around, a mother losing her daughter). It mentions different kinds of grief and loss through the stages of life – like a daughter going off to college, and a daughter losing her mother when she herself has a child. It’s a real tear-jerker for me.
Hopefully these books are helpful to you if you find yourself in a similar phase of life. If you have any you’d like to recommend to me, please reach out to me!
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