Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Interlude: Resources for talking with small children about death

I spent the last weekend traveling to visit family, and attend an aunt's funeral.

Every family experiences a different pace of life and death. My side of the family was very fortunate, from what I can tell. Mamaw passed away in 1982, the first person that I truly mourned. Everyone else that I knew reasonably well, lived through the 1980's and 1990's. A few great-uncles passed on, but I only remember one or two visits with them.

Such a spate of "good luck" can't last forever. My son has attended three relatives' funerals already in his short life. He was not quite 2 when my grandmother passed away, and I don't think he knew her all that well. She tended to sleep a lot when we visited. A few months later my mom passed away. I think he's beginning to understand that loss. Today I'm going to mention some of the resources I've used to talk with my son about loss.

For my mom's passing, the hospice had several resources. A book that we were allowed to borrow, this cover looks like it might be the one:

Whichever book they had, it seemed decent at the time, but limited. It focused quite a bit more on older children, and the many ways that school-age children and adolescents deal with grief. I remember only one or two short paragraphs for the small child, the preschool set.

The hospice time is stressful all around, so I'm afraid my memory of the book is fuzzy. Our local hospice has grief support groups for both children and adults, if you are facing this situation I would encourage you to talk with them.

Hospice also gave us a copy of this coloring book:
Goodbye Forever

At 2, he was still a little young for the coloring book. The title says it's for K-2. More than a year later, he still hasn't used it. Maybe he'd be ready for us to read it to him about now.

I also made a book run, as we were preparing for the end, and like these three. We've read them to him a few times.

I Miss You is a good general book about what death is and how we mourn/celebrate the lives of those who passed away. It includes questions, stepping off points for discussing the loved one, how they died. It talks about the different ways people react to death. This one is culturally generic: "Every culture has different beliefs about what happens after a person dies. But most cultures also share some beliefs."

I have used this book: When Someone You Love Has Cancer: A Guide to Help Kids Cope (Elf-Help Books for Kids)
specifically to talk with my son about cancer, since several relatives have had that. This one has a distinctly Catholic flavor to it, but we've adapted it to suit our needs. I've replaced "your loved one" with the person's name(s). I've explained how Grandma died of cancer, but other relatives are better now.

Both "I Miss You" and "When Someone You Love Has Cancer" is written from an adult perspective explaining things to a child. The terms, I think, are child-friendly. Once or twice, my son has chosen "When Someone You Love Has Cancer" for a bedtime book. Once or twice, I picked it. More often, he has requested "I Miss You." He seems to like the term "miss," he's been using it for "want" lately.

The third book that I bought was Tomi dePaola's Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs (Picture Puffins):

We haven't used this book as much. I misplaced it for a time. This book is written from the child's perspective, and doesn't do a lot of explaining. Instead, it tells the story more-or-less chronologically, about how his great-grandmother got the name Nana Upstairs, the time they spent together, and how the family mourned.