We had a death in the family not too long ago, and it was the first time that my kids knew the person directly and were old enough to understand what had happened. I found myself navigating the experience in a pretty different way because much of my energy was focused on helping them navigate the experience. We’ve tried to be open and honest about death all along (we have a general philosophy of answering our kids questions with age-appropriate truth), but it’s different when it moves from an abstract idea to a real experience. I find that books can be a really helpful for preparing for or working through new experiences, and I often turn to them in these situations. As I was screening books to decide what to share with our kids, I found that you have to do a bit of digging to find ones about death and grief and remembering loved ones without references to God or Heaven. We’ve done some of that and have a few that you might want to check out, if this is what you’re looking for. These are mostly geared towards the preschool and early elementary age range. I hope that you’ll find these helpful too.
Lifetimes by Bryan Mellonie: This book is nice for showing death as a natural part of living. Every living thing has a beginning, an end, and a lifetime in between. It talks about animals, plants, trees, and even people. Some lifetimes are short and some are long. Sometimes someone gets hurt and their lifetime is shorter than it would have been. Everything that is living will also die. It’s simple and sweet and comforting because it normalizes death.
Always and Forever by Alan Durant: This book covers grieving after a loss, and how eventually you can try to find joy again. This book is about a family of an otter, mole, hare, and fox. Fox dies suddenly, and everyone else is left feeling sad and lost without him. Their friend, Squirrel, comes to visit and helps them to see that life must go. Instead of sitting in sadness (which they had been doing for months), they decide to honor fox in other ways – by planting a garden, building a bench, and baking his favorite meal. They acknowledge “In their hearts and their memories and their laughter, fox was still there, part of their family, beloved friend and companion – always and forever.”
Always Remember by Cece Meng: We loved this book for showing how we can remember our loved ones and for how their impact remains even after they are gone. The book is about an old sea turtle that dies. It goes through all of his different friends (other turtles, whale, sea otters, dolphins, starfish, and manatee) and talks about what they will always remember about Old Turtle. They remember the things about turtle that they loved. They remember the activities that they used to do together and the ways that Old Turtle was helpful to them. “When he was done the ocean took him back, but what he left behind was only the beginning.”
Ida, Always by Caron Levis: This book goes through the entire process of learning someone is sick, watching them decline, and then grieving after they are gone. It’s about Gus and Ida who are two polar bears that live in Central Park. Ida gets sick and at first she just isn’t able to come out to play as much. Gus learns, though, that she is dying. “Usually there is a way to make a sick bear better, but this time was different.” The book deals with different feelings and shows that Gus and Ida both feel angry and sad, but that they also still have happy and laughing moments together too. “There were growling days and laughing days and days that mixed them up.” Everyone cries when Ida dies, and Gus is sad to play alone or with his zookeeper. He remembers Ida and what he loved about her. He feels Ida’s love and memories with him even after she is gone because “you don’t have to see it to feel it.”
What other books have you found helpful that address this topic?