I have returned from my blog hiatus! I spent the last few months saying goodbye to Costa Rica, where I lived for 5 years, and resettling in Seattle, Washington. I have started a new job in which I am doing Infant Mental Health work with 0- 3 year olds. With this in mind, I may be exploring some board books, in addition to picture books, for an even younger age range of readers. Well, listeners! I'm excited to be back and have an exciting line-up of children's books to review for 2024! The first in line is a new story about coping with the loss of a grandparent by one of my favorite therapist authors - Lauren Kerstein!
Let the Children Grieve
A Book Review of Remembering Sundays With Grandpa
The first point that is highlighted in this book is encouraging open discussion of the loss and feelings surrounding it. As adults, we want to protect our children from pain. In doing so, we sometimes unwittingly create more long-term pain. Nobody wants to see a sad child. However, there are things in this life that we are unable to protect our children from. One of those things is grief. If we love and build connections with others, which is crucial to healthy existence, eventually we will lose someone we love and are connected with. Unfortunately, sometimes this happens when we are very young.
The parent in this story has created an open environment in which the child feels safe talking about hard things. This is demonstrated in the following quote:
"Henry dragged himself downstairs to his mom. 'I miss Grandpa,'
he said. 'I don't want him to be gone.'"
Mom does not make him shove those feelings down by trying to ignore them. She addresses them head-on by saying "I don't either." Rather than trying to fix it, she normalizes it by stating that she also shares that feeling. Henry and his mom then hug and the narrator says, "Sometimes hugs were better than words." Already, by the second spread of this book, we have learned that acknowledgement of feelings and human connection are the recipe for healthy coping. The courage on the part of this parent to allow their child to feel, is also displayed by the photo on his bedside table. This will be a constant reminder of the loss, which is going to feel sad sometimes. However, it's okay to feel sad as our memories of the connection will get us through. That is a message that will lead to healthy grieving.
This brings me to the second element that is so important when dealing with a grieving child. Many parents try to hide their own feelings, hoping to avoid stirring up sadness in their child. This often backfires as it leads to the child feeling alone with their pain and does not normalize the often crushing feelings from loss. It is okay for the adult to share their own sad feelings. This helps the child not feel alone with their emotions and promotes the message that We'll get through these tough time TOGETHER. Cry together, remember together, grieve through that connection. That will lead to healthy coping.
The third point, and crucial in my opinion, is demonstrated in the following exchange in the book:
" 'Why did he have to die?' Henry asked.
'His body was too fragile to stay, but his
love will live on forever,' his mom said."
Many religions believe in Heaven and life after death and many parents feel that "Grandpa went to Heaven" will cut the pain and be comforting to their children. However, this is too abstract of a concept for children in this age range. Children are in a concrete stage of thinking until about 12 years of age. Therefore, they require a concrete explanation, like "His body was too fragile to stay" or "His body stopped working." This is a much clearer explanation for children within this age group and will not lead to confusion. In my practice, when told their relative has gone to Heaven, I have often heard children say "I want to die too so I can go to Heaven with Grandpa," or "When is he coming back?" Another response I've heard is that of abandonment, "Why did Grandpa choose to go without me?" Again, sometimes our goal of protecting the child from pain unwittingly creates more pain.
While highlighting the important elements that lead to healthy grieving in children, Lauren found a way to keep the story light and fun for young children. The book progresses like a Treasure Hunt, with both mom and Henry looking for Grandpa's love all around them. Lauren does this by tapping into sensory memories. For example:
Touch/motion: The rocking chair where Grandpa read to Henry, dancing to the jewelry box music
Sight/taste/smell: The garden where Grandpa grew his favorite cucumbers
Taste: Chocolate chip cookies dunked in hot chocolate
Sight: Grandpa's silly faces
Hearing: Cucumber hiccups, repeating the silly sounds Grandpa made, ie. trumpeting like an elephant,
The senses help us access our memories and emotions. It's a common experience in grieving that you're happily going about your life, and a certain smell, taste, feeling, sight or sound hits you like a ton of bricks and suddenly tears are running down your face. You are caught off guard. What just happened? When thinking about it, you notice that something coming in from your senses lit up a memory and a feeling in your brain and made you react before even realizing it. Many experiences through the senses provoke memories that are comforting and grounding. The feeling is so real that it gives us a sudden message that Yes, we were connected to this person. And that feels good, like a worm cup of hot chocolate.
This book not only encourages kids and their parents to engage in healthy grieving, it leaves the young reader with a sense of hope. Grandpa will live on through them through their facial expressions, dimples, beauty marks, and, most importantly, in their hearts.
The illustrator, Nanette Regan, captures this hope through the vibrant colors, flowers, plants, butterflies and other living things throughout the book. She doesn't shy away from sad expressions, although shows the joy of remembering and continuing to live through her lively illustrations.
If you'd like to read a blog post and see an interview from this author on another one of her great books, check out my blog post from April, 2021. To purchase this book or check out other books by this author, click here. As always, I have included an activity idea to go along with this book.
An Activity Idea for Remembering Sundays with Grandpa.
Find the Love
Let's go on a Treasure Hunt through our memories, creativity and maybe even the Internet to find the love of our cherished person who has died.
-Our treasured memories
-Large cardstock or poster board in loved one's favorite color
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