In this episode we look at books to help our children when they are grieving and are dealing with difficult emotions.
Books Discussed in This Episode
Links for more help on the subject of grief:
Here are some online articles about helping children cope with grief:
Welcome to “Books that Spark” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids. Today. I want to talk to you about a subject that may be surprising the week of Christmas, but it’s been on my heart a lot. I lost my mom a few years ago, and at Christmas especially, I just miss her so much. And I’ve had a hard time these last few days just missing her and wanting to talk to her. And I know that there are many people during this season who are experiencing the same kinds of feelings. Some who’ve lost people this year. And so, many people around us may be grieving. And I try to be very sensitive to that at Christmas, especially as a pastor’s wife, one year, we had lost so many people in our church. We actually had a service just focused on acknowledging our grief and realizing the hope we had in Christ.
When it comes to our children, we need to be able to help them walk through grief. And as you probably know, there are several stages to grief. And if someone gets stuck in one of those stages, it’s hard to process and to continue on and to find healing. We need to help our kids make sure they’re not getting stuck in the depression or the anger or whatever stage of grief and help them to walk through it. I have a few resources that I think are just really beautiful books that can help us all as we’re walking through these times of grief and sorrow.
I will also post the worship service. We did the idea for the worship service came from an old worship resource book. I have called All I Want for Christmas, and it has all these different lineups for different types of worship services. It includes one for this kind of a service, and I adapted our service from that. So I’ll post what we adapted, and I’ll also post a link to this book if it’s still available, but it may be out of print. That’s how long I’ve had it. It’s about to fall apart.
But when we’re trying to help our kids, there are a couple books. I just really think are wonderful. And one of them I have talked about before (In fact, it came out this year) when I interviewed Jennifer Grant, and that’s her wonderful book called A Little Blue Bottle. This is by Jennifer Grant and illustrated by Gillian Whiting. This book handles grief in such a wonderful way. It doesn’t belittle it. It doesn’t try to make it go away. It shows us that we can walk through it. It also shows a mom who just sits with her daughter as she grieves, instead of trying to force her to talk or force her to feel better or to try to make light of the sadness she feels. I think that is such a wonderful gift that this mom gives this girl in the story. I want to read a little bit for you. The illustrations are beautiful in here. It’s just very well done. This is about a little girl who loses her neighbor. It says, “Mrs. Wednesday died last Thursday, or maybe the week before. All I know is ever since then, nothing feels the same anymore. They loaded Mrs. Wednesday’s furniture onto a truck, and they drove it far away. Her daughter picked up Muriel, the ginger cat. Now Muriel lives some other place.” And then she goes on. My favorite picture in the book is this one on page 15. And it says, “I remember when Mr. Wednesday died, my mama says to me. It was before you were even born.” Then she tells her the story about Mr. Wednesday and when he passed away. And she says, “‘I remember there were always three things on that shelf, a little blue bottle, African violets with dark purple flowers and fuzzy leaves, and a picture of Mr. Wednesday in a silver frame. Not long after Mr. Wednesday died, she and I were having a cup of tea.’ Mama says, ‘she had just bought that little blue bottle, and she took it out and showed it to me. There’s a verse in the Bible that says that God knows when we cry and saves every one of our tears in a bottle.’ Mama says, ‘sometimes over the years, she told me that when she was missing Mr. Wednesday, or just felt lonely or was having a hard day, she held that little blue bottle and imagined God was collecting her tears in it,’ Mama says.” And so that’s the idea behind the book. And it’s just the comforting knowledge that God knows our grief. He is so aware of it, that he knows every tear that we shed. To help our kids understand that God walks with us through the Valley of the shadow of death, sharing with them maybe that scripture from Psalm 23, that God is with us, and he is walking with us through the sorrow, through the grief. I love what C.S. Lewis says, that the reason we grieve is because we were never meant for this. We were created to live forever, but sin has taken that away from us. We now have to deal with this grief and with death. And I think that helps too–to realize that God never intended for us to hurt like this, but because of sin in our world and sin in our lives, we now have to face death. And that’s something that I think we can talk with our kids about. I mean, they may have a lot of questions. And mercy when you watch TV, the answers are certainly not there. They give you all kinds of crazy skewed notions of what death and dying is all about and what life is even all about. And the value of life. We’ve got to be intentional to help our kids know they do not become angels when they die. If we believe in Jesus Christ, we go to a place we call heaven. And without Him, we go to a place called hell and hell is separation eternally from God. And that’s why it’s hell because people have chosen to reject God.
If they’re not old enough to talk about that, to talk about that, we know that someday we will see people in heaven that this isn’t the end, that life goes on. It’s just in a different place. To help them know that as we are hurting, we are not alone, that God is always with us, and he will carry us. Like he carries a lamb on his shoulders, He will carry us through the Valley of the shadow of death and comfort us. The Holy spirit is our comforter, and he will comfort us. If we remind our children of that, if we teach our children that when they are going through these dark times and these sad times, they know they can call on God and reach out to him and find comfort.
Another one that I really like is called Water Bugs and Dragonflies: Explaining Death to Young Children. This book was written by Doris Stickney, illustrated by Robin Henderson Nordstrom. This is a really cute story about these water bugs. They live in the little pond and it says, “Down below the surface of a quiet pond lived a little colony of water bugs. They were a happy colony living far away from the sun. For many months, they were very busy scurrying over the soft mud on the bottom of the pond. They did notice that every once in a while, one of their colony seemed to lose interest in going about with its friends, clinging to the stem of a pond lily, it gradually moved out of sight and was seen no more. ‘Look,’ Said one of the water bugs to another, ‘One of our colony is climbing up the lily stock. Where do you suppose she’s going? Up, up, up she went slowly. Even as they watched the water bug disappeared from sight. Her friends waited and waited, but she didn’t return. ‘That’s Funny,’ said one water bug to another, ‘Wasn’t she happy here?’ asked a second water bug. ‘Where Do you suppose she went,’ wondered a third? No one had an answer. They were greatly puzzled. Finally, one of the water bugs, a leader in the colony gathered his friends together. ‘I Have an idea. The next one of us who climbs up the lily stock must promise to come back and tell us where he or she went and why.’ ‘We promise,’ they said solemnly. One spring day, not long after, the very water bug who had suggested the plan, found himself climbing up the lily stock. Up, up, up he went. Before he knew what was happening he had broken through the surface of the water and fallen onto the broad green lily pad above. Weary from his journey, he slept. When he awoke, he looked about with surprise. He couldn’t believe what he saw. A startling change had come to his old body.” And so of course, he’s now a dragonfly, and he wants to go back and tell his little water bug buddies what has happened and how wonderful it is, and to not be afraid, but he can’t. He can’t get back under the water now that he’s a dragonfly. And he says, “‘I guess I’ll just have to wait until they become dragonflies too. Then they’ll understand what happened to me and where I went.’ And the dragon fly winged off happily into its wonderful new world of sun and air.” What I like about this book is that it makes death something that is not frightening. When we get to heaven, it’s wonderful. And yes, the ones who were left behind miss that person, are sad that they’re gone, but we can rejoice for the person because we know they’re in a better place, no pain, no sorrow, no more tears in a bottle. They are just in a place of joy and in the presence of God, or if you believe that we sleep until the second coming, whatever your belief is. You can kind of support both depending how you read the scripture. I have many friends who believe both ways, and I’m okay with either one. And I kind of feel like once we’re in that realm, there is no time. We’re not on the same level with time and everything else like we are here. So God knows whether we’re in his presence immediately. It says to be absent from the body is to be present with God. Other places it says we sleep. Whatever the answer is, I know that God has it all figured out, and he knows what’s what, and that’s okay with me. But we don’t have to be afraid of death. We don’t have to be afraid of what’s happened to the other person. We know for sure that they’re at peace, that they’re with God in one way or another. And that we will all see each other again in heaven someday.
It’s so hard as parents to have conversations with our children when we’re uncertain about certain things or when we are emotionally going through grief ourselves and missing the person we’re talking about to answer their questions with certainty and with comfort. I think that’s why so often we have slipped into things that are not true, saying they are always with us, they’re always watching us, or they’re not really gone, they’re here in spirit, or saying that they’re angels watching over us and going against what those scriptures teach us, just to try to comfort people and to comfort our children. I think personally, that that’s a mistake. I would rather admit to my kids that I’m not really sure about everything, but this is what I know. And then share with them what I know. That’s what I’ve always tried to do. I really think it’s the best and most responsible way to help our children and to help them grow and to mature in their faith. If I share a fable or a story, like for instance, with Christmas, if I share the story of The Fourth King or The Little Drummer Boy or The Crippled Lamb, there’s one about the donkey or one of the camels. These are not true stories. These are made up stories. These are fables. I let my kids know that this is fiction. The Bible story is truth. And I make that distinction. We do that in school as we’re teaching them what stories are fictional, what stories are factual. We teach them that all the time. So I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I just think we have to be honest and realistic with our kids so that they know and are able to discern what is truth and what isn’t as they grow older.
I don’t want to take away the wonder and the joy of magic and all that that entails with our kids, but we can do that and still let them know that there’s fantasy and reality. I mean, when we talk about the wonderful love of God, the miracles He has done, the creation of this world, and the animals he’s created, the beauty of the world. There are miracles all around us, and sometimes we don’t realize they’re miracles anymore because we’re just used to it. But when we help our children see the wonder and the beauty of what God has created and what he has done in the human heart that follows him, you know, Oh my goodness. You know, we see people who have been so filled with pain and unforgiveness and bitterness come to Christ and find complete joy. And they become loving and kind people. They become joyful people. That’s a miracle that we can share with our kids. And when they can see those wonderful things in life, they don’t lose the joy of magic and miracles. They hold on to a true understanding of God’s miraculous love and what he does in our hearts and lives. He takes us from death into life. He takes us from hopelessness into hope and joy and freedom and peace. There’s so much for us to help our children understand that desire for wonder, and that desire for beauty and goodness in this world. Well, that’s found in Christ, that’s found in our relationship with God, and everything that is good comes from there. And so to help them see that and hold on to that, and that way, reality is better than fantasy. We can help them find their joy and their comfort and their peace, even in the midst of the sadness of loss.
One thing too, if your kids are a little older and are old enough to write, have them write a tribute to the person who has passed away. For me, that was always the best thing that I could do. So I think with our children, whatever helps them. I mean, I don’t think we need to force them to talk about someone, but to find out how they’re doing to find out how they’re processing the grief, what they understand, what they don’t understand, what they need help with, what questions they might have, and just being there for them. It’s kind of like any question they ask, you don’t want to give more information than they’re ready for, but being able to answer what they need to hear and being able to minister to them where they are. And then as they walk through grief, whether it’s the loss of a goldfish or the loss of a loved one, they need to process that. And they become stronger in the process of going through it. And so these two books are so wonderful for helping our kids to try to understand and process death and to try and understand and process grief. I think these are two excellent resources. Now, there are quite a few other books out there. Some I do not like, I don’t think they handle it well, but there are some others that I’ve seen that are okay, but these are my two favorite that I wanted to bring to you today.
Max Lucado has a book coming out next year, and I’ll have to share more about it once I can read it, but it’s about sadness and emotion and going through hard emotions. And so as they’re going through the anger stage or the depression stage, we need to help them know how to deal with those feelings because those can get them kind of stuck reading a book about those feelings might be beneficial.
And one that I have already that’s out now is called Sweep by Louise Greig and illustrated by Julia Sarda. And the main character is in a bad mood and this bad mood takes over and he’s kind of angry. He’s kind of depressed. He’s just in a bad mood. And they use the example of sweep. He’s got a broom and his bad mood just sweep. So for everything and it collects everything and it makes like a whirlwind. And so through the process, he goes through, as he starts realizing that he has swept up the whole town in his bad mood. It’s it has a lot of hyperbole. It’s very good though. It says, “This whole thing was affecting everyone and everything. ‘Good,’ thought Ed’s bad mood, but really Ed was beginning to wish it had all blown over like a whirlwind in a teacup. Everything grew dark and Ed was getting tired and hungry. He was finding it harder and harder to keep this up. Surely he could not give up now, not when he had gone to all this trouble, that would be crazy. But something had to change. And then something did change. A new wind whipped up. It began as something small, really small that became bigger, bigger than Ed.” But it talks about the change in mood and how our feelings can change from one moment to the next and also how we can control our bad mood. So, it’s dealing more with a person who’s in a bad mood and how they affect everybody with their bad mood, that we can really control that. But I think it also gives a tangible way for a child to describe the feelings they have, that they’re experiencing and to know how to cope with them. And to realize that even a small attitude adjustment can help bring the sun out, can help to make a brighter day.
So even if we’re in the midst of grief, to remember something fun about the person we’ve lost or, or the pit that has died to think of some positive in the midst of that sadness can help us to cope more effectively with it and to not get bogged down in the anger or the sadness. This book is very good, whether you’re going through grief or just helping a child learn how to cope with their feelings. This is a really good book. And again, it’s called Sweep.
And as I’ve done in a few times in the past, I’d like to end this podcast by reading a section from the Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by Jago. And this is the last devotional in the book, and it’s called “By the Hand.” “When you’re in the dark or on a narrow path, you need someone to lead you by the hand to hold your hand tight. You need someone to rely on. God says we can rely on him. I’ve got you by the hand, and I’ll never let you go. No matter where you go, no matter what you do, you always have a hand to hold you. I will lead you, guide you, keep you even through death. I won’t ever let you go.” And then it has Isaiah 42:6. “I will take you by the hand and guard you.”
And then I want to end by reading Psalm 23 from the Amplified Version. The Lord is my shepherd to feed, to guide and to shield me. I shall not want, he lets me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still and quiet waters. He refreshes and restores my soul life. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his namesake. Even though I walk through the sunless Valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for you are with me, your rod to protect and your staff to guide they comfort and console me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You have anointed and refreshed my head with oil. My cup overflows, surely goodness and mercy and unfailing love shall follow me all the days of my life. And I shall dwell forever throughout all my days in the house. And in the presence of the Lord.
I pray that this season is filled with the joy of Christmas and that you are overwhelmed with blessings and with family and with just fun, joyful times. But if your Christmas is a little sadder, if you have lost someone recently, if you’re going through grief, just know that God is with you and you’re not alone. And that this Christmas, and always, he will walk with you through whatever darkness, whatever sadness and grief you have to face. And that, that is a result of this world and the sin that is in it, that it was never God’s plan for us to have to go through these things.
But this is the world in which we live. And we have to walk through these things way too many times, just know we are not alone. He understands our grief more than we can even imagine. So I pray that you are blessed and I pray that you are comforted. And I pray that whether you’re in a time of happiness or sadness, joy, or sorrow, whatever you’re going through, that he would fill you with his peace, that surpasses all understanding and that he would overflow your heart with his joy and strengthen you through it.
Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark” a podcast, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions. I hope this discussion will spark meaningful conversations with the children in your life. Please check out my website at TerrieHellardBrown.com. Remember when you sign up for my mailing list, you receive several freebies and joining my mailing list, you will get one to two emails typically per week: one when the podcast posts and one when I put up a blog post. This podcast posts each Tuesday morning, and a blog post usually goes up each Thursday. And right now, if you go to my blog or to the show notes for this episode, you’ll find a link to download several different items that are free for anybody who is interested in them. I hope you have a very, very Merry Christmas and a wonderfully joyful new year, and that you are blessed with many wonderful times with your family over this holiday season. God bless you.
Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.
Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.
Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.
For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com
Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.
Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.
Disclaimer: Although Terrie majored in psychology and sociology for her bachelor’s degree and has taught AP Psychology, she is NOT a licensed therapist. She sometimes mentions items in her blog and podcast that could be considered comments on psychology, but these comments are based on ministry experience and ministering to people through the missions and church work she’s done for the past 36 years. If you have questions about psychological disorders or counseling needs, please consider finding a reputable, licensed counselor in your area. Terrie’s comments should be seen as anecdotal and ministry-experience-related or scripture-based. Thank you!