My mother-in-law – Harry and Joe’s grandma – died last week. We knew it was coming, but of course it was still a shock. And even though we’d told the boys she wasn’t going to get better – and we’d talked about her dying – I didn’t think they really got it. I mean, I don’t really get it, so what chance do a 9-year-old and 4-year-old have?
The boys know they can ask us anything and they have – questions have ranged from “What happens to the body?” to “Can I have her iPad?” (just realised I’ve made my children sound super-callous – they also asked “What will we do without her?”) – but I wanted a way to talk about death and dying without sitting down and having A Big Talk.
So I went online and ordered books. Books are my way of dealing with pretty much everything. When my own mum was dying and I was quoting information – chemotherapy statistics, I think – to my family, my aunty said, “I think you can read too much.” I disagree.
These are the books I bought.
Are you Sad, Little Bear? by Rachel Rivett
I bought this one to read with Joe. It’s lovely because it’s not overtly about death – even though it begins with Grandmother Bear going for a long walk – it’s about change and the seasons and, you know, the circle of life. I love the bit where Little Bear asks the sun if it’s sad to leave and the sun says “Just because you can’t see me, it doesn’t mean I’m not there. Remember that.”
Always and Forever by Debi Gliori and Alan Durant
I read this one with Joe too. It’s the story of a group of friends, one of whom, Fox, gets ill and goes off to die. The friends are very sad without him, but, as time goes on (the seasons change, so it’s a matter of months, not days) they realise they can look back and remember the happy times with Fox, rather than being sad he’s gone, and that Fox lives on in their hearts (which is what I’ve told the boys about Grandma).
I really liked this one, but Joe misunderstood and thought (insisted!) Fox had come back to life at the end.
The Sad Book by Michael Rosen
I was actually dreading reading this book, knowing that it was written after the death of Michael Rosen’s son, but it’s just wonderful. I read it on my own first to check it wasn’t too sad, but then struggled reading it aloud to Harry. And it made Harry cry. Unlike the other books, I didn’t feel like it ended on a positive note and I found the last picture harrowing, but I know other people disagree. However, I do think we’ll re-read it and I want the boys to know it’s ok to feel sad and that they might feel sad for a long time.
The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
Oh, this book. I love Oliver Jeffers’ books so I picked this up in Asda ages ago and ended up crying. In Asda. On my own. I bought the app for the boys and found I couldn’t even get through it. I think it’s a little difficult for my boys (particularly Joe) to understand – when the little girl’s beloved grandad dies, she puts her heart in a bottle to protect it from being hurt again – and there’s a picture of her sitting in front of her grandad’s empty chair that’s just… *cries*
But it really is gorgeous if you’re made of stronger stuff than me.