Do you remember the first time you learned about death as a child? I do. I was in first grade. My grandfather passed away from heart issues. He had been to our house many times to visit heart specialists at the university, and I knew he was sick. His death was my first experience where the impermanence of life truly sunk in.
Of course, as a child I had killed things. Lightning bugs, ants, spiders, mosquitoes had all fallen victim to my power to end life. These deaths did not teach me about the closing of this life. It was just an exercise in human dominance. Only later did I realize I was causing harm eventually choosing vegetarianism as a teenager in order to lessen my cause of death on earth.
As a mother, I first had to explain death to my daughter when she was two-years-old. We had a tragedy with our dog (her dog). I wasn’t quite sure how to explain it to her. I was dealing with my own grief while trying to explain to what happened. A few months later, her good friend’s father passed away. A counselor friend recommended children’s literature as way to help not only my daughter, but her friend.
10 Books to help children learn about death
1. [amazon_link id=”0943432898″ target=”_blank” ]The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages[/amazon_link]
This story by Leo Buscaglia is a warm, wonderfully wise and strikingly simple story about a leaf names Freddie. How Freddie and his companion leaves change with the passing seasons, finally falling to the ground with winter’s snow, is an inspiring allegory illustrating the delicate balance between life and death.
The Fall of Freddie the Leaf is a warm and thought-provoking story and both children and adults will be deeply touched by this inspiring book. This 20th anniversary edition of this beloved classic has helped thousands of people come to grips with life and death.
2. [amazon_link id=”0553344021″ target=”_blank” ]Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children[/amazon_link]
When the death of a relative, a friend, or a pet happens or is about to happen . . . how can we help a child to understand?
Lifetimes is a moving book for children of all ages, even parents too. It lets us explain life and death in a sensitive, caring, beautiful way. Lifetimes tells us about beginnings. And about endings. And about living in between. With large, wonderful illustrations, it tells about plants. About animals. About people. It tells that dying is as much a part of living as being born. It helps us to remember. It helps us to understand
3. [amazon_link id=”1782850473″ target=”_blank” ]The Mountains of Tibet[/amazon_link]
A Tibetan woodcutter dreams of exploring the world, but is too busy with his life to ever leave his valley. After he dies, he is taken on a journey through the cosmos and al the places on Earth as he makes choices that lead him to a new life. First published as part of the debut list fo Barefoot Books in 1993, this gentle and inspiring look at life after death is jut as relevant today.
4. [amazon_link id=”0875167349″ target=”_blank” ]The Invisible String[/amazon_link]
“That’s impossible”, said twins Jeremy & Liza after their Mom told them they’re all connected by this thing called an Invisible String. “What kind of string”? They asked with a puzzled look to which Mom replied, “An Invisible String made of love.” That’s where the story begins. A story that teaches of the tie that really binds. The Invisible String reaches from heart to heart. Does everybody have an Invisible String? How far does it reach, anyway? Does it ever go away? Read all about it! THE INVISIBLE STRING is a very simple approach to overcoming the fear of loneliness or separation with an imaginative flair that children can easily identify with and remember. Here is a warm and delightful lesson teaching young and old that we aren’t ever really alone and reminding children (and adults!) that when we are loved beyond anything we can imagine. “People who love each other are always connected by a very special String, made of love. Even though you can’t see it with your eyes, you can feel it deep in your heart, and know that you are always connected to the ones you love.”
5. [amazon_link id=”0590417010″ target=”_blank” ]Dog Heaven[/amazon_link]
In Newbery Medalist Cynthia Rylant’s classic bestseller, the author comforts readers young and old who have lost a dog. Recommended highly by pet lovers around the world, Dog Heaven not only comforts but also brings a tear to anyone who is devoted to a pet. From expansive fields where dogs can run and run to delicious biscuits no dog can resist, Rylant paints a warm and affectionate picture of the ideal place God would, of course, create for man’s best friend. The first picture book illustrated by the author, Dog Heaven is enhanced by Rylant’s bright, bold paintings that perfectly capture an afterlife sure to bring solace to anyone who is grieving.
6. [amazon_link id=”0517572656″ target=”_blank” ]I’ll Always Love You[/amazon_link]
In this gentle, moving story, Elfie, a dachshund, and her special boy progress happily through life together. When she is young, Elfie is full of pep and pranks; but as her master grows taller and taller, Elfie grows fatter and slower. One morning Elfie does not wake up. The family grieves and buries her, and the boy refuses a new puppy. He is not yet ready for another pet; but when he is, he will tell that one, as he told Elsie every night, “I’ll always love you.” The watercolor illustrations, tender and warm in color and mood and cozily rounded in form, suit the simple text perfectly.
7. [amazon_link id=”0961519762″ target=”_blank” ]Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss[/amazon_link]
If you are going to buy only one book on grief, this is the one to get! It will validate your grief experience, and you can share it with your children. You can leave it on the coffee table so others will pick it up, read it, and then better appreciate your grieving time. Grand’s Cooking Tips section at the back of the book is rich with wisdom and concrete recommendations. Better than a casserole!
8. [amazon_link id=”0689712030″ target=”_blank” ]The Tenth Good Thing About Barney[/amazon_link]
My cat Barney died this Friday. I was very sad. My mother said we could have a funeral for him, and I should think of ten good things about Barney so I could tell them…
But the small boy who loved Barney can only think of nine. Later, while talking with his father, he discovers the tenth — and begins to understand.
9. [amazon_link id=”0811834433″ target=”_blank” ]Angel Catcher for Kids: A Journal to Help You Remember the Person You Love Who Died[/amazon_link]
Angel Catcher for Kids offers a healthy way for a child to cope with the painful and often confusing process of grieving. Designed to help a child overcome the loss of a loved one, this journal also invites the child to record precious memories of the special person who has died. Angel Catcher for Kids will help a child to catch-and hold-an angel.
10. [amazon_link id=”1883220599″ target=”_blank” ]Lifetimes[/amazon_link]
Teachers and parents, this book is an outstanding teaching resource, much more than the title might suggest. Beginning with: A lifetime for a mayfly is about one day, it presents 24 lifetimes such as that of an earthworm (about six years), a giant sequoia (about 2,000 years), a bacteria (well, that depends), a dinosaur (never again) and the universe (about 15 to 20 billion years). Each example comes with detailed illustrations and something to ponder, such as, for earthworms: Worms teach us that our work can be very important, even if it cannot be seen. Each plant or animal is practically a lesson plan in itself, with tell about it, think about it, and look it up challenges.
I have only read the top three books. We do own them. The other books on the list are ones I would purchase. For this list, I chose books that do not preach one religious viewpoint and focus on the natural aspects of death and honoring one’s feelings and memories. I prefer reading children books that discuss the life cycle as a whole, rather than primarily on death.
It is useful to to discuss how death is treated and honored in different cultures to help children understand. Death is something that connects all life on earth. This connection is comforting.
When talking to my daughter about death, I did not want to be dogmatic. I wanted her to understand the mystery about it, to give her possibilities, to encourage contemplation. I know this may sound lofty for a two-year-old, but I was truly interested in what she thought and had to say. Children are closer to knowing the Truth.
I wanted my daughter to view death as natural. I did not want her to grow up fearing it. I wanted her to embrace life.
As a parent explaining death to a child for the first time, you truly examine your own beliefs. It’s easy if you have a strong religious faith that has clear answers as to what happens in the afterlife, but if you yourself are not so sure, then honesty about that will benefit your child. Ignoring death might be the easiest route, but it is not honest. Meditating on it and discussing it with our children throughout life will better prepare them when they experience loss.
For my second child, I decided to not wait until death was upon us but to discuss the end of this life. I wanted to converse about death as naturally as I would discuss life itself.
As we grow through life, our views on death may change. My own have evolved, as I am sure my children’s will as they learn and experience life.
I love what Ram Dass says about death saying it is absolutely safe:
Something has happened to me as a result of meandering through many realms of consciousness over the past fifty years that has changed my attitude toward death. A lot of the fear about death has gone from me. I am someone who actually delights in being with people as they are dying. It is such incredible grace for me. In the morning, if I know I am going to be with such a person, I get absolutely thrilled because I know I am going to have an opportunity to be in the presence of Truth.
It is now becoming acceptable in our culture for people to die. For many decades, death was kept behind closed doors. But now we are allowing it to come out into the open. Having grown up in this culture, the first few months I spent in India in the 1960’s were quite an experience. There, when someone dies, the body is placed on a pallet, wrapped in a sheet, and carried through the streets to the burning grounds while a mantra is chanted. Death is out in the open for everyone to see. The body is right there. It isn’t in a box. It isn’t hidden. And because India is a culture of extended families, most people are dying at home. So most people, as they grow up, have been in the presence of someone dying. They haven’t walked away from it and hidden from it as we have in the West.
Prior to my first experience with psychedelics, I had identified with that which dies – the ego. The ego is who I think I am. Now, I identify much more with who I really am – the Soul. As long as you identify with that which dies, there is always fear of death. What our ego fears is the cessation of its own existence. Although I didn’t know what form it would take after death – I realized that the essence of my Being – and the essence of my awareness – is beyond death…
People ask, “Do you believe that there is continuity after death?” And I say, “I don’t believe it. It just is.” That offends my scientific friends no end. But belief is something you hold on to with your intellect. My faith in the continuity of life has gone way beyond the intellect. Belief is a problem because it is rooted in the mind, and in the process of death, the mind crumbles. Faith, consciousness, and awareness all exist beyond the thinking mind…
These bodies we live in, and the ego that identifies with it, are just like the old family car. They are functional entities in which our Soul travels through our incarnation. But when they are used up, they die. The most graceful thing to do is to just allow them to die peacefully and naturally – to “let go lightly.” Through it all, who we are is Soul . . . and when the body and the ego are gone, the Soul will live on, because the Soul is eternal. Eventually, in some incarnation, when we’ve finished our work, our Soul can merge back into the One . . . back into God . . . back into the Infinite. In the meantime, our Soul is using bodies, egos, and personalities to work through the karma of each incarnation.
I think it is important to talk about death and not wait until it is upon you to try and explain it to your child. I think it is important to listen to your child and not do all of the talking. I think it is important to ask your child what they think about death. I think it is important to connect death to life and treat it as naturally and wondrously as one would birth. I think we should help our children grow up with less fear of the end of life
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As I proofread this post, I have just found out of the death of our mechanic suddenly from a stroke. It is hard to know what to say other than to feel compassion for his family. We are so blessed to be living today!
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