A week ago yesterday, I received the news that my mother had passed away. She was 96 years-old and had been in failing health for quite some time, but the news still came as somewhat of a shock. How could my mother no longer exist in this world? How could I suddenly be motherless? I don’t think it matters what age your mother is when she dies, it still stuns your being to its core.
So how can we, as children’s book authors and illustrators, help children mourn?
When I was a young adult, a dear friend of mine was killed in a motorcycle accident. It was truly a shock. The sadness was so painful. Someone gave me the picture book, Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley. It tells us to focus on what we have gained from knowing someone who is gone, instead of just the loss we feel.
In remembering that instance, I wondered how many other children’s authors have approached the tender, yet terrifying subject of death. So I googled it.
The childrensbooksguide.com has a list of 25 recommended books dealing with death. Badger’s Parting Gifts is one of them. First published in 1984, it is still in print. None of the other books are familiar, but Tear Soup: A Recipe For Healing After Loss by Pat Schwiebert, sounds appealing. Maybe I will see if I can find it here in the U.K.
Death is not an easy topic to discuss at any age. There are two books (for grown-ups) that I have read in the last few years that I found useful when thinking about death and aging.
Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande, is an excellent resource for any adult who has aging parents, or who is aging themselves. As Gawande points out, getting old and dying is not something that medicine can cure. Quality of life has to be balanced with our desire to keep someone alive. Being Mortal helped me understand how my priorities may not be the same as my parents’.
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast is a graphic memoir that relates Chast’s experience of following her parents through their final years. I found it comforting to see how she illustrates many of the same difficult situations I was experiencing with both humour and affection. Children know better than anyone else how quirky their parents can be. Aging makes them more so, but it doesn’t mean we love them any less.