How do you help a child to process what occurs when a beloved family member or friend passes away? What do you say? How can you explain what the child will see, feel, and experience? If you have ever been in this position, you most likely asked yourself these questions and then did the best that you could to answer them and help the child. If you have not yet had this happen, you are blessed. Either way, allow me to introduce you to a resource that will help you help them if/when someone precious to you and/or your child(ren) passes away.
Mortician (and mother) Marjorie Kunch has written a wonderfully helpful book to familiarize Orthodox Christian children ages 4 to 8 with what happens after the loss of an Orthodox Christian loved one. When My Baba Died features color photos and the story of a little girl from the moment she learns about her baba’s death all the way through her baba’s funeral service, graveside service, and memorial service. The story is told from the little girl’s perspective, and everything is explained as she observes and begins to understand it.
Every page is illustrated with photos of the little girl and/or what she is experiencing. The photos were taken with such attention to detail that the reader feels as though the story is taking place before their eyes. The first time I read this book, I thought, “Wow, it’s really nice to have such thorough pictures of this story, but how difficult it must have been for the photographer to take them without being in the way of the family during this significant and difficult event in their lives!” When I later learned that the photos were all staged, I was happy that no family had a photographer snapping photos during their loved one’s funeral, and at the same time I was amazed at how realistically the photos communicate the story! (A side note: at no point in the book do you see the “departed loved one.” All the photos cleverly hide the fact that the photo essay was staged and that the casket was in fact empty!)
There is so much terminology for a child to learn when their loved one departs. Throughout the story, important related words such as “grief,” “funeral,” “casket,” “grave,” and “koliva” are presented gently but clearly. Each new vocabulary word is appropriately introduced in context, and many are referred to again later in the story, to help cement their meaning in young readers’ minds. There is a glossary at the end of the book as well, with simple definitions for many of the new terms used in the book.
Tucked into When My Baba Died here and there are snatches of scripture or portions of the services and prayers that relate to that part of the story. These can be read aloud along with the story or can just act as a gentle reminder to the adult reader of what is happening at that point in the process. It is up to the reader to decide how to include them.
Readers in our community who have been following our blog regularly may well remember Carol Federoff’s suggestion in our blog “On the Cross of Christ and Leading Children Through Holy Week” with regard to discussing death with children. She wrote, “Use picture books that deal with death… Don’t wait until someone significant in their life passes… pick these books now… so that this subject can be a gentle introduction rather than dealing with it after such a crisis in their life.” When My Baba Died is an excellent book for just such a purpose. It can be read as a story and is a helpful discussion-starter even without the context of having just lost a loved one. It will, however, be even more invaluable to a family with young children when one of their beloved members has just departed this life. This book provides a child-friendly way for young Orthodox Christians to process what they will experience when someone they love passes away.
Read more about the book (how it came to be, etc.), find out where to purchase your own copy, and discover what else this brand new publisher, Pascha Press, is up to at their website at http://www.paschapress.com/home.html.
Here are a few other resources for helping children who are experiencing grief:
Find age-appropriate ideas for helping children through grief and tragedy here: http://www.goarch.org/special/september11/archival/youth/developmental
Read an excellent and very personal article (based on Albert Rossi’s experience with his own children when his wife departed this life) on talking to children about death here: http://oca.org/the-hub/the-church-on-current-issues/talking-to-children-about-death
Here are basic (Christian, but not specifically Orthodox) ideas of ways to help your child grieve: http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/your-childs-emotions/how-to-help-your-child-grieve/how-to-help-your-child-grieve
Always and Forever by Alan Durant discusses the death of a friend and how the memory of them helps them to live on in your heart. http://www.amazon.com/Always-Forever-Alan-Durant/dp/015216636X
After reading this book together, talk about how the friends ended up remembering fox and what they did in his memory. Then, discuss what we in the Orthodox Church do together to remember those who have departed this life (memorial services, koliva or bread, Saturday of Souls, Bright Monday graveside service, etc.). After that, do something together to remember the person who the child is grieving: make koliva together for their memorial service, make something the person enjoyed making or eating, go where the person enjoyed going, or do an act of service in their honor.
Read I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm to help children talk about what happens when a pet dies. http://www.amazon.com/Ill-Always-Love-Hans-Wilhelm/dp/0517572656