This tender subject is too often avoided in my house. Or maybe it comes up too often. As with everything else, there are times when we focus and talk about this a lot, and times when it nearly disappears from our thoughts. Obviously, death is a natural part of life. It is a painful part of life, and love, and empathy. When the children have questions about this heavy subject, I do my very best to answer them earnestly, honestly, and bravely.
Our calico kitty suddenly passed away last week, only a year after we adopted her, bringing the topic of death and dying back to the forefront of our minds. Here are a few beautiful books to help your family begin a conversation about death, and life too.
(Waldenhouse Press, 1997)
This simple non-denominational poem beautiful expresses the release, relief, and freedom death might bring. My children have returned to this book many times over the years. It certainly is more abstract and artful than instructional, but it has brought us peace many times.
Water Bugs and Dragonflies: Explaining Death to Young Children by Doris Stickney (Pilgrim Press, 2012).
Stickney adapted a graceful fable about a water bug that changed into a dragonfly in order to explain death to a five-year-old. This book is more traditionally religious than The Next Place.My family was most interested in the metaphor of the dragonfly larva, who live below the surface of the water, and the adult dragonflies, to illustrate the notion of someone going beyond our sight, to a marvelous place.
The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: a story of Life for all Ages by Leo Buscaglia (Slack Incorporated, 1982).
This classic story is perfect, both simple and comforting. A little leaf named Freddie and his companion leaves change with the passing seasons, finally falling to the ground with winter's snow. As an avid gardener, I use nature often to teach kids about the circle of life and death. This book makes that analogy come alive.
Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Childrenby Bryon Mellonie (Bantam, 1983).
"All around us, everywhere, beginnings and endings are going on all the time. With living in between." This is a book to fall in love with, a book to read even when death is not a major topic around the house.
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1987).
This book is on the secular end of the spectrum. The writing is beautiful, the story is simple, and my children found it extremely comforting. They've been preparing their lists of good things about their own cat for our own kitty memorial service.
Please share your recommendations. I realize the topic of death is deeply entwined with personal spiritual beliefs, so feel free to share whatever speaks to you and your family. There are likely many others just like you who will be grateful for an additional resource.