Back in early April, Eleanor posted about the results of a survey in which people were asked if they would trade a year of their life for one more day with their loved one. My mom, an avid reader of our blog (thanks Mom!), and I had a discussion after that post about her dad (my grandfather), who died when my mom was in elementary school. She talked about how she wished she could remember more of him and what he was like, but struggled because she was so young when he died.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and I started working with a woman who was pregnant and lost her husband unexpectedly. Though this is unfortunately far from the first time I have encountered this situation, the recent conversation with my mom had me thinking so much about this baby who would never know her dad.
This woman and I talked about the things she could start doing now that might help her make her husband part of her daughter’s life. With many other people who are struggling with the same concerns, it seemed a topic worth sharing here. These are just a few ideas, so if you have more suggestions please leave a comment.
Helping Kids Cultivate Memories:
1) Create a scrapbook and/or photo albums. You may also wish to create a scrapbook with the child, to help them be part of assembling items about the person.
2) Ask friends and family for photos, videos, or audio recordings to keep for the child. Friends and family often have items you didn’t even know existed. The more of these items you have the better for sharing with children who don’t remember the person. These will be great to watch together.
3) Ask friends and family to write letters with stories and memories, to be compiled into a book. Friends and family are often happy to do this, and it can be a therapeutic exercise for them – so don’t feel bad asking!
4) If you’re feeling more high-tech, create a memorial website where people can compile pictures, stories, videos, and other memories that you can share with the child. Eventually they may wish to add to the site!
5) Start a memory box full of items to eventually share that will help tell the story of who this person was. You may wish to ask friends and family if they have additional items to add. Though a “memory box” may sound small with only a few select items, don’t let that image limit you. It can be whatever you want — it may be a Rubbermaid memory bin! Whatever works.
6) Make a decision to talk about the person early and often. It may be difficult for the child to understand at first, depending on their age, but talking about the person from an early age will help the child feel like he/she is still a part of your lives. There is great discussion of this in the book The Disappearance, that we reviewed a few months back. It also will help set the tone for other family and friends that you want and encourage them to talk about the person.
In one of those timely coincidences, I then stumbled on a book by Marcy Blesy that came out last year called “Am I Like My Daddy?”. The book is the story of Grace, who lost her father when she was 5 years old. Several years later she was given a school assignment to write a story about someone special. She wants to write about her dad, but realizes she doesn’t remember him well. Her mom helps her find ways to learn about her dad.
There are a lot of great things about this book. First and foremost, it fills a real gap in the literature for kids on grief. There are so many children’s books out there on kids who have lost parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends, yet there is next-to-nothing to address kids who were so young that they don’t remember the person they lost. Whereas so many books focus on the time immediately following the loss, this book focuses on the grief that continues years after a child loses a parent. Gold star just for tackling this subject!
Additionally, “Am I Like My Daddy?” gives real ideas on supporting kids in this situation. As Grace works through her school assignment with support from her mom, the ideas suggested are great for any kid struggling in the way Grace is. In addition to the ideas in the story, Blesy gives a short list of concrete suggestions in the back of the book. Another gold star for concrete, practical ideas – you know we love that at WYG.
The story acknowledges that some grown-ups will not be a good support for sharing memories. This is huge. Let’s be honest, being a grieving adult sucks. Being a grieving adult supporting a grieving child doubly sucks. Some adults just aren’t going to be able to meet a child’s needs as well as others. In this story, Grace calls her Aunt Tess to talk about her father, but her Aunt Tess clearly doesn’t want to talk and says she doesn’t remember anything about Grace’s dad. Grace’s mom explains that not everyone will be comfortable talking about the person who died, and reminds her of the many people who are willing to discuss her dad. Gold star number three for tackling that tough topic.
Finally, and on a superficial note, the illustrations are beautiful. They look almost like stained glass windows, with vibrant colors and poignant images. Wonderful work by illustrator Amy Kuhl Cox.
So, any downsides of this book? It is a little long. There is a lot of great content in here, so I get why it is long. But it is worth being aware that, if your child is younger and/or has a short attention span, or you have a short attention span, this will feel a bit longer than some of the other kids’ grief books out there. That being said, I would trade brevity for meaningful, under-provided content any day of the week.
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