When Kids Can’t Remember: Am I Like My Daddy?

Books, Movies, and Music / Books, Movies, and Music : Litsa Williams

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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 a great discussion of this in the book The Disappearance, which 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.

children's book: "Am I Like My Daddy?"

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!

illustration from children's book "Am I Like My Daddy?"

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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24 Comments on "When Kids Can’t Remember: Am I Like My Daddy?"

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  1. Faith Adegbsan  June 22, 2020 at 1:03 pm Reply

    I lost my dad when i was two years.. even if I don’t remember or have any memories of him,I still cry everyday… and it hurts…I really need to talk to someone about it…it hurts so bad…

  2. Andy  July 20, 2019 at 2:13 pm Reply

    I wonder if hypnosis might help my teenage daughter recover memories of her mother. She lost her mom at the age of 4.5 and, surprisingly, cannot recall her at all. They were very close, like two peas in a pod, and it saddens me to no end that my kid doesn’t have access to those wonderful memories. I am surprised because I recall my childhood from age of 3 approximately and rather well. I am guessing she blocked those memories somehow.

    I wonder, are there any safe ways to try and recover her memories? Do doctors still use hypnosis to help in cases like this?

  3. Janine  July 1, 2019 at 10:49 pm Reply

    Today is my father’s birthday. He died because of a heart failure. I was just 2 years old then and my brother was 4. Now that I’m 25 years old, I still can’t help to think of how life would have been if he was still alive. My mother never failed to give us all the love and care, but somehow there is just a tiny hole in my heart that I’ve been carrying since I was a child. I feel so bad about myself not having even a single memory of him. Based on the stories my mother told me, I was loved and cared by him so dearly. I love him too, with all my heart, I may not have any memories of him, I know that he is a good father and he will always have a special place in my heart.

  4. Alyssa L Moody  June 21, 2019 at 11:53 am Reply

    My dad died when I was 4 years old to cancer. I am 23 now and struggling a lot with it. I feel like we didn’t talk in detail about my dad for so long because it was so hard for the whole family to accept. Growing up, my mom regularly took us to the cemetery for anniversaries and holidays, which I think has been a great way for me to keep his memory alive. But now as an adult- I miss the life I never got with him. I am just now watching videos of him and I when I was so young and we were two peas in a pod. Inseparable. Crazy enough, I grew up to be just like someone I hardly knew. Family members are frequently telling me our similarities in looks and personality are uncanny. One one end- that feels great to hear because I can look at myself to know what he was like. On the other end- I lost the person in this world most like me. It feels like I lost not just my dad, but my closest friend. And then there’s the pain that comes from seeing every single other family member besides my sister and I recalling their relationship with him. While his passing grieved everyone- they at least have years of memories to hold on to. It’s a heartbreaking and difficult truth to accept- I still haven’t accepted my reality in many ways. It’s just too sad. I’m thankful there are books and posts like this to let parents know how to help those kids who are grieving the parent they never or hardly knew!! It’s such a different place that us kids are coming from and affects our adulthood more than I ever guessed it would.

  5. Uzair  June 8, 2019 at 9:55 pm Reply

    I lost my dad when i was 3. And now I’m 18 for some reason I am remembering him more and more than I ever did. I only talked about my dad with my mother and no one else. I tried avoiding the topic most of the time. I just want to be loved. I think that’s what my heart is trying to say.

  6. John D.  May 11, 2019 at 1:24 pm Reply

    Very good advice. My parents were tragically both killed in a plane crash eleven days before my first birthday so obviously I have no memory of them. I was adopted by my paternal grandparents and my grandmother made two big photo albums, one of each parent from birth until the day they died. Both of my grandparents openly spoke about both so I knew as much as I could. The result was a very normal childhood but it seems to hurt more now then when I was a child.

  7. Latysha  March 19, 2019 at 8:16 pm Reply

    Thank you for all your suggestions on grief when memories are vague. I am a 44-year-old woman who grew up in a non-traditional home without my parents. Although I knew my parents I was raised by other family members in another country. My mom passed suddenly and I have very little memories, I often cry because I didn’t make it back into the country for the homegoing service. The guilt of not being there has made me bitter and just want to move forward and celebrate her life through me. Everyone’s post has helped me come up with ideas to keep her alive in my heart and help me ease the pain. Thanks

  8. Megan J.  February 21, 2019 at 11:13 pm Reply

    My mom told me when I was around 2 or 3 years old, about a year after my real parents split up, my dad died but I later figured out that he committed suicide because he was with multiple women including my mom and got caught. I never remembered anything about him, even his looks until I saw pictures of him. I wonder what life would’ve been like growing up with a father since my mom has recently been married but my step dad was cheating as well. I still get upset thinking about it even though my real dad did a bad thing and had 4 children without even getting engaged and I have no memories on him whatsoever. I am now 13 and trying my best to get through life as it is.

  9. Lisa  February 18, 2019 at 8:45 pm Reply

    Is this book only available in USA? I am in Canada and cant seem to find it. I need a resource to help my son with not remembering his grandfather who passed away when he was 5 yrs old (2 yrs ago now)
    Thank you

    • mike  January 12, 2021 at 11:10 am Reply

      I was 5 years old when my dad died
      I am 53 now and all I have is small little memories of him, but my mother was very animate in keeping the memories of him alive. Now I am fortunate to work the land that he did that means more to me then anything

  10. Tessa Marshall  July 25, 2018 at 12:00 pm Reply

    Hi there – this is an emotive subject. I myself was only 16 months old when my Dad died in a car accident . I now work for a company that primarily helps people write their autobiography (for private family use) through a series of interviews and a professional ghost writer.

    We now offer a ‘Celebration’ book which works with the family and friends of a parent who has passed away. Through a series of interviews, we record their memories and stories which our professional writers then craft into a beautiful book, complete with photographs. As the bereaved child grows, they have a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips, that time would otherwise rob them of. We work globally and in multiple languages.

    I am now 50 years old. My Dad’s friends have either moved on or passed away and they have taken their stories and memories with them. Please don’t think I’m “jumping on the band wagon” – this is a subject very close to my heart.

    If you would like further information, please contact me at tessa@lifebookuk.com

  11. Pamela Smith  July 23, 2018 at 11:59 pm Reply

    I am 60 yrs old my father died 58 and a half years ago…I don’t remember him…I just always wonder what it would be like if I did…

  12. Kay Bryant  May 10, 2018 at 9:56 am Reply

    Hello I’m a step mother of a widower who had 6 children. They all loved and miss their mother and it has always been an open topic in our home. Until the youngest child who was 8 when we married and 6 when her mother passed. She now blames me and her father for not enough time to grieve and has totally alienated me from her life and is tearing the family apart. She is 19 years old. I am now wondering how long do you keep the grief alive. I do not think this is healthy to continue to stay in a grieving state or to keep the memories alive to somehow hurt the living.

  13. Kay Bryant  May 10, 2018 at 9:56 am Reply

    Hello I’m a step mother of a widower who had 6 children. They all loved and miss their mother and it has always been an open topic in our home. Until the youngest child who was 8 when we married and 6 when her mother passed. She now blames me and her father for not enough time to grieve and has totally alienated me from her life and is tearing the family apart. She is 19 years old. I am now wondering how long do you keep the grief alive. I do not think this is healthy to continue to stay in a grieving state or to keep the memories alive to somehow hurt the living.

  14. Erin  May 2, 2016 at 5:15 am Reply

    My sons father passed away when he was three. Today is the third year anniversary of his death. I am having a really tough time with it. I have since been married to an amazing man whom my son refers to as his dad. But as a mother of a child who has lost their father…i have so many questions nobody seems to be able to answer. This book sounds amazing, but i wish i could connect with someone who could understand what im going through and has any advice…

    • Paige LeAnn Williamson  February 28, 2020 at 9:02 am Reply

      I too struggle on this part. It’s been 4 yrs since my other half passed away from a car wreck. My kids were only 1 2 and 5. Now they are 5 6 and 9…. I struggle with the daughter who is so scared of forgetting her dad she clings to his memory for dear life. Our son is not only middle child, but the only boy as well as a JR. Having your dad’s name and not being able to remember him breaks me down into a million pieces. My mom heart aches for him. And my youngest absolutely remembers nothing about him at all. It’s a different struggle with each kid. Especially when the one who doesn’t know him will never be able to meet the man who adored her the most. It’s tough.

  15. Marcy Blesy  September 23, 2013 at 5:09 pm Reply

    Hello. I am the author of “Am I Like My Daddy?” and I just stumbled upon this wonderful review of my book. Thank you so very much for sharing your thoughtful comments with your readers. Ironically, today would have been my dad’s 65th birthday. He died 28 years ago. It’s been a good day sharing emails with my aunts who knew my dad so well. You are never too old to learn something new. Have a nice day. 🙂

    • Marcy Blesy  September 23, 2013 at 5:10 pm Reply

      And thanks for speaking of Amy Kuhl Cox’ illustrations. She did a fantastic job capturing the emotions of the characters.

    • Litsa  September 29, 2013 at 11:16 pm Reply

      Thank you, Marcy, for such a wonderful book on an under-discussed topic!

  16. Kiri (The Angel Zoe Kindness Project)  July 26, 2013 at 5:20 pm Reply

    It does make me sad that my daughter’s cousins are unlikely to have clear memories of her. I also know so many families who have lost a child to cancer and then have subsequent children who will also have lots of questions about their absent sibling. These are all great ideas for those families too.

  17. burnsjohn007  May 28, 2013 at 4:28 am Reply

    This is a great list of ideas! Especially the talking about the dead person early and often. Most tend to bury the past and feel to awkward about bringing up anything about them. But, talking about them makes dealing with their death easier too.

    And I remember that Rugrats episode too. The poem to Chuckie from his mom is so sweet!

    • Litsa  May 28, 2013 at 10:51 pm Reply

      Thanks John! I agree that some people feel uncomfortable talking about those who have died. I think if one or two family members/friends can set a tone early that it is a normal and acceptable thing (heck, a really good thing!) that can help others who might otherwise have not have talked about the person.

      And I clearly need to check out this Rugrats episode — hopefully it is on youtube!

  18. Nick Frye  May 24, 2013 at 10:11 am Reply

    Another great post! This reminds me of a very poignant episode of the Nickelodeon show ‘Rugrats’ wherein one of the character’s (Chuckie) mother died before he was really able to remember her and his father was having a difficult time with how to handle this with his son.

    The episode is called ‘Mother’s Day’ and I would definitely recommend watching it! Thanks to WYG for tacking this subject!

    • Eleanor  May 25, 2013 at 10:53 am Reply

      Thanks Nick! Although my parents deprived me of cable until I was older I think I do remember this episode. I’ll have to go back and watch it with my grown-up glasses on. I watch so much children’s television now (with my kids) and very few shows tackle issues like this, even when there are parental characters who aren’t in the picture. It irks me.

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