Lightening Bolt asked for books to help with being sad about his uncle. Here are two that I picked off the helpful bibliography one of our fabulous children’s librarians put together, and which LB asked to be read more than once. I was looking specifically for books that weren’t about a grandparent, as that’s a quite different situation than what we had. Also, my favorite book which a friend recommended to me.
And What Comes After a Thousand? by Annette Bley This book opens by setting up young Lisa’s friendship with the elderly Otto. They have special ways of counting together, deep conversations, a victory dance to do if Lisa manages to hit the copper buffalo in the garden with her slingshot. Then, Otto gets sick and dies. Lisa is confused by the strangers at his funeral who don’t understand the victory dance and who all talk quietly, which Otto hated. Where has Otto gone? She finds the answer in their discussion on numbers – where do they live and how high do they go? This is translated from German, which I mention because the art looked German to me the first time I picked it up. It is a gentle and moving approach to a thorny subject.
Always and Forever by Alan Durant. Illustrated by Debi Gliori A family of woodland animals lives happily together, until Fox gets sick and dies. Then for a long time, no one in the family can laugh or enjoy life anymore. It takes help from a friend and considerable effort on their part to go on with life and find happy ways to remember Fox. Here, the gentle animal pictures help to remove the story enough to make the raw and real pain bearable. The story feels honest both about the pain and the possibility of recovery.
The Other Side of Sadness by George A. Bonanno So it turns out that both Freud and Kuebler-Ross were wrong about grief. People don’t need to sever their emotional connection to the deceased as Freud thought, nor do they need to express and work through grief in defined stages as Kuebler-Ross thought. Really studying bereavement is quite recent – within the past 20 years – and Bonanno shares what he’s learned in a career focused on it. He talks about the evolutionary uses for sadness (making you slow down enough to figure out how your life is going to worked without your loved one); when grief counseling hurts more than it helps (if you were already recovering on your own); the ranges of normal recovery, experiences with talking to or feeling the presence of the deceased after death (common for some, but nearly always kept secret in our science-loving society); how to tell and what to do if grieving is going to far (if you’re still not able to function after six months). He talks about the experience of grieving in other cultures, particularly those which are more community than individual focused. This means that the society pays more attention to whether people follow the proscribed rituals than to what they are feeling – which turns out, as often as it’s been studied, to make recovery much easier for people. I especially liked the story of the African tribe which traditionally tells lascivious tales about the deceased at the funeral, saying that applying the morals of the living to the dead is extremely inappropriate. Most of all, he says that bereavement is part of the natural order of things. Humans are made to be resilient and recover. I found this very helpful, and recommend it highly to anyone dealing with grief or helping the bereaved.