Loss in Children’s Literature

The first book caught my eye from its display, the title singing to my soul, The Poet’s Dog, a novel by Patricia MacLachlan.  The second, I found flipping through the bins of picture books, its title, Until We Meet Again (Susan Jones), speaking to my family’s recent season of loss.  Little did I know how thematically intertwined they both were.

Both titles speak to children bearing and moving through the loss of a loved one.imgres

The Poet’s Dog is more novella than novel and told in sparse prose.  But it is told from the point of view of Teddy, the poet Sylvan’s dog.  And Teddy, while wise and loquacious for a dog, is dealing with the stark life left him by Sylvan’s death.  There is a beauty and simplicity to the unfolding of this tale and the healing that takes place.  Teddy, in saving two siblings from a raging storm, is himself saved by their companionship.  The siblings, Nickel and Flora, and readers don’t find out what exactly happened to Sylvan until halfway through the book, which is really quite wonderful in terms of grief.  Teddy, like so many experiencing loss, comes to a slow realization of the gravity of the absence of his loved one; even slower, comes the ability to share the painful parts of that loss.  He opens up as he comes to terms with it – and it is through the gentle love and presence of the now dear young friends.

untilwemeet-448x600Until We Meet Again, a picture book by Susan Jones, illustrated by Shirley Antak, is told from the perspective of an adorable little boy, made so both by Antak’s rendering and the amazing way he transcends death’s grip on his beloved grandfather.  The opening sequence shows the deep bond and ritual of this grandfather/grandson relationship.  The boy obviously adores the strong influence of his grandfather.  When he first gets news of his grandfather’s eventual demise, he is unsettled, of course, but this midsection of the book sets the stage for the last, when the boy becomes the strong influence.  He initiates and continues all of their special traditions, validating his grandfather, cementing their unending bond, and gathering his own strength for life without him.

Both these titles tackle a topic that is usually met with the awkward shrug of a smile, the stammering silence of not knowing what to say.  The subject matter is the stuff we try to shield our kids from, not books we willingly hand them.  But as with any tough topic, the children dealing with death need them right now.

Ironically, I chose not to share them with my children right now.  Perhaps I am being naive in thinking I can protect them from the direct blow of death for just a bit longer, but they’ve yet to be at a funeral.  They blessedly haven’t felt the stinging sorrow of a daily hole in their lives.  The deaths dealt to our family recently have been on their periphery.  But to know I have such gentle and poignant resources in literature should I need them – I’m glad the literary universe conspired to bring them both to me in the same lending cycle.

 

Light and Dark

As the joy of the holidays subsided, the dark days of winter took hold.  Truly, the last few days of 2016 brought death to a close and disconcerting distance.  It stepped in and stayed until as recently as last week.  And still, it lingers.

I’d pulled my black leather pumps from their shelf high in the closet.  I’d arched my inner soles into their uncomfortable embrace.  I’d released my tired, swollen toes from their pinch at the end of the day.  But I’d yet to return them to their box; death would not let me store them away for the next black dress event.

There was another, and another.

A year of new life was marred by the loss of three precious ones.

Death is always waiting in the wings – but I’m comforted by the thought that their spirits fly in the wind that catches our breath and reminds us we’re alive.

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Shades of the Past

The news of my junior-high-turned-life-long-friend’s father’s death shocked me. It shook me for its suddeness and the blow it served to my friend, his brother, and mother. It also pulled me back into a fold I hadn’t been part of for quite some time.

This family gave me first, the friendship of its younger son, then older brother, deepened by the quasi-adopted status of daughter in a family of boys. Through a childhood bond of the older brother and the wheeling and dealing of the younger, it gave me my husband. When our band of merry men wasn’t tearing into the cul-de-sac in front of their house, we were storming their vacation cottage in the mountains. We ate, drank mai tais the old way, and managed to meet up around the country and world as life took us on its various roads.

But year spooled into year, and suddenly it had been over a decade since I’d visited their home. I didn’t think it would affect me until our car slid into line with the others at the curb, much like it did when we’d jockey for position years ago. Stepping over the threshold from the breezeway to the kitchen, a wave of emotion rolled over me. The same wallpaper, the same linoleum, the same smell. The books, the airshow posters, the tea bags and coffee press. The fresh air billowing in the bathroom window overlooking the backyard. The same futon where three of us had crammed to watch German subtitled movies for English class.

We gathered around the table on the patio and drank the sweet, slushy lemonade of our childhood with a splash of rum from Pappy’s reserve. I don’t think I’d realized how much a place can take on a life of its own. But really, what this place gave me is a better appreciation for the people and times that made it so special.

Andrew Apuya

Andrew Apuya

Scenes from September 6

My oldest and middle daughters used to hold their breaths as they passed this graveyard, something the oldest picked up from one of the other kids on the school bus.  As they learned the lay of the land, but hadn’t quite mastered it, they inadvertently forgot to do so one day.  When she lived to tell the tale, my oldest announced, we don’t have to hold our breaths anymore; nothing bad’s going to happen.

Not that I thought anything bad was going to happen, but I think I was holding my breath for quite sometime before I felt I had the lay of the land.  A year later and we all breath more freely. (except when we have trash for the dump in the back of the car, which was where we were headed when I made my husband stop for these photos 😉 )

Tell me when the cemetery's coming, Mom!

Tell me when the cemetery’s coming, Mom!

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Small is the gate . . .

Small is the gate . . .

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Dappled quiet light from above

Dappled quiet light from above

 

 

 

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