How to tell children about death book suggestions for a single dad
December 16, 2009 5:15 AM   Subscribe

A friend's father passed away suddenly and he is having difficulty formulating a way to tell his daughter. What books would you recommend?

I have no experience with the death of a parent or being a parent. I don't know how to help other than lending a sympathetic ear.

Friend was pretty close with his dad and is using work to distract himself. He is a single dad and his two daughters live with their mom. He is concerned about how to tell his eldest daughter (ten years old) and help her cope/mourn because she knew and had a close relationship with her grandfather. She is aware of the concept of death and knows people that have died, but Friend says she's never had a relationship with those people. (Her mother lives in an area of NYC where violence is still prevalent.)

I searched previous questions and I am thinking of printing out this thread and maybe getting this book? Googling gives an overwhelming result and I was hoping someone could personally suggest a book. I cannot give a website, only printouts of a website because they don't have an internet/computer at home. Daughter might have access to one at school, but I am presuming.
posted by spec80 to Human Relations (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
For very young children, Maria Shriver wrote a book about death called What's Heaven.

But a 10-year-old is probably ready to read Bridge to Terabithia. It is a youth book in which two children become good friends and then one of them passes away. This was the book that introduced me to personal loss and the idea that it's OK to express my grief when I was around 10.

Sometimes, though, kids are smarter than we think they are. My husband and I just had to tell our 5-year-old that her grandmother passed away this fall. We didn't have to use euphemisms or talk around it. We sat her down and told her that grandma had passed away. She seemed to know what this meant for her in the context of her faith. She said, "She's in heaven then." And "So she's with God, but I sure will miss her down here." We adults were struggling for words, while our children knew just what to say.

The best of luck and my sympathies to your friend.
posted by laskagirl at 5:36 AM on December 16, 2009

The way you framed your question, it sounds like your friend wants to give his daughter a book about death to read and then tell her about her grandfather? I'm not so sure that's the best way to approach it. I think the girl is old enough to be told in a straightforward way. Then, once the news is given, perhaps she'd find comfort in literature, perhaps not. Personally, the last thing I want when dealing with death is to go read a book about it. It's a good idea to have the resources around, though, for sure.

But your friend really ought to sit down with his daughter and just tell her. It's okay if he gets emotional, it's okay if she sees him cry. She needs to know that she can come to her dad with her feelings if she wants to talk about them. The school counselor can probably be a lot of help at this time, if they have one. The school librarian can probably point to more resources that are readily available to your friend's daughter, too. He might want to give a head's up to her teachers, because she's probably going to be more withdrawn than usual and might even act out a bit.

Best of luck to you and him, and my sympathies are with the family.
posted by cooker girl at 5:57 AM on December 16, 2009 [2 favorites] This book is more geared towards 4-8 years old, and is a picture book. I really liked it because it addressed many questions kids have about death, and the ways people handle their sadness and grief. It provides some good jumping off points to discuss various things with your kids. I bought it when my kids were 5 and 8 when I needed to explain a murder and attempted suicide of a mother and child they knew.
posted by maxg94 at 6:10 AM on December 16, 2009

I'm curious how much time has elapsed since the death... And I would suggest getting the mom involved - she will be helping the kids cope much of the time if they live with her. He needs to have a talk with her about how to handle it. She'll have insight, and she'll be doing lots of the heavy lifting (since they live with her - they won't only be mourning/processing while they're with him just because it's their paternal grandfather), and she might already have dealt with this issue or know of some books. Even if they're not together, they're still partners in raising the kids, and they need to handle this as a team.

I'd also urge telling sooner rather than later. I think it would compound any difficulty in dealing with things if there's a delay or if it feels like it's been kept from them.

Tell them the truth, be there for them, answer questions when asked...

Carolyn Hax discusses this occasionally and has good advice on the subject. Maybe search her column and chat archives?
posted by magdalenstreetladies at 6:19 AM on December 16, 2009

I was about that age when my first grandfather died. My dad came home late from the hospital, having rushed out hours earlier. I asked whether grandpa was okay, and my dad burst into tears and cried on my shoulder. This was okay. For once, my dad needed me.

Could your friend be worrying over his daughter and her (as yet unknown) reaction as a way to forestall his own grief? If so, this could steer him in the wrong direction. Later in childhood, when other relatives began to drop off, I was really put off by the (Eastern European Catholic) expectations that I should mourn in a particular way.

I'd be straight with the girl, and address her feelings as they arise rather than anticipating so much.
posted by jon1270 at 6:24 AM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was 12 when my grandfather died suddenly. I was very close to him. It was at a birthday party and I saw my mother rush into another room, followed her, and saw her crying, and just knew.

Just telling a child is, I think, the best way to do it and as others have said, being there to support them and letting them support you a little. I could sit and cry with my mother.

My younger sister, who was 9, however, was not told until a few days later. I don't think she ever forgave our parents for the delay: to her it signalled that her grief was less important somehow, and could wait. It was hard to accept that there were entire days in her life when she had thought our grandfather was alive and well, and yet he wasn't.

I was given the option of taking a day off from school if I wanted. I didn't take it because I needed the normlacy. But it's a good option to have, especially if your friend wants to take an afternoon with his daughter to lunch and walk in a park or a nice part of the city and talk, about their shared memories or other things entirely. If he is so busy, and if the mother was relatively unattached to the grandfather, that might be the only time the girl doesn't feel totally alone in her grief. Grieving alone can be very hard, no matter one's age.

I second the recommendation of Bridge to Terebithia. But give the book after she's told.
posted by tavegyl at 6:40 AM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

magdalenstreetladies: I believe it's only been a day or two.

Thank you all for the answers so far. When we spoke, I was under the impression that my friend wanted a book to read to give him guidance. But I agree and think Bridge to Terebithia would be a good idea. When he was talking to me, I intellectually knew that just standing there and listening to him talk was probably the best thing I could be doing, but my brain went into a panic and I just think handing something tangible over makes me feel like "here is physical proof that I am trying to help you" - which now that I wrote it out seems really dumb.
posted by spec80 at 6:59 AM on December 16, 2009

I believe it's only been a day or two.

If she's physically close enough, I'd encourage him to try to find a way to get her to the funeral/services/whatever. Ten is certainly old enough, and if she was close with him at all it will help her process it and also give her an opportunity to see how much her grandfather was loved, and hear from others how much love he had for her.
posted by anastasiav at 7:10 AM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

As someone who lost her dad at eight and her grandmother two years later, I second the notion that he should just tell her--honestly and clearly--as soon as possible. It's okay if he doesn't have all the answers, if it comes out awkward or pained. Death is an awkward, painful thing. The most important thing that he can tell his daughter is that it's okay to talk about grandpa and it's okay to be sad and angry and confused about it. Those are natural reactions to death, and it's actually better not to shield a ten-year-old from those kinds of feelings.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:12 AM on December 16, 2009

I'm sorry for the loss your friend and his family are dealing with.

I'm nthing the recommendations to approach this in a straightforward manner. A 10-year-old child won't have a completely mature, adult understanding of death, but the basic cultural groundwork is there. At that age children typically will have read novels and watched movies that deal with the darker side of human existence, including death. Picture books or advice geared toward dealing with preschoolers probably won't be that helpful.

Moreso than giving her something to read, it will be important to give her/encourage her to find expressive outlets for her feelings. Her school counselor would be a good resource to contact for advice.

You might find this booklet useful to print out.
posted by drlith at 7:20 AM on December 16, 2009

spec80 -

I just think handing something tangible over makes me feel like "here is physical proof that I am trying to help you" - which now that I wrote it out seems really dumb.

Man, not dumb at all. It's exactly what one does wish/reach for. Being a bystander to grief is so hard - even harder when we're outside the immediate grief circle. (obviously not as hard as what the grieving people are going through, but you know what I mean...) We can't participate directly in the grief, but it feels so useless just sympathising and holding tight, and desperately helpless to watch someone we care for hurting without being able to do anything at all (or at least it seems that way - hence the need for something tangible).

I totally get that, and in that context my answer was useless! Sorry, and hope you and your friend and his kids are ok.
posted by magdalenstreetladies at 4:36 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

« Older Step Aside, I'll Sing This One   |   ISO a pub near (but not in) Heathrow Airport for... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.