Discussing death with young children can be brutal, but it’s a discussion that has to happen eventually. It’s a crucial conversation, too, for it arms kids with information they will need in order to process what death means.
It can be helpful to impart this information with a good book on hand, and Stones for Grandpa (KarBen, 2013) by Renee Londner beautifully handles the pain and anxiety surrounding death, conveying the power of memory as a source of comfort and permanence.
Londner wrote Stones for Grandpa after the death of her husband, using the voice of a young boy. The book begins a year after the death of the boy’s grandfather, as he makes his way to the cemetery to unveil the tombstone. “I still miss him,” the child reflects. “Mommy says the first year is the hardest.”
He goes through his memories of his grandfather, using the Jewish holidays as his benchmarks. “It was the first Chanukkah without Grandpa spinning his lucky dreidel,” he recalls.
Each holiday features vibrant illustrations by Martha Aviles depicting celebrations and milestones where his grandfather once took an active role, but over the past year was dearly missed.
He takes out a memory box his mother gave him after his grandfather’s death, containing favourite photographs and meaningful memorabilia. The box triggers more memories of special moments the two of them shared – starwatching, tying knots and learning to overcome fear.
Though he relishes the memories, the child is afraid of their transience. “What if my memories get lost?” he asks his mother.
“Memories of someone you love never get lost,” she responds.
The story returns to the cemetery and the unveiling ceremony, where visitors are placing stones on the gravesite. The air is filled with laughter and tears as everyone shares stories.
The book ends on a positive note, as the child begins to understand that his memories go far beyond the memory box, that they’re contained inside him and will never disappear. He understands that life goes on after someone you love has died, and that while it’s okay to miss them and feel sad about their absence, it’s also possible to draw strength and joy from your memories of them.
Stones for Grandpa offers a carefully written, thoughtful resource for parents teaching their three-to-seven-year-olds about death in a particularly Jewish context. For kids who have experienced the loss of a loved one, this book may offer solace and ideas for how to cope as they move forward.