A Christian funeral

I attended a funeral this week of an inspiring lady from my church, ‘D’. Her death, while expected in some ways due to the leukaemia that had taken over her body, was a shock to her family and friends nonetheless.

She and her husband are both committed Christians and have done a lot for the church in their lifetime. However, the funeral wasn’t so much about their depth of faith, but was about how ‘D’ had lived her life and the impressions she made on people. We learned how she was the kind of woman to make the most of every day. How she was always challenging herself. How she used her creative talents to benefit others. How she was involved in community work and selflessly reached out to support young and old. All the while raising two children and being a dedicated wife, grandmother and homemaker. She had lived a life many of us aspire to, but did so without self-congratulation or pride, but humbly and modestly, and with an awesome dose of humour! She dealt with her illness with great courage and dignity.

It spoke volumes that the church was full of mourners and there was standing room only for some. While not originally from our village, all ages and people from all her life attended. A testament to who she was. A much-loved person who gave more love in return. I had only known her relatively briefly, a few years, and we socialised at church events. But there was much about my own relationship with her that made me feel a connection to her and such sorrow at her death.

She first introduced herself to me at the first church service I attended after my daughter’s funeral. This kind-faced couple approached me and she told me how they knew something of our loss, as they had lost their eldest grandchild in similarly sudden and unexpected circumstances at a similar age to Abi (who was 12 when she died). Ever since, they always made a point to say hello or to have a chat whenever they saw me. While there were periods where I didn’t see them for a while, I felt welcomed as an instant friend and there was a genuine sense of care and love about them.

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Children’s books about death and dying

There are numerous children’s books out there which focus on death and dying. I thought it would be useful to share our favourites with readers.

We have always loved reading to our children, it’s a part of our daily bedtime routine. When Abi died, we turned to books as a way to share our feelings, comfort our children and prompt discussion about what happened. We’ve tried books of all kinds recommended to us, but the ones I’ve listed below are the stories we find we return to again and again.

Some aren’t even about death but are ways to reinforce love and security in your child, which is particularly useful at bedtime.

While we have faith, these books are not religious (except for the books at the bottom) and don’t mention God, angels, heaven (other than Up in Heaven, which only refers to heaven as a place rather than relating it to God, although I feel referring to heaven is more easily understood than saying up in the sky, which can be worrying to a child). Even the Waterbugs and Dragonflies story isn’t religious in itself, despite being written by a pastor, you take from it what you will. Being clear about what you believe is important to children and these books offer comfort at a time when life (and death) is confusing.

I recommend keeping a copy of any of these handy if you have children up to about age 12 who are asking questions about death, know of someone who has died or who have experienced a bereavement in the family.

I’ve added links to each book to Amazon’s UK website, where you can read more about them and see customer reviews. I’d also welcome your suggestions as we are always looking out for new books to add to our library.
Our top five children’s books about death

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1. Always and Forever by Alan Durant
This has to be my number one book. It tells the story of a family of animals living together, but when Fox dies, the others are left feeling so sad and are unable to stop crying because they miss him so much. I like this story because it shows the passing of time, through the seasons, and how the friends’ grief changes with it. It also presents the grief in stages, rather than saying that one day ‘everything was okay again’. It shows them starting to laugh again, but still feeling sad and not ready to face their friends. But then they gradually start to feel better and are united in remembering their dear friend. It’s really very lovely.

2. Up in Heaven by Emma Chichester Clark
Emma is the author behind the fabulously endearing Blue Kangaroo series, which my children loved. This is a story of a dog that dies and his owner, a young boy, can’t stop crying and missing him. The story is told from the dog’s perspective in heaven and he sends the boy dreams to help him come to terms with his loss. It’s not religious but is based on the concept that when we (and our pets) die, they go to heaven and have a lovely ‘new life’ with old and new friends. My son regularly asks for this one, I think the way it clearly portrays the difference between heaven and earth appeals to him.

3. Waterbugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney
A classic story that inspired my blog after Abi died, which I have written out in this blog post. It is useful to have a copy of this handy and it’s only a few pounds so is easy to get hold of. It’s not that pretty to look at but it’s short and is something that you can read to your child. It offers a way of understanding death and ‘where we go’ that children and adults can draw comfort from. There are also short prayers at the back of the book.

Update:

I am publishing an adaptation of this story which will be a large format picture book that is beautifully illustrated for children and adults to enjoy and treasure. If you’d like to contribute to my crowdfunding campaign to help this book get to market I would be very grateful. Please see the Crowdfunding page for more details.

4. No Matter What by Debi Gilori
We love Debi’s illustrations (she illustrated Always and Forever above and Tell Me Something Happy below) so this book was a great addition to our collection. This isn’t a bereavement book as such, more a reassuring story of love. It is about a father fox and his son discussing ‘what if this happens…’ ‘will you still love me’. It beautifully gives the message that even in death love does not end. A lovely bonding story.

5. When Caterpillars Fly by Lisa Mallins
We were given a copy of this book by Winson’s Wish (a child bereavement charity) and it is lovely. A collection of short poems written by children about the death of a child or baby. This could be useful if you know that a child will die or if a child has died. It’s also good for parents and older siblings. I couldn’t find a decent link to it on Amazon so you may have to search around the internet or auction sites.
Other books we have found useful or enjoyable to read together

6. Wherever You Are, My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman
This is a love-affirming book based on the premise of ‘my love will find you, wherever you are’. It reassures the child that even though you are separated at times during the day, you are always thinking of them.
7. Muddy Puddles and Sunshine by Diana Crossley
This is an activity book which helps families work through painful and positive memories of the child who has died. Our children completed it once in the early days, which they found hard, and then about six months later, which they found to be a more useful exercise. It helps you to discuss the facts around the death, the funeral and their feelings in a relaxed and engaging way.

8. Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley
This is another popular bereavement book; however, as it was about an aging badger we found it best suited to the death of a grandparent or elderly relative, as we lost a child, my children weren’t particularly engaged by the story but it has some excellent reviews.

9. Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go To Sleep by Joyce Dunbar
Also illustrated by Debi Gilori, this is a sweet story of two rabbit brothers, the younger asking his older brother to tell him something happy before he goes to sleep. While not a story which is about death, we find we read this often, especially when feeling sad at bedtime. It reinforces giving thanks for the day and ending the day with a positive thought.
Christian children’s books
If your child is interested in heaven and God and has numerous questions, these simple books were popular with both our children so may be worth looking at.

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10. Jesus Calling by Sarah Young
A dedication or prayer for each day of the year. It’s simple and the subjects are relevant to children and young people.

11. Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones
This is a lovely book with gorgeous illustrations. It covers key stories in the Bible which are simple and engaging.

12. Pocket Book of Children’s Prayers by Christopher Herbert
This pocket book offers short prayers, including some written by children.

I do hope this list has been useful to you. I’d love to hear of any other recommendations you might have.

I’ve linked up with Brilliant Blog Posts over at Honest Mum. Why not have a look at what others have shared?

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Gravity and grief

Last night, we watched the Hollywood blockbuster, Gravity, for the first time. It’s been out for ages but as parents who (now) never get time out to go to the cinema, we have to wait until it’s shown on Sky Movies. We were hooked from the start, and both watched it to the end without taking our eyes off the TV screen.
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