Thoughts of God and Grief – reflections on suffering

It’s been a while since I wrote about my faith. I’ve been somewhat stuck in a mental block of grief and anxiety. But I read a book the other day that resonated so much with me that I found almost an awakening. I will be reviewing that book in another blog post, but I found myself pouring out words of faith, words that have been muted up to now.

Writing about my faith isn’t always easy, mostly because I don’t want to alienate those readers who don’t believe the same. But I can only hope that my words spark some thought and continue to bring comfort. My religious posts are the least popular, I presume because people simply don’t want to know, can’t relate or dislike the idea they might be ‘preached to’. One thing I’ve learned about talking to bereaved people is not to talk about God! But if my words speak to one other grieving parent I will know it has been worth writing.

In the not too distant past, religion and belief played a key part of everyone’s lives. Life was fragile, death was a daily fear no matter what age. As we have developed ways of extending our lives and knowing more about how to keep ourselves healthy, we have settled into a frame of mind that is no longer fearful of our death and now more about enjoying life, getting pleasure from material things, chasing personal goals and aspirations.

We grow up believing that we will live to a ripe old age, that we have plenty of time. So we don’t need to worry about God anymore, we don’t need to think about ‘what’s next’. When death takes someone we love, we are surprised, shocked, angry that it could happen at all, and the trauma stays with us. Yet death is the most certain thing in any life. For every thing that lives will die.

We live as though death is an illness. We live as though death is an inconvenience. We live as though death is the end.

It’s not.

How can it possibly be? Continue reading

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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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The girl with the dragonfly tattoo

I decided to change my blog name to something more hopeful and settled for Chasing Dragonflies. So, what is it with all the dragonflies anyway?

While we were researching readings for Abi’s funeral, we came across the story ‘Water Bugs and Dragonflies’ (I’ve posted the full story here). As the story explained, we can never see what waits for us outside this world until we get there, but it is more beautiful than we can ever imagine. We are content, perfect and free…

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