As children grow and mature, they will experience loss. This is an inevitable fact of life. How each loss is dealt with, however, offers opportunities for growth in compassion and in understanding bigger life issues.
Written by Rabbi Marc Gellman and Monsignor Thomas Hartman (aka "The God Squad"), this book takes readers from eight to 12 years old through various types of loss. The authors say that "nobody can go through life and lose NOTHING!" They help put these losses in perspective, whether your child has lost a favorite toy, a game, or a friend. They point out that nothing lasts forever, and gently guide the reader through the hard part, the finality, of the loss. If a child thinks that the only thing that's important about playing a game is winning, then that game will not be as much fun to play any more. It's pointed out that no one wins every game and that more can be learned from losing than from winning. Kids mature at different speeds, and sometimes best friends are no longer interested in the same activities. Some friends chose a path that leads to trouble, which can also put a formerly strong friendship on shaky ground. Learning that this happens a lot to kids this age can be a comfort, and some ideas for how to deal with these tough issues are practical and welcome.
Other losses covered in Part I include losing your health; your siblings when they leave home because of college, military service, or marriage; your mom or dad in a divorce; a part of your body; your confidence; and your trust.
Losing because of death is covered in the second part of the book and includes pets, parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends. Three "steps of sadness" are described to help understand and work through the grieving process. Using the same warmth and gentleness as in the first part, the authors guide children through loss because of death.
Their discussions are on target for their audience, and they explore the variety of feelings (and sometimes guilt) that may be experienced. Feelings and emotions concerning the death of a grandparent, who has lived a long time, will be different in part than the feelings and emotions concerning the death of a sibling or friend who is young. Explanations are given with words and examples that are common to and readily understandable for this age group.
Gellman and Hartman finish this book by summarizing where one can find the good in good-bye. They write that "being smart means knowing what is. Being wise means knowing what really matters. And you become wise only after you lose someone or something that really matters." They remind children (and parents who read this) that the strongest people are not those who are physically strong but those who have inner strength.
Throughout the book, the authors use compassion and understanding, with an appropriate dose of humor, to discuss the typical feelings a child experiences with loss. As parents, we know that our children will experience loss sooner or later. When those times come, we can turn to this book to help us help our children face some of the tough stuff of growing up. And, if your children are younger than the target audience, this book will still be beneficial for reading aloud to them.
Karen Gross is the Head of the Children's Services of the East Central Georgia Regional Library. She and her husband Edward live in Columbia County with their children Stephanie, 10, and Robby, 7.