Studies have shown that grandparents can have a positive emotional influence on their grandchildren that lasts a lifetime. Children who are close to their grandparents are more social and know how to share and care for others outside of the immediate family unit. This translates into a more stable young adulthood. And since many grandparents step into the primary caregiving role for their grandchildren, the influence of these elders can be profound. In short, it is easy to love a grandparent who loves you.
But, what happens when a grandparent dies? It can be a devastating loss for a child. That grandparent may have been their confidant, their mentor, and a refuge when other arms were not available.
One night, snuggling with my 4-year-old granddaughter, she asked me, “Are you going to die?” I had no idea where this came from as I am not a particularly elderly grandparent, I wasn’t ill, and no one in our family had recently died. I simply told her, “Not for a very long, long time.” She was satisfied with that. But it made me think about the worries even young children can have.
About that time, I was doing a program at an inner-city elementary school in Detroit, Michigan. In the middle of my presentation, a kindergartener on the floor in the front row looked up at me and said (apropos of nothing we’d been discussing), “You’re going to die someday.”
I caught my breath and paused. My mind reviewed how I had been escorted to this school as the school board did not want the authors driving themselves through the neighborhoods. The school was barricaded by an eight-foot chain link fence, and on the way, I had counted six burnt houses on the surrounding blocks. A guard unlocked the gate so we could park. Another met us at the front.
As I knelt by this child, I wondered, how many family members or friends had she lost? Was she afraid of liking me? Afraid that if she did, I might die, too?
I was honest with her. “Yes,” I said. “But I’m here today, and we can be friends.” After the assembly, she didn’t want to leave my side.
It felt like the universe was telling me I needed to write something that would console these young worriers. Even at a young age, they have questions about death and where their loved ones go after they leave. Don’t we all?
But how to approach such a huge topic? I didn’t want to tie the story to one grandparent; that would limit the ability of young readers to find someone in the story who looked like their grandparent. At about that time I read Susan Meyer’s book Everywhere Babies (illustrated by Marala Frazee) in which she depicted a whole group of babies doing fun things. There was not one overarching plot line, and not one specific baby that was highlighted throughout. That structure gave me a starting point for the books. And it only seemed right that the stories should reflect each other. Grandma Heaven and Grandpa Heaven were a pair of books that needed to find a home together. Thus, Grandma Heaven and Grandpa Heaven were written, submitted, accepted, and then published by Lawley Publishing. It has been a project of my heart initiated by that simple question from my granddaughter and that profound statement by a kindergartner.
The Heaven depicted in each of these two books (illustrated by talented Ruth McNally Barshaw) is multicultural and secular. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and many other religions have a belief in some sort of afterlife. The illustrator and I wanted a child raised in any of several beliefs to find reassurance in the books. Grandpa Heaven and Grandma Heaven joyfully depict grandparents doing things they love in the afterlife, including keeping an eye on all the grandchildren of the Earth. And, importantly, both books let a grieving child know that love never dies.
If you have a child that needs consoling after a family member has died, here are a few other titles you may be interested in.
- I’ll Be the Water: A Story of a Grandparent’s Love by Alec Aspinwall
- The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr
- Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant
- My Daddy is in Heaven by Dr. Shawna L Della Cerra
For some very helpful resource sites, please click the buttons below.
- Ele’s Place
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
- Healthy Children Org. (from the American Academy of Pediatrics)
Wherever you, your family, or your children are in your journeys through life, I do hope you can find solace in knowing that there’s a special love that’s borne in a grandparent’s heart. It’s there to be remembered and embraced whenever you need it. Enjoy my two new books, Grandma Heaven and Grandpa Heaven, and please share them with the young (and those of us who are not so young). We all need reminding that some loves never die!
Shutta Crum is the author of Grandma Heaven and Grandpa Heaven.