Recently we did a service on a difficult topic, the reality of death and dying. We know that death is part of life, but we often do not encounter death and therefore it can be hard to know what to say when we do.
Death is hard enough for us to deal with for ourselves, but it can be even harder to try to explain it to our kids.
There are two books I recommend.
The first book was recommended to me by a teacher after my children's great grandmother passed away. I got the book, and it is absolutely fabulous. I don't know about your kids, but my kids had many pets growing up, rats, fish, hamsters, cats, dogs... These animals would pass away, and we have a little 'memory garden' in the back of our yard where they were buried. Part of the opportunity when a pet passes away is to explore what death means. As such, it became a tradition in our house to read this book as part of our parting ritual.
The book is called Lifetimes: A beautiful way to explain death to children, and was written by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen. The book explains very simply that everything alive has a lifetime, and that everything lives according to that lifetime. The book touches on animals and humans, and deals with injury, illness, and death with a light, practical, and resonant touch.
The book is not a Christian book. This book does not deal with any kind of afterlife or add anything extra. So a Christian parent will want to end the reading with some talk about what happens next. But while the book doesn't address an afterlife, what this book does accomplish is that it manages to convey just how sacred every lifetime is. Even ones that end early, or meet with injury (or violence) or sickness. A lifetime is a whole, perfect, and beautiful thing, sacred and complete. Each and every one.
The second book I would recommend is a picture book called The Story of Jumping Mouse by John Steptoe. This was another book we would read as a family after the death of a pet. This book tells the story of a mouse who makes a journey. On the journey, he gives a lot of himself, and in the end, he is very old and tired and blind and ready for rest. The final part of the book shows his final transformation.
This is also not a Christian book, the story itself is Native American in origin. But the universality and simplicity of the story lends itself very well to Christian concepts of final transformation and restoration. This story teaches deeply about the journey through life, giving of yourself, moving through a lifetime and through old age, and finally being raised and transformed with new life.
Talking about death and transformation is a difficult thing. These books help children understand the sacred aspects of the process of life and death. As such, they are invaluable.
But what about adults? These books are great for adults, too. But another book that might be worth getting for grown ups is Kitchen Table Wisdom, by Rachel Naomi Remen.