Two years ago, within the space of ten days, I lost my mother and a dear beloved uncle. The experience was so shockingly painful, I truly didn’t think I’d survive. It was like a huge industrial vacuum had sucked a piece of me from my body. It wasn’t only emotionally painful, but achingly physical. I had a horrific headache, my neck and shoulders seized up, and my heart felt like it was being crushed.
That phrase, “A broken heart” is no joke.
Fortunately, the terrible physical pain only lasted a day or so, and then the hard work of figuring out how to go on kicked in. Everyone deals with loss and other life challenges differently. I’m one of those people who always turned to my local library to find resources to help me through. A counselor friend recommended the book When Things Fall Apart: Heart advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön. It offered me great comfort and a deeper appreciation of experiencing life as it comes. I also listened to a lot of Brene Brown, especially Rising Strong: How The Ability To Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, and The Power Of Vulnerability: Teachings On Authentic Connections And Courage. I decided to practice gratitude. After all, if my grief was so profound, it also spoke to a profound love — something I try to remember and reflect on each day.
All of this, of course, is my very individual and adult experience of death and grieving. We all deal with loss and other life challenges differently, and I encourage folks to explore their own path to get through it. Paths they may find on the shelves of their own library.
Having said that, I also have quite a different experience of death and grieving. I was twelve when my only sister was killed in a car accident. She had come home for a visit and to introduce us to the boy she was going to marry. I remember the excitement of that Fourth of July weekend and all the friends and neighbors who were at our home to celebrate both the holiday and my sister’s news. She and her fiancé had traveled the long distance from North Carolina to New Jersey to spend the weekend with us. They left the afternoon of the 4th to head back home, and I remember we were all gathered on the sidewalk to see them off. I also remember my mother telling my sister to buckle her seat belt. Sadly, she didn’t listen, and when her fiancé fell asleep behind the wheel in the early morning hours on the 5th, my sister didn’t survive.
I was a pretty sensitive kid and wasn’t afraid to show my feelings, but then the adults around me started talking about giving me sedatives and asking if I was alright (I mean really, what kind of question is that to ask someone who just lost their sister? Of course, I wasn’t alright. Everything I believed and knew about the world had just been pulled out from under me.) But here’s the message those well-meaning adults sent me: pull yourself together because your grief is making it hard on us. So I did. I stuffed my feelings away and tried not to upset my parents any more than they already were.
Back in the day, the attitude of many adults was that children should be seen and not heard. I like to think that society has evolved since the 70s and that children are now seen as human beings whose experiences, feelings, thoughts, and emotions are just as valid as an adult. Even so, it doesn’t always mean that parents know exactly what to do to support their child through something like a death in the family. That’s where librarians can be of service. In my role of a children’s librarian, I believe strongly in advocating for the child and helping adults find the resources to support them. With that in mind, here is a list of resources for children and their families who are trying to navigate through tough and challenging times.