Our family dog passed away unexpectedly this week. He was a Siberian Husky named Dimitry Soloviev, and he was love incarnate. My husband's and my grief was great, but far greater was the grief of our children. It suddenly occurred to me that we did not have any children's books dealing with death. Special needs? Of course. All of the holidays? Yes, yes, and then some. But death? Not a single one. After many long conversations regarding death and our family beliefs about the journey of the soul after death, a sweet book with lovable characters would have been so helpful. I wrote a book about Dimitry, called Dimitry and the Moon, but it deals with love, and the great joy of giving love. It doesn't approach saying goodbye or dying.
At our local Barnes and Nobles, I combed the aisles of the children's section looking for just the right book about death. Beyond not being able to find the perfect book about death, I couldn't find a single one regarding this topic. There were a few autumn books, embracing the changing of the season, but even they didn't approach the essence of this season, which is a beautiful kind of death, "Autumn, the year's last, loveliest smile." (William Cullen Bryant).
After spending time in India where they parade their dead bodies through the streets on fire in complete acceptance of this holy, wholly natural, and emotional aspect of being alive, it goes without saying that in the United States we have a somewhat less open tolerance for this chapter of being. One might even say that we're still in the closet about the subject. Why are we so tight lipped about this natural process? It is the birth at the beginning and the death at the end that give us this precious in between called living. And it is the beginning and the end that make the living precious, fleeting, and without a moment to waste. The beginning and the end guide us toward love, force us to choose better over worse, because it's temporary. As my friend Steve Ross likes to say, "Life is an apartment, and the lease is running out." An awareness of the end brightens the now, and enlightens the how.
Suffice to say, the only place I could find children's books about death was on the internet, where we keep all shadowy and questionable merchandise in the U.S. I found a beautiful book by one of my favorite authors, Margaret Wise Brown, who penned Goodnight Moon, among many other lovely, melodic stories, called The Dead Bird. In it, a group of children find a bird who has just died. They give the little bird a burial and bring it flowers. Among other gifts, this book gave my children the feeling that they were not the only ones dealing with death. The more we talked about it, the more we looked at the subject of death, the easier it became to heal and say our farewells.