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  • Grief, Grieving, or Grieved:Michael Rosen's Sad Book and How to Cope with Grief for Kids and Grown-Ups
  • Shoshana Magnet (bio) and Catherine-Laura Tremblay-Dion (bio)

Introduction

In her memoir, The Long Goodbye (2011), journalist Meghan O'Rourke describes her process of grief after losing her mother to cancer. Although "Grief is common," O'Rourke reminds us, "experiencing it made me suddenly aware of how difficult it is to confront head-on" (4). Calling for a cultural shift in learning to speak about the invisible sorrows that weigh down our days, O'Rourke writes of invisibilized grief in everyday conversations that begin with "How are you?" and end with "Fine." In a media culture for children densely populated by princesses and super-heroes that enforce what Samantha King has called a "tyranny of cheerfulness," speaking to children about grief remains a complicated and controversial act. Books aimed at enriching children's emotional geographies abound (e.g., Max Velthuijs's Frog is Sad [2005] and Stan and Jan Berenstain's The Berenstain Bears Lose a Friend [2007]), yet they frequently sidestep hard questions of how to express these feelings of grief or loss. A literature intent on enlarging the sad end of the feeling spectrum is growing and includes the success of Oliver Jeffers' book about loss, The Heart and the Bottle (2010), and Shaun Tan's book for children about depression, The Red Tree (2010). In the vein of advocates for children who argue that children can be trusted with "what is true" (Travers, 1975), we offer a curriculum aimed at teaching Michael Rosen's Sad Book as a jumping-off point for discussing grief with children.


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Death remains one of the most challenging conversations that caregivers and educators must have with children. How do we hold for children, in the words of poet Marie Howe, the complex truth that "we are living and dying at the same time"? Importantly, how can we help children have an emotional vocabulary that will help them to contend with the challenging reality that grief and loss are a fundamental part of the human experience? Children may face this reality through the loss of a pet, the incarceration of a parent, the death of a friend, a sibling, or [End Page 80] a caregiver. Too often, children must suffer loss alone without emotional lampposts to help them through turmoil. One way to help children contend with loss is to help children learn the importance of expressing feelings as a way to recover from grief.

Grief, Grieving, and Grieved

We (the authors) had been longing for a text we could use to help talk to children about grief that did not have the sanctimonious feel of many existing books. We did not want any approaches of "kid appropriate loss," in which grief is distilled through an adult lens (often where sad things happen but ultimately work out for the best). In Sad Book we have an honestly depressed adult, telling children both that he has suffered from life-changing sadness and that his own child has died (which implies that children can and do die). This is followed by ways of coping that he felt were useful to him, all while never claiming his ways are "only" or "everywhere" true.

In Sad Book, Rosen is haunted by the death of his son Edie in ways both visible and invisible. It is precisely the repetitive nature of the mundane that constitutes the bread and butter of caregiving. The repetitive nature of caregiving is what makes a child's world "safe." In many cases, it is grief's disruption of everyday companionship and routine that is felt so acutely. Part of the wonderful utility of Sad Book is that it illustrates how to incorporate domestic tasks as practical responses to living with grief. By including a description of the importance of connection, of talking to others about sad feelings, and of carving out space to be alone with or without talking with others, Rosen lays out a clear set of steps that he finds helpful for dealing with his grief—giving very practical suggestions as to the...

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