When one of my young friends experienced the death of his pet he asked me if I had a book that could help him understand the emotions he was feeling.
At the time I didn't have such a book, but I said we could chat and he could share his story with me and I would use it as inspiration for a book.
The Empty Cage: a book about loss of a pet was born, with my friend drawing the front cover for me. Not only did this book cover experiences and emotions from my young friend but I was able to account experiences and emotions from my childhood when some of my pets died.
This became one of 5 in a series of books about grief and loss and although each book highlights a different type of loss, the grief and feelings is much the same and so the ideas in each book can help get the conversation started with kids about their emotions surrounding grief and loss.
The Feeling Empty series consists of:
The Empty Crib: a celebration of the life of an angel baby
The Empty Cage: a book about pet loss
The Empty Rocking Chair: a book about loss of a grandparent
The Empty Swing: a book about the loss of a friend
The Empty Heart: a book about the loss of a parent.
All five of these books are available through the Quite a Character Bookstore or Amazon.
The stories behind the stories
For each book I did a lot of research as I wanted to create a story that was relatable and offered ways to help a child through grief. I read books, watched video interviews with children who have lost someone, read about grief camps, steps of grief and more. I also spoke to people who experienced a loss. I am grateful they were able to share their stories with me.
For the Empty Crib there was a bereavement doula who experienced first hand the loss of a baby. We talked about that baby, the reactions of her children, her next baby as well as the situations and experiences she has seen in her work. Each name mentioned in the book is an homage to a child that died as an infant. The cover was drawn by a young girl who experienced the loss of infant siblings.
The Empty Rocking Chair
was inspired by Madison, who had just recently lost her grandfather. (she drew the front cover in his honour). As I was working on ideas for the book I noticed a company Bella's Bears and Company who make memorial teddy bears from the clothing of the person who has died. I loved this idea and incorporated it into the story.
In The Empty Swing I was able to do something that I had wanted to do for a long time. At age 9 my nephew experienced the death of his friend. I had wished back then that I had something that might be able to help this little boy that had just lost his playmate. My nephew is now an adult and we were able to talk about the experience and he helped inspire the story that is not only an honour to his friend Seth but also Ryan, a friend of Gracie's who died when he was 7. (Gracie drew the front cover in his honour).
The Empty Heart is about the death of a parent (the father specifically) and was inspired by cover artist Paisley who lost her father when she was 5. In my research I had found out about grief camps and all the wonderful work they do to provide safe, healing places for kids and so I wanted to have that concept in the story. It was a chance to connect some of the other characters, like my nephew and Madison, as well as share some of the remaining ideas I had found in my research on how to help children through grief.
And although each book focuses on a specific loss, the information offered about dealing with grief can be applied to any situation. The information I researched is spread out through all five of the books and so it can be beneficial to have the entire series and gather points from each book that could help.
The most important part is to get the conversation started, to talk about the loved one who has died, to talk about the feelings being experienced and to recognize that everybody grieves differently and however they are doing it is okay.
“Without you in my arms, I feel an emptiness in my soul. I find myself searching the crowds for your face - I know it's an impossibility, but I cannot help myself.”
-- Nicholas Sparks (Message in a Bottle)
The Feeling Empty series features many different ideas of making a memorial for the person that has died. It could be a teddy bear, a necklace or a memory box. Check out the blog post Making Memories for ideas of what you can do now to keep special memories close.