How To Help Children Cope With Death
When my sister in law, Caroline, a much loved primary school teacher died, at the age of 39, after a long battle with cancer, I thought about the children she had taught and what she had shared with them and it was cathartic for me, as a children’s author, to write about her.
I had been inspired by the initiative at the local hospice, St Gemmas, who had constructed a Tree Of Life on to which bereaved relatives could hang a copper leaf inscribed with the name of a loved one who’d died, and, motivated by the powerful effects of memory as means of healing, my book, The Copper Tree, was born initially just for our family but seven years later I decided to publish it and make it widely available for everyone.
When writing the book I considered three main objectives. Firstly, to include people, rather than animals, as main characters; secondly, to consider closely every word and phrase – a friend had told me that, as a small child, when her grandmother died of a stroke she had been worried about stroking her own cat – and thirdly, to avoid whimsical notions of heaven. I bore in mind gentle conversations I’d had with my young daughters as they asked about their aunt’s illness and how I thought about how I had encouraged them to think of all that they had learned from, and shared with her for that would sustain them through their more difficult days.
‘The Copper Tree’ developed into a warm and gentle story of a small group of young school children who are encouraged to prepare for, and come to terms with, the subsequent death of their teacher, Miss Evans. Sprinkled with light hearted moments, I revised core elements of the text after seeking advice from bereaved families, from teachers and bereavement specialists and I considered the simple needs of young children exploring the feelings of grief and loss for what might be the first time.
In ‘The Copper Tree’ and after a period of reflection, the children are encouraged to think about all that Miss Evans has shared with them – or taught them. These memories are then inscribed on to copper leaves and fixed on to a copper tree as a reminder of her lasting legacy.
Since the book was published we have been moved by just how helpful it is proving to be. The teacher, in a sense, represents a member of the family but also represents a friend or even a pet as for many children this can be the first time that they have to face up to the experience of grief.
A few days ago someone asked me what I would choose to inscribe on a copper leaf in memory of Caroline. After careful thought I said her smile – for it mirrored her enthusiasm for life and she lives on too through the book for her optimism in general helped me find the courage to release the book for the benefit of others.
THE COPPER TREE (ISBN 978 0 9571245 0 9) by Hilary Robinson and Mandy Stanley is published by Strauss House Productions