The Forever Kid by Elizabeth Mary Cummings
Ill. by Cheri Hughes. Big Sky, 2018. ISBN 9781925675382
Today is Johnny's birthday. And as in many families, the birthday kid gets to choose the food, the games and the way they want to celebrate. And Johnny's family is no different. Cloud stories are definitely on the list of must-do - lying on your back and looking for pictures in the clouds and making up stories about what you see. But this birthday is different to the others that have gone before. For this year, Johnny is no longer there. He's the Forever Kid - one who was part of the family but who has passed away leaving just memories. And on the is special day, each family member remembers Johnny in their own special way as they celebrate and feel closer to him. But they all gather together to look for and make cloud stories.
Much as it saddens us as adults to think that the children we know are touched by death and grief, nevertheless it is a fact of life for many. Illness and accidents take their toll and often the adults are so busy dealing with adult-things that the toll of the child is overlooked. Kids are seen as resilient, as 'not really understanding', as bounce-back-and-move-on beings. But anyone who has been with a child who has had to face such a harsh reality will know that the pain runs deep and the bewilderment is confusing so to have such a gentle book that focuses on the child left behind, their feelings, even their guilt, is a salutary reminder that as adults, we need to take care of their emotions too.
Four years ago, Miss Then 8 lost her precious great-grandmother, my mother, and as we grieved and made funeral arrangements and all that grown-up stuff, it would have been easy to overlook her distress. I asked her if she would like to say something at the memorial service and she said yes. My heart broke when this little one, who was such a chip off her great-gran's block, stood up and just said, 'I love you Great Gran.' That's when the tears began to flow, and we knew that she knew what she had lost but she would never forget her even though she was so young. So this year, when her other grandmother died and the wake was to be at a local restaurant, it was no surprise that Miss Now 12 did not want to go because that's where she had had so many good times with her Great Gran and 'didn't want them spoiled by sadness'. Just as Johnny is the Forever Kid, so we have a Forever Great Gran.
This gentle book, with its soft, sympathetic illustrations, is a reminder to us all that we need to acknowledge our children's feelings and their grief, and allow them the opportunity to remember and celebrate and know that it is perfectly okay to do so. Take the time to lie on the grass with your child, make up cloud stories and let them remember and reminisce. It will help you both.