Children have had to process such great changes to their routines and to the structural certainties of their lives in the past 6 months and more, we need to recognise their need for support. How can they understand the emotional force of a pandemic – or the explanations the adults around them provide for distancing themselves from the life they knew? They can’t – and shouldn’t – feel the same fears, anxieties and frustrations as the adults responsible for them, but they will inevitably pick up on the fear of death, whether from their peers, from overheard adult conversations or – tragically – from the loss of some close relative.
Well before these troubled and fear-filled months, a group of us, connected only by our experience of personal losses – each one different, each one painful – worked on a storybook designed to help children understand death, and to help adults talk to children about death. Death has always intrigued and alarmed children – indeed it alarms and intrigues adults. But few adults feel confident about answering clearly and honestly those innocent questions about what happens at death and helping with the range of emotions children may be experiencing.
Last year, just before Christmas, copies of our self-published book finally rolled off the press. So, Where Are We Going Exactly? was an attempt to introduce children gently to the inevitability that someone near to them would die, probably because they were old, but sometimes – unfortunately – before they had had a chance to live as long as they should. The knowledge that we all die eventually, as everything always has, needed – we felt – to be understood by children before they are plunged into a critical event with painful and confusing emotions, the tricky conversations already started before the need for them becomes acute.
But that was the end of 2019. Almost before we could take the initial steps of marketing our thoughtful, cheerful, delightfully illustrated book, the great Death Discussion landed squarely upon us. Our launch party never happened. Everything seized up. By March 2020, Covid-19 was claiming lives with an abandon associated with the Grim Reaper; worse, media coverage of the pandemic was making deaths from the infection into statistics, and the hideous personal anguish and loss (and the acute suffering on both sides of Perspex screen doors) was inevitably masked by figures and graphs as the disease spread.
For a while So, Where Are We Going Exactly? felt like a painful throwback to a wonderfully innocent time when grandparents could drive with children in their car, no masks, and sit and chat with strangers. Was the world we referred to, the world we created in the book, an anachronism now? Ultimately, though, we knew that the themes of the story, and the value of the exchange of cross-generational attitudes and experience in it, would be a permanent legacy, regardless of how the pandemic developed. In these times of uncertainty, our confidence returned. More than ever we need to offer children support, and our book aims to do just that.
The book can be viewed and ordered at