by Julia Cook
Grief is like a snowflake…sometimes it comes one flake at a time; other times it comes like a blizzard. It melts away, but it always comes back. Just as each snowflake is unique, each person experiences grief in their own unique way. I learned this the hard way during my first year as a school counselor.
Two weeks into the school year, a third-grade girl watched painfully as her father suffered an aneurism at home and died at her side. Three weeks later, a second-grade boy’s three-year-old brother went down for a nap and never woke up. Two very unexpected, unexplained deaths; two broken students. Enter, first year counselor.
The young boy who lost his little brother wanted to talk. He wrote a poem that he read aloud at the funeral. I helped him create a memory book that he gave to his family at Christmas. His way of dealing with his grief was to share it with those around him. He cried tears on the outside.
However, the young girl whose father had died was very different. She cried tears on the inside. She wanted to keep her grief inside and hide it from others in hopes that it would just go away. The harder I tried to help her, the more she shut down. At the time, I didn’t understand why she was unwilling and/or unable to process her grief. I thought I could wave my magic counseling wand and solve all of her problems for her. What I now know is that a good counselor gives the problem-solving wand to the child and teaches her how to use it.
Thankfully, both children got the help that they needed, and today they are thriving, successful young adults.
The following year, I was fortunate enough to cross paths with Ted E. Bear Hollow (TEBH), a grieving center for children and teens in Omaha, Nebraska. While continuing to serve as a counselor, I ended up referring several families to TEBH, and was amazed at the positive differences they were able to make with each and every family member.
My counseling career came to an end in 2006 when I became a children’s author.
This past spring, I was watching the local evening news and was informed that someone had taken money out of a TEBH donation jar that was placed in a candy store in downtown Omaha. The director of TEBH was interviewed on TV, and her comments about the event blew me away. Instead of being angry with the person who took the money, she said she felt sorry for him and stated, “He must have needed the money more than we did. I feel bad for the pain that he must feel inside.”
My heart ached at the thought of anyone stealing from such an amazing program. The following day, I stopped in at TEBH to make a donation that would help compensate for the lost money. I spoke with the director personally and told her of my past experience with TEBH. We talked about my books and she asked me why I had not written a book on grief. I explained to her that I had a story line floating around in my head, but I just hadn’t put it down on paper.
The TEBH staff sat down with me the next week and told me what questions needed to be addressed in a good children’s book on grief including:
- Is the person who died really gone forever?
- If I’m really good, and I do everything I’m told, will the person come back?
- Who will take care of me?
- Are you [parents or caregivers] going to die too?
- How come you don’t feel the same way that I do?
- How come you don’t act the same way that I do?
- What if I forget the person?
After I wrote the story, Grief is Like a Snowflake, foundation supporters of Ted E. Bear Hollow, along with private citizens in the Omaha area, raised the money to pay for the production and initial print run of the book. Since the initial investment to produce the book was covered, my publisher was able to increase my royalty on the book. This made it possible to share my royalty percentage by half with TEBH. This book will carry the TEBH tips and messages throughout the world so that all people can benefit from it’s wonderful program. It also will be a gift that will keep on giving. As long as the book is in print, TEBH with benefit from its sales.
What matters in life is not what you have; it’s how you use it to help others in need. Thank you Ted E. Bear Hollow for helping me create a book that will make a positive difference in the lives of grieving children of all ages.