A beloved weekday preschool teacher passed away a few weeks ago after a long illness. A text from a long-ago colleague just last Saturday evening shared that a dad had unexpectedly passed away. Inquiries on kidmin social media groups are coming in almost weekly asking what do I do and what resources to provide when death takes a loved one, so I thought I’d put all that I’ve used in one place.

When a family I serve is expecting family to come to town for the service, I typically will drop off a couple of books along with multiple bags of various paper products: paper plates, toilet paper, paper towels, utensils, Ziploc bags, travel coffee cups, cold beverage paper cups, and trash bags.

When a family I serve is having to travel or arrangements have not been made, I’ll typically drop off a couple of books along with ice cream cones and a half-gallon of really good ice cream. No-mess and no-dishes, but a sweet treat for those late night conversations of ‘Where’s grandpa?”

What books? I keep several copies of each on my shelf because, well, you never know. Below are listed my favorites. Amber O’Neal Johnston, Heritage Mom, reminds me to choose books which are both windows and mirrors. I’m very mindful of ‘who’ passed away and ‘what’ that mirror should like in illustrations, so I’m always on the lookout for new books.

Someone I Loved Died by Christine Harder Tangvald –  A small paperback, this is a story with multiple places to draw and respond with images of a grandparent. “When one of God’s people dies, God moves the breath of life  back out of the body to a special place we call Heaven, a place we can’t see right now.”

When I’m With Jesus by Kimberly Rae – A small paperback, this story is told by a mom. “When someone you love is gone, you feel sad. Talk to Jesus about it. He understands. He had to leave His Father for a awhile and it was hard for Him, too.”

The Memory Box by Joanna Rowland – A short story which opens with a child losing a balloon. “But as sad as I am now. I can always get another balloon. But I can never have another you. I miss you.” The child gathers stories and items of remembrance, “I’m making a box so I won’t forget you, with our memories like sand from the beach where we played and left footprints as we ran from crashing waves.” 

Someday Heaven by Larry Libby – A beautiful book illustrated by Wayne McLoughlin which answers questions about Heaven with biblical backup: Where is heaven? How long does it take to get there? Will I need money in Heaven? Will it always be light in Heaven? Is there a beach in Heaven? It was this book which walked me through my grief when my Dad passed in 2005. I was scheduled to teach my 4th-6th grade girls Sunday school class the following Sunday. I was able to share with them what my daddy was doing while we were in Sunday school. The edition illustrated by Tim Jonke is extended and my personal favorite. I think every children’s ministry leader should have a copy of this and the other two books by Larry Libby, illustrated by Tim Jonke: Someone Awesome (Jesus) and Somewhere Angels

The Awesome Super Fantastic Forever Party by Joni Eareckson Tada – a hardback with whimsical illustrations describing Heaven and the new Heaven for really littles, “When Jesus comes back to this world, he will bring heaven with him. Heaven and earth will join together.”

Gone But Never Forgotten by Pamela Rae Hughey – a paperback of remembering a grandmother the children never knew yet their parents share memorable experiences about her. “”Where did she go? Will she ever come back?’ ‘No, she went to heaven to be with God, and that’s that. Now, her spirit is in heaven, and she no longer feels pain, but in the ground is where her body remains.”

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst – a story of a mom calming her twins through a storm with an invisible string. “You don’t need to see the Invisible String. People who love each other are always connected by a very special String made of love.”

Tell Me About Heaven by Randy Alcorn – a story written for older children to answer a young boy’s questions, “What’s it like where Grammy is?” in a narrative to answer some of the questions about Heaven.

Tear Soup by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen – a more advanced read-aloud about grief after loss. “Grandy put on her apron because she knew it would get messy. It seems that grief is never clean. Grief always takes longer to cook than anyone wants it to.” 

The Next Place by Warren Hanson – a child’s whimsical read-aloud with text curved and turned on the pages. “Though I will know the joy of solitude…I’ll never be alone.”

Tell Me The Secrets by Max Lucado – a lovely book of a retired missionary couple who befriend and share life with a trio of tweens. A beautiful book of multiple short stories of wonder, awe, and loss. Lucado’s companion book Tell Me The Story is one I read aloud on every retreat at lights-out.

Which books I deliver with either paper products or ice cream depends on the age of the child and who has passed away and how far along the grief journey my friend has traveled. It’s an honor and privilege to walk alongside families while navigating loss as a remarkable moment of life. 

How do you walk alongside your families? Which books are on your shelf?

“To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12