Teaching my Children About Sickness and Death

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joe sad

Every family should have these books!

That’s what I used to tell people, anyway.

It’s 4 years now since I published the Held in Hope series with Christian Education and the Chaplains at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. Our remit was to produce some Christian stories for young children (under 7) about sickness and death. At the time, I always told people that every school, every childrens group, every home should have a set, so that issues of faith and sickness and death are explored before they need to be. This way, when the time comes and we experience sickness and death for the first time, we are already a little bit equipped with language and thinking and a perhaps way to find some hope.

Then I had my own children.

And I had to determine: Did I really believe what I had told others? I had seen these books make a lot of grown adults cry. The books are the stories of a girl going to hospital for the first time, a boy who has to stay in the hopsital, a child who knows he will die early and a boy whose sister has died. The images are full of emotion, exploring the grief stages using texture and colours. The videos draw a listener into the vulnerability of the stories.

Last summer, when my two girls were 1 and 3, I did it. I took out the set of Held in Hope books and put them with their others books. As usual, they spotted the new books straight away and brought them out to be read. One by one, I worked my way through the books, not giving any explanation but treating them the same as Maisy Goes Camping and What the Ladybird Heard. The girls listened, talked about the pictures, then moved on to other books. I wondered if they’d even noticed the content was different!

As we read the stories again later that week, when Josh drew pictures of his rooms in heaven, we chatted about what our rooms in heaven might be like.

About six months later, we were in the bathroom and my 3-year-old said to me out of the blue, “Mummy, there’s no pain in heaven, is there?”

“No” I replied.

A little 2-year-old voice piped up from the other side of the room, “No, Jesus, He takes all the pain away.”

While I was still reeling from their bold insight, my 3-year-old continued, “Yes, Jesus wipes all the pain away like wiping up milk.”


I discovered later that day that earlier there had been a ‘spillage in the village’ incident with milk on the table. Daddy had said it wasn’t a problem and got some cloths to wipe it up. My three-year-old had connected Daddy’s calm, loving response to her accident with God’s restoration of our bodies when we arrive in heaven. Awesome.

So, yes, every school, every children’s group, and every home should have a set of these books, if only to help us adults realise that children can handle far more than we imagine and that their spirituality, in many ways, goes beyond our own.