DEATH - DYING - GRIEF
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DEATH - DYING - GRIEF
Stories, Folktales, Folklore, Fairy Tales, Legends,
Myths, History, Nursery Rhymes, Fantasy & Facts

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DEATH - DYING - GRIEF

SOS: Searching Out Stories/Info - Death-Dying
Advice, Comments and References from Storytellers,
Teachers and Librarians

DEATH - HELPING CHILDREN DEAL WITH IT
SOS: Searching Out Stories/Info - Death-Children
Advice, Comments and References from Storytellers,
Teachers and Librarians

DEATH AND HUMOR
SOS: Searching Out Stories/Info - Death-Humor
Advice, Comments and References from Storytellers,
Teachers and Librarians



DEATH - DYING - GRIEF
SOS: SEARCHING OUT STORIES AND INFORMATION -
Advice, Comments and References from Storytellers, Teachers and Librarians
(excerpts from Storytell posts plus original research)

Book titles and online links are in blue and underlined. Click on them to get more information.
Story and song titles are in quotation marks.
To retell any stories, obtain permission from the copyright holder if the material is not in the public domain.
Posts are added chronologically as they are received by Story Lovers World.

1) One of my favorites about death and grief is Richard Kennedy's Oliver Hyde's Dishcloth Concert. Oliver's girlfriend dies and he breaks his fiddle and sits alone in a dark house. He will not play music because he mourns. When a friend stops by to ask him to play for a wedding he resists & then agrees when the friend gives him a violin. He insists everyone wear a dishcloth...then he realizes later that the world is different once you come out from the dark....

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DEATH - HELPING CHILDREN DEAL WITH IT
SOS: SEARCHING OUT STORIES AND INFORMATION - DEATH AND HUMOR
Advice, Comments and References from Storytellers, Teachers and Librarians
(excerpts from Storytell posts plus original research)

Book titles and online links are in blue and underlined. Click on them to get more information.
Story and song titles are in quotation marks.
To retell any stories, obtain permission from the copyright holder if the material is not in the public domain.
Posts are added chronologically as they are received by Story Lovers World.


1) Nadia The Willful (Dragonfly Books) by Sue Alexander, "Chien Nang," adaptation by Mary Grace Ketner, El Otono De Freddy LA Hoja/the Fall of Freddy the Leaf by Leo Buscgalia (I know many of you don't like this one but it helped my son when we lost my mother), perhaps The Brave Little Parrot by Rafe Martin.


2) There is a story about a little girl afraid to lose her grandmother who has told her that she will die when she finishes her weaving. The little girl tries to sabotage the weaving.

Response:
This is a lovely book about a Navajo girl. It is called Annie and the Old One by Miska Miles.


3)
Don't forget Laura Simms' "Stories for Children in Crisis." These are still posted at the HSA website. And at bottom of the list of stories there are also some good essays about helping children deal with nightmares and face their fears--especially one by Nancy Mellon.
http://www.healingstory.org/home.html


4)
Also the booklet Laura edited, "Stories That Nourish The Heart of Our Children in a Time of Crisis." Here are some of them posted online that give some stories and Laura' tips for how to tell stories to children.
http://www.healingstory.org/crisis/crisis.html
See also Laura's site for many anecdotes about her telling stories to children impacted by 9/11, Thinking Like a Storyteller, and other essays.
http://www.laurasimms.com

Response:
There are less than half the stories printed on our site and about ten more in the Nourishing the Heart book. Also, check out the FORUM on the HSA site. It is filled with very fine tales and commentary that would be very helpful for children dealing with death.

5) One story I like and love to tell is Helen Eustis's Mr. Death and the Redheaded Woman (A Star & Elephant book). This story wonderfully demonstrates to children that sometimes Death is welcomed as a necessary friend.

Responses:

a) I have heard this story performed superbly, and gawdawfully. It can be a powerful story of love and transformation for ALL ages. Or it can be a toe-curling ordeal. As a listener I think the major difference was in the editing of the 1954 text, which must be cut for oral performance: too long. While it's full of delicious descriptive turns you'll want to preserve, it is also land-mined with bits which may have seemed charming in the '50s but are a little too cute (and some non-PC) for today. Then the test of the teller's skill is whether she can bring off the charming bits without condescension. I heard a superb telling just last night!

b) I agree that the Mr. Death Story is a little anachronistic. But then, I still seem to live a lot of my life in the '50s. The last time I told this story in performance (a couple of years ago) I told it from the point of view of my own, slightly mythological Grandfather who travelled the west as a luggage and trunk salesman and was a kind of Zelig charactor. Way before I thought of myself as a storyteller, I remember telling or reading the story to my grown kids aas I was recuperating from a heart attack. After spending a week in ICU and CCU (and listening to that redheaded gal sing softly at my pillow), I came back home with a new appreciation of Mr. Death. Megan Hicks, up in Fredericksburg, VA., also tells a wonderful version of this story.


6) Grandad's Prayers of the Earth by Douglas Wood.
The poignant story line of this exceptional book--a grandfather uses a walk in the woods to explain prayer to his grandson, and later after the grandfather's death, the grandson's solitary return to the woods (and to prayer) brings peace--offers important lessons about the reasons and ways to pray. The grandfather's lyrical and effective descriptions of prayer in its broadest sense and the rich, evocative watercolor illustrations will touch and teach children and adults of all religions. A 2000 Parents' Choice® Recommended winner.


7) For a literary approach I would pick the scene in Natalie Babbitt's Tuck Everlasting where Tuck takes young Winnie out in the rowboat to explain to her why life means change and how death is a necessary part of the wheel of life.


8) The Cow-Tail Switch: And Other West African Stories is another good one, collected by Courlander in a book of the same name.


9) I would like to suggest my collection Nourishing the Hearts of Our Children, particularly one of the last tales called "The White Swallow". It is about the death of an aunt of mine and how Idealt with it through playing with a dolly and telling the dolly tales.. A dolly that she had given me.

The book can be ordered from my office. We are offering it at the moment for a discount of $8.00 and if someone buys more than ten we sell them for $6 each. All funds go to support projects that Gaindeh does with children. Some stories are posted on the Healingstory.org website, but only about five of the 19. Please add $3.70 for priority mailing
Laura Simms
814 Broadway
New York, NY 10003
http://www.laurasimms.com/

Also, I want to happily announce the publication of my new book of love stories for adults The Robe of Love: Secret Instructions for the Heart.


10) I have a rather beautiful book on this topic. It's published in Australia so may be hard for you to get hold of. Lifetimes by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Inkpen (1983). It's filled with coloured pictures from nature - a nest with new laid eggs, broken periwinkle shells, dead sand crab, remains of a butterfly, etc. The foreward explains: "There is a beginning and an ending to everything that is alive. In between is a lifetime. It is the same for people as it is for plants and animals, even for the tiniest insects. That is the theme of Lifetimes - a moving and beautiful book for children and their parents. Lifetimes is important for everyone because it helps us to remember, to understand, and to explain that dying is as much a part of living as being born."


11) Two stories I want to suggest are "Angel with a Broken Wing" by James Dillet Freeman and "Nia." Nia is about the little girl whose parents are lost in an accident while hunting for the perfect tree to make a drum for a special celebration. Angel with a Broken Wing is about a young boy’s challenges with his mother’s death as well as the difficult relationship he has with his father and his two brothers. I have adapted the story to for a wide variety of situations. There are lots of thoughts to reflect upon in the story and you can pick and choose which insights to focus upon when presenting the story. Since the story is set in the midst of Christmas, I have also told it to fifth grade and up during the holiday season to emphasize the importance of communication and expressing love.


12) There is a small Buddhist tale which I found and told years ago.The tale is about a father whose grief over the death of his child is so extreme that he decides to go to Death and ask to see his daughter one last time . when he arrives Death warns him that he should rethink his request. The father is so insisitent that Death shows the father the girl who is now in the garden playing and totally uninterested in her father's presence. Death calls to the girl and she comes and embraces the father quicklly and goes back to the other children. Death explains to the man that at the moment of death, the child forgets her life here, and enjoys her new life in the other world. Death asks the father to give up his grief after a time because it may affect his life.


13) I don't know it as a tale, but the concept aligns with the lore Hiroko Fujita has told me about Japanese beliefs in the old days of high infant mortality. Children were not believed to belong to this earth until girls had reached the age of 3, boys 5. Before that, they were "mizu ko" water babies, still belonging to the river which brings them into/out of life. If parents mourn overmuch for a baby who dies before that age, its soul can't cross back over the river to heaven, where it would be prepared for another try at rebirth. Although the soul has forgotten its brief life, the parent's grief traps it on this side. Fujita-san described the scene of mourned babies' souls passing time at the riverside by making sand castles which were destroyed every night by oni (demons).


14) Query:

I have a difficult assignment. I am scheduled to tell to a group of 4th graders tomorrow night. Last night a message was left for me by their teacher that a class member is dying and may well die today. She asked if I have any stories to comfort them. I have checked the SOS site, but most seem to be about children dealing with an adult's death or adults dealing with a child's death. Do any of you know of a story dealing with children mourning another child? Perhaps something about rebirth? Or about how to honor that person in a positive way? Even a bare bones story will help.


Responses:

a) The Tenth Good Thing About Barney is a fairly old picture book (author?) about a dog who died. In it, the child finds comfort in listing good things to remember about his pet. Maybe the children could somehow list things--or times, anecdotes--they want to remember about their friend. I doubt anyone would appreciate a pet death story being used for a child's death, but maybe that idea will spark something. The other story I thought of is probably the other extreme, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, in that Sadako has become such an icon for peace that a classmate may seem to pale in her shadow. Nevertheless, the idea of the story is that the children found a way to memorialize their friend. Your story could be about a boy who liked to play baseball, and his friends memorialized him by playing an honorary Joe Smith baseball game. If you are not known by these children, a story in which the specific child is named and honored, may strike them as offensive, but these ideas might be useful to their teachers.

b) A story that I particularly like is Badger's Parting Gifts by Susan Varley.
Badger's friends are overwhelmed with their loss when he dies. By sharing their memories of his gifts, they find the strength to face the future with hope.

c) Ron Adams shared a story at Gateway a few years ago about a special-needs student, Jamie, whose teacher was waiting to meet with his parents after school, to tell them that he was going to be moved out of her classroom because he was too disruptive (not bad, just needing too much help, not able to succeed, and distracting the others when he tried to walk to the front of the room). The parents arrived and told the teacher how much Jamie loved her class and talked about it . . . and that it would probably be his last year on earth. Of course, the teacher kept him where he was. One weekend before Easter, she discussed spring and renewal and sent the students home with little plastic eggs, which they were to bring back filled with something that represented spring and Easter. She forgot to call Jamie's parents to fill them in, and when he put his egg in the basket on Monday she worried that he couldn't possibly have understood the assignment. When she opened one egg to find it empty, she knew it was Jamie's and tried to quietly put it back, but he stopped her and then explained, on the third day, the tomb was empty -- she knew he had understood more than she had. Just before Easter, Jamie passed away. On his coffin, his classmates placed a basket, containing a plastic egg for each of them, and the ribbon on the basket proclaimed, "He is risen."

This is sketchy -- Ron told it wonderfully, and I have told it several times . . . but I have to warn you, there's never been a dry eye. (and yes, I have told it to my students in a public school, but they had been mine for most of a year, and we trusted each other, and I asked first if anyone would be bothered by a story with religious overtones). I don't know how it would work coming in cold to a bigger situation.

d) "How Night Came into Being," a Hindu tale, appears in Parabola magazine This is one of the tales posted in "Stories for Children in Crisis," both at the healingstory.org website and also at that of Laura Simms ( http://www.laurasimms.com/ ). That collection which Laura compiled might have some useful ideas for you. Also in the Forum section of healingstory.org, check out Gail Rosen's "Outwitting Death." In response to that, I posted there another good 'death" tale, one I heard Stanley Robertson tell at the National Festival, what he called a "Death Appreciation Story"--but it's more for adults than for kids. There's a whole section on death in Yolen's Favorite Foltales Found Around the World. And the same collection contains several death-related tales that aren't in the death section.

Created 2003.

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DEATH AND HUMOR
SOS: SEARCHING OUT STORIES AND INFORMATION - DEATH AND HUMOR
Advice, Comments and References from Storytellers, Teachers and Librarians
(excerpts from Storytell posts plus original research)

Book titles and online links are in blue and underlined. Click on them to get more information.
Story and song titles are in quotation marks.
To retell any stories, obtain permission from the copyright holder if the material is not in the public domain.
Posts are added chronologically as they are received by Story Lovers World.

1) Another Jewish death joke...
Wife takes ill, knows she's going to die. She commissions a painting of herself as commemoration. Now, she's not very rich, but she instructs the painter to paint her in an elaborate gown.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure."
Then she tells the painter to paint her in a diamondnecklace.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure."
Then she tells the painter to paint her in ruby and diamond earrings.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure."
Then she tells the painter to cover her hands in rings and bracelets of priceless gems.
Now the painter's had it. He says, "This isn't who you are at all! Why are you having me paint all of this stuff on you?"
"My husband's still pretty young. After I die, he'll probably take a new wife, and I want her to spend half her life looking for the damn jewels."


2)
"Family Life" by Jennifer Michael Hecht
"Old man lies dying, calls over his young son. Says Son, come closer. Son comes. Son, says the dying, my one last wish is a piece of the crumb cake in the covered cake dish downstairs. Down goes the boy, running and nodding. Five minutes later, he's back and chagrined. Father says What happened? Son shrugs, Ma says it's for after."
Response: I do a much expanded version of that story developed from a post I received form the Double Deckers. I call it "Pecan, Peanut Butter, Chocolate Chip Cookies." Hopefully I will be telling it at the "What's Cooking" Comedy Cabaret at Northlands. I tell it to Senior gatherings and they almost fall out of their seats laughing.


3) Well, in a death and dying workshop I assisted with, a woman told the story of her mother's last illness. Apparently at some point in her illness, she was told that she could no longer drive. She agreed to that, but begged that they wouldn't take her license away - it was important to her to carry it, even if she couldn't use it. Anyway, they let her keep the license, and when she finally died, one of her daughters (surreptitiously, she thought) sneaked the driver's license into the coffin. She looked up and found her dad had caught her in the act. He leaned over and whispered, "You better give her the VISA too - she's gonna need that if she's gonna be driving."


4) Found this on http://www.saltshakers.com/jokes.htm
The dutiful Jewish son is sitting at his father's bedside. His father is near death. Father: "Son." Son: "Yes Dad." Father: (weakly) "Son. That smell. Is Mama making my favorite apple strudel?" Son: "Yes Dad." Father: (even weaker) "Ah, if I could just have one more piece of Mama's apple strudel. Would you get me a piece?" Son: "OK, Dad." (Son leaves and walks toward kitchen. After a while the son returns and sits down next to his father again.) Father: "Is that you son?" Son: "Yes Dad." Father: "Did you bring the apple strudel?" Son: "No Dad." Father: "Why? It's my dying wish!" Son: "Well Dad. Mom says the strudel is for after the funeral!"

I remember this being posted here as a longer story, and set in an earlier time. I don't remember who posted it, but I remember it as a Jewish story.
Response: I've also heard it as an "Olie and Lena" Norwegian joke, with lefse.


5) Then there's that story from "Children of the Morning Light" by Manitonquat: World began without death, but kept filling up. Creatures complain to Creator. Creator says two choices: no more birthing, or a doorway out called "Death." The male creatures all have a big meeting and vote for no more birthing. MEanwhile, the women creatures are having their own meeting; watching the babies all tumble about in the center of their circle, and oohing and aahing over their cuteness. They decide to keep on with birthing; because the new ones are messengers from Creator; and the people need reminders of where they came from and why they're here. They decide to open that gateway called "death."

My favorite part is the ending: Since the women were in charge of birthing and raising those little ones, the women had the last word and that's the way it's been ever since. Nice double entendre there....


6) A man had four sons. Three of them were strong, handsome men. The fourth one was weak and spindly. He often wondered if maybe this son was not his, but he did not want to doubt his wife. He never spoke of it. Yet, as he lay on his death bed, he realized that he could not be comfortable about it. He asked his wife to tell him the truth. Was that boy really his son. She smiled and told him that he was. The man sighed. He was glad his wife had been loyal - but still . . He passed away then. His wife then sighed, "Thank goodness he didn't ask about the other three."

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Created 2004; last update 9/30/09

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