Monday, October 2, 2017

Reviewing How It Feels When A Parent Dies

How It Feels When A Parent Dies by Jill Krementz
With the recent passing of our fellow contributor, Susan Deppner, it is clear to see how the ripples of such a loss go on infinitely. I am not in the mood to write or review products as thoughts of Susan's beloved family members are on my mind. As I have thought of them, especially the children and grandchild she doted on, I have remembered a book that has been helpful in my work with children who have experienced this type of profound loss. Instead of skipping my Monday post, I feel as though I must share the title How It Feels When a Parent Dies at this time. 

How It Feels When a Parent Dies by Jill Krementz

Everyone grieves at a different pace and in different ways. That's okay. That is a truth that is often misunderstood. Sometimes humans judge how others grieve. Of course, we have to be mindful of times that grief has over-taken us for too long of a period of time. And in those moments, professional help can help ease us back into the level of functioning we deserve. But otherwise, it is fine to grieve in the way that is best for us.

It is much the same with children. Children will grieve at a different pace and in many different ways - often in many different ways in the very same day. Sometimes an adult will wonder about the actions of a child who has lost a loved one, and not be able to make sense of the behaviors. Sometimes adults have a perception of how the child "should" be feeling or behaving.

Jill Krementz interviewed children about the death of their parent - allowing the children a place to tell their own story. As a result, this book is filled with examples of the different ways grief is experienced and the different things that are perceived helpful (or not) by each child. It is through listening to their voices that we can become more helpful.

To date, I have not found a book that is more enlightening about how children experience such difficult loss. I've had older children borrow the book and then read to me the stories that resonated. With younger children, I have either read a story to them or I've used my understanding from the book to let them disclose grief at their pace and help me to know what questions to ask.

In the introduction, Ms. Krementz wrote:
"One of the things I've realized while working on this book is that often a child whose parent has died doesn't know anyone else this has happened to, and feels particularly isolated and "special" in a very distressing way. I hope this book will help such children to realize that they are not alone...."
Ms. Krementz interviewed 18 children, ranging from age 7 to 17 about the loss of their parent. The words in each "chapter" are that child's words - their own story. The causes of death range from sudden medical emergencies, long-term terminal illness, accidents, and suicide. The children's reactions include helpfulness, avoidance, confusion, guilt, disbelief, and more. Some children found comfort in being surrounded with visiting adults and others found the comfort of strangers intrusive and anger-provoking.

The book was first published in the early 1980's. My copy was published in 2000. Each chapter includes photos of the child telling the story. The photos are clearly dated - fashions and hairstyles long gone. But the stories are just as meaningful as the day the ink hit the page.

I think I'll close with a wonderful summary of the book by Bishop Paul Moore Jr. He wrote:
"To hear the voices of children speaking of death with innocent beauty is a rare and heartbreaking privilege. I wish I had read Jill Krementz's book when I moved alone with my nine children in the shadow of their mother's death. There are no rules. Some are angry with God. Some love the peace surrounding their mother's grave. Some want to hear all they can from their parents' friends. Some are jealous that anyone else knew her in a way they never could. If you are a widow, a pastor, a helpless-feeling friend, listen to these voices and learn to be strong and wise to these courageous young people."

Note: If you feel that someone is demonstrating their grief and loss in ways that are life-threatening (such as drugs, alcohol, physically risk behaviors. or self-harm) or if the daily functioning of children has been altered for a significant period of time (changes in school functioning, changes in behaviors, continued depressed or withdrawn behaviors) please consult the professionals to help assess the situation. While everyone experiences grief differently, some benefit from the assistance of a professional.

Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate, Ebay (EPN) and/or Esty (Awin) Affiliate, I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


  1. Wonderful, and timely, review of a book about grief that can help anyone - old or young - deal with the death of a loved one, or even a dear friend. Thank you, Dawn Rae, for your thoughtfulness in bringing this book to our attention at this time.

  2. Susan's death has added distress to what I was already feeling from the recent death of my favorite Aunt who was really like my second mother especially after my Mom died. Hoping I "get over" this funk soon, but I have paperwork to do that reminds me of it every day. Thank you for this. I should read it.

  3. Thank you for this wonderful book review Dawn. I couldn't help but think as I was reading that adults grieve in their own way too. Other adults don't always understand or care to understand the depth of pain that we feel. I have said several times how much I hated receiving sympathy cards in the mail after my brother died, yet my mother was comforted by them. That is very much the same thing you spoke of above about how some people are comforted by other people, while others that are grieving prefer to be alone, or selective about who they are around. It is important for all of us to realize we grieve in different ways and at our own pace. One way is not more right than the other.

  4. How timely and important to understand. I still get the sobs once in a while and I know it's okay. Reading about children though puts a whole new spin on grieving. Their little hearts and understanding what they are feeling is so important if you want to be able to help them.

  5. What a beautiful and comprehensive review. I recently read a poem by someone who had lost her mother when she was about nine. She describes herself as not being able to get off the stool she was sitting on after she got the news. She just kept sitting there, looking at the floor, not knowing how to go on with life without her mother. It's a very sad and moving poem. I'm glad this book exists. I will be sure to keep it in mind if I ever meet a child suffering from this kind of grief.


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Susan DeppnerSusan Deppner

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