With my mother dying this past February, the topic of talking to children about death and dying has been on my mind. And it is a topic that sometimes comes up in the office. When the book What Do We Tell The Children? Talking to kids about death and dying by Joseph M. Primo arrived on my hold shelf at our local library I was eager for some advice.
Primo is the executive director of Good Grief, Inc, a nonprofit in New Jersey. He holds a divinity degree and is a former hospice chaplain. Consisting of eight chapters and just under 130 pages, it is an approachable book. The reader is drawn in by Primo's own story of his first experience of death; he was a teen when an aunt died suddenly at a family gathering. His story highlights how society used to talk to children about death -- essentially not at all.
The book then continues much in the style of a memoir, pulling from stories during his time with hospice and then Good Grief, Inc. As a fan of memoirs, I enjoyed the book. However, as a parent needing to answer questions about death to my five and three year old, I did not find the book to be a great resource. It is less how-to more more of a survey of what society has done and could do. The stories are moving and sometimes powerful, but the format does not let a flustered parent quickly access tips on answering questions. I would have preferred an organization that allowed me to focus on age appropriate answers, what happened to Grandma is addressed quite differently to a 16 year old versus a 4 year old. And then there is the religion factor. Ours in an atheist home, and stories from the bible are of no help to us. Again, a book with sections for various religious view points would have been more useful.
Overall I enjoyed the book, Primo is a nice storyteller. However, it was not the book I expected to read.