Therapist Notes

Therapist Notes: from Nancy Ballinger

During my many years working with young children and their families as a Marriage and Family Therapist I lamented that there is a shortage of children’s picture books about the death of a parent, especially books that address chemical dependency, physical or mental illness, neglect or abuse in the family. Two Brave Cubs deals with these issues. It is written and illustrated with the intention of providing adults with a tool that invites healing conversation with children about life, death, grief and families

The book is based on a story I wrote for two children and their father 20 years ago in my work as a Hospice children’s bereavement counselor. The mother had died suddenly after many years of being sick and unavailable to her children.

After a call from their grandmother, I began meeting weekly with each child, using art, play therapy and sand tray therapy, to encourage them to express and explore their feelings. Later, a children’s grief group would allow them to connect with other children going through a similar experience. I also met with their father to support and educate him in the grief process.

Finally, knowing the power of metaphorical stories as a way to help children process the issues in their lives, I wrote a simple story to be read with family members or any helping grownup. This story addressed the loss of their mother, validated their grief and let them know they were seen, heard, and understood. 

The day I read this story to the children and their father, the little girl said “That’s just like our mommy!” We all breathed a little easier. The healing process had begun. 

Well-meaning adults who are coping with their own emotions often assume children are too young to understand death and don’t know how to support them. Children experience deep and profound grief. Each child will react in their own different and unique ways. They may get into trouble at home or school, they may withdraw, becoming inaccessible and depressed or they may have a million questions all in an attempt to get help with their overwhelming feelings of loss. 

Don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Like the Two Brave Cubs and their father, families can and do heal from profound loss over time and with the support they need.