All shining in the spring: Teaching children about grief when another child dies

Lots of children sadly experience a death in their family that is harder to explain and much more difficult to process

Picture the scene. I’m heavily and obviously pregnant. I’m standing in a Dublin bookshop, and I’m saying to the bookseller, "Um ... do you have anything for children that explains about the death of a baby?"

The bookseller turns pale.

"I mean, you have books about pets dying," I say. ‘You have books about grandads dying."

The bookseller says, "Well, yes. Pets do die. And, you know, grandparents …"


That was the problem. It’s normal that children’s first experience of death is the demise of their old friend Spot or Moggy. That’s how children usually learn about loss. And then, maybe some years later, when a beloved grandparent dies, they have to learn how to grieve all over again, because it’s a very different experience. But we tell children that death is a normal part of life, that the pet or the grandparent has lived their life and now it’s time for them to go. That is true, and that helps.

But lots of children do sadly experience a death in their family that is harder to explain and much more difficult to process – maybe a parent or a sibling has a terminal illness or is killed in an accident, for example. And for a (blessedly) small number of children, their first experience of death may be the loss of a baby in the family, or in the family of one of their friends or classmates.

For the parents and family of the bereaved child – who are of course also bereaved themselves – it is very hard to know how to explain this terrible experience or how to give the child permission to be sad.

It’s tempting to say very little and hope the child will “get over it”, and often they will, or they will appear to. But children do feel these things, and they can be afraid as well as sad. They may be afraid for themselves, but they can also be afraid of upsetting their parents by showing their grief and fear.

When I knew my baby was not going to survive, my first instinct, after a storm of grief, was to try to support my son (who was six at the time) through this awful event. My husband and I had included him in the excitement of the pregnancy, and now he had to be included in the grief.

Which is why I stood in that bookshop and mortified the unfortunate bookseller. Who of course did not have a book that met my needs, because such a book did not exist.

So I wrote it myself. Initially for my own son, but then also for other families who needed it. It was published some years afterwards, and was available for many years for those families who needed it. But it has long been out of print. Until now. This spring, on the 30th birthday of that baby who died at birth, my older son, Matthew, for whom the book was originally written, is reissuing it as part of the 2021 list of Little Island Books.

When I sent my manuscript to a publisher all those years ago, I just wanted an opinion on this book, whether it was publishable. They said it would be a tricky proposition to publish a book like this, but, bravely, they said they would do it anyway. They also told me they thought I should consider writing more books for children. So I did, and I had a happy relationship with The O’Brien Press for many years and over many books. Much later, I set up my own children’s publishing company, Little island Books, which is now run by my son Matthew and which is reissuing All Shining in the Spring.

Siobhán Parkinson is the author of 30 books for children and adults. She also translates children's books from German, and she was Ireland's first Laureate na nÓg. She founded Little Island Books, which celebrated 10 years of publishing last year, and which is now headed up by her son Matthew