When you become a parent, you don’t think about how you will explain death to your child. Once they’re born, your mind fills with a million other thoughts. True, some are worries and fears, but most of them are happy and filled with hope for the future.
And as they grow up scrapbooks fill with photos of “firsts.” Their first Christmas. Their first birthday. Their first solid food. Their first big girl shoes. Heck, even their first time at the DMV … there really is no limit to what you’ll want memorialized, especially for the first one.
Those are the firsts you want to remember, the pictures you go back to induce that warm, fuzzy feeling after a rough day. Or, as some parents do — I won’t name names — to embarrass your kid in front of friends.
But there’s never a photo of the first time a child learns about death.
It’s a conversation parents dread. And if the person who died is a grandparent, as it often is, trying to stifle your own emotions — even a little bit — to reassure them that everything is OK takes a herculean effort.
In an ideal world, the conversation wouldn’t come until your child is older. But as the past year has shown, we don’t live in an ideal world.
The pandemic has claimed hundreds of thousands of American lives, and each one of them is someone’s child, parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, cousin or grandparent. The conversation is coming sooner, and it cannot be brushed under the rug. It must be addressed head on, but with an abundance of care, compassion and emotional support.
Tallahassee power couple Ron Sachs, a nationally respected communications consultant, and his wife Gay Webster-Sachs, a licensed mental health counselor, hope to make that conversation a little easier for families with the release of “The Secret in the Clouds.”
“We’re very proud to have conceived and created this simple but important story to help children everywhere cope with the hardest thing in the world: losing a loved one,” Sachs said. “We dedicate the book to all children, whose sights ought to be uplifted with hope, imagination, love, beauty, inspiration, and faith in today and tomorrow.”
The new children’s book is the perfect marriage of their talents, featuring sound strategies to work through grief and loss, and communicating them in a way that children can understand. It is brought to life with beautiful original water-color illustrations by Nancy Simons Sica, with a dramatic layout designed by her husband, Aurelio Sica.
The central character is Sunny Albright, an imaginative 7-year-old girl whose entire routine and life are dramatically disrupted by the impact of the pandemic on her family and community.
As Sunny confronts the pain associated with losing a loved one, she also loses her energy and imagination. She learns how to process her grief with the help of her family and a mental health professional — and some fictional heavenly cloud characters appear in her sleep to also help restore her to a healthier place.
The story is especially close to Webster-Sachs’ heart, as she suffered the loss of her father when she was only 10 years old. As a mental health counselor specializing in hospice care, she has dedicated her life to helping others, especially children, cope with the pain of losing a loved one.
“Too many adults believe that not talking about loss with children is the best way to protect them from continuing pain, but just the opposite is true,” Webster-Sachs said. “Open and honest communication helps children express their feelings and trusts them with the facts and truth about death being a part of all lives, for people and animals. It is the proper way to help them navigate such difficult and traumatic events.”
She says the book provides important messages for parents about helping children learn how to accept loss as a part of life.
“The Secret in the Clouds” will help more than the families who read it with their children — the Sachs family is directing all their profits from the book’s sale to Tallahassee-based Big Bend Hospice to help fund the organization’s important mission work.
“Helping children through loss and grief can be confusing and challenging for anyone, and without guidance children are very likely to struggle,” said Paul A. Ledford, president and CEO of the Florida Hospice & Palliative Care Association. “With its powerful plotline and lovely illustrations, ‘The Secret in the Clouds’ serves as a valuable tool in opening deeper conversations with young children about death, loss, grief and how to get through it in a mentally healthy way.”
“The Secret in the Clouds” is available for purchase online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble in hardcover and e-book editions. It is also available at Tallahassee’s Midtown Reader, which will host a live virtual reading on March 6.