Do toddlers experience grief and loss? On a daily basis! Who could doubt it who has seen a two-year-old in meltdown mode when separated from mommy, daddy, or a missing blankie for five minutes?
They suffer because they’re so young. Lacking repeated, reassuring experience that parents usually return, and that blankies are found (under the sofa or in the dog’s basket?), each separation is perceived as final and forever. This leads to howls of anguish and despair.
I relate to this totally. At the time when I was creating the final stories for the Little Big Book collection, I was losing my husband to cancer. At my age, I knew it was final. I felt like throwing a tantrum myself!
However, learning how to cope with Loss is one of the biggest ticket items in the human journey. Since it is one of the missions of Little Big to produce books that deal with “Big Ideas for Little People,” we could hardly leave it out.
But how was I to approach the subject in an age-appropriate manner? How deal with it honestly, while treading carefully, so as not to alarm or make my young readers anxious? How can anyone be positive and upbeat about Loss?
A sunflower came to my rescue. I had bought a small one at the grocery store to brighten Joe’s breakfast tray and my mood. As I set it on the tray, I remembered that, In Spanish, a sunflower is called “mirasol.” It means “Looking at the sun.” It’s a symbol of rebirth and regeneration, of turning to the light.
It was an epiphany for me. To cope with Loss, you have to turn to the light! I decided to name my Loss book “SUNFLOWER!” And set about writing the simple story that came into my head.
It tells of a little boy who plants a seed in the ground. To his delight, and to the amazement of his animal friends, it grows and grows and grows into a great, big, beautiful SUNFLOWER! Everybody loves his sunflower. Everybody comes to see it. He’s so proud! It’s his greatest achievement in his short life.
Then, one day, his sunflower dies. It lies at his feet, crumpled, dried, and lifeless.
“Why did my sunflower die?” he cries in anguish.
The big question. WHY?
Why me? Why MY loved one?
Then he notices something important. His sunflower left him a present! Many, many seeds. They look good enough to eat, and they are. He shares them with his friends. They eat them all. All but one. And that, they put in the ground.
If it’s like the first seed, it will grow again! And it will.
Question: What are the seeds? The present the sunflower left behind for the child?
They are memories. Memories that can be shared with friends and family. With strangers even, friends whom we have yet to meet. Memories that sustain and nourish body, mind and spirit. Memories that build community.
What of the ONE seed? The one they do not eat? The one they put back into the ground? That seed is LOVE.
It is what brought the first sunflower into being and into full glory. It is what created the seeds of the memory of shared life.
That is the task left to those who have suffered loss at any age.
We must take that special seed. Plant it. Trust that it will grow again. For the seed is Love. And Love is life and light.
And that is the story behind SUNFLOWER.