Finding Peace While Grieving

Caren: Some days are tough. Dur­ing this COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, our chil­dren face plen­ty of chal­lenges. Loss of play­ground time. Loss of play­dates. Changes in school rou­tines. Changes in home rou­tines. These days, chil­dren may need more time alone on a “peace blan­ket” to grieve their for­mer lives. The rest of us may need the same.

boy sitting on peace blanket
time alone on a peace blanket

There are many ways to soothe when cop­ing with loss and grief. Sto­ries can help too. One of the most pro­found pic­ture books about grief I’ve come across is The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Gar­den by Heather Smith, illus­trat­ed by Rachel Wada.

One NPR This Amer­i­can Life pod­cast inspired Heather Smith to share Mr. Sasaki’s sto­ry. Mr. Sasa­ki was heart­bro­ken when his cousin died. As a way to heal, he bought an old-fash­ioned tele­phone booth and placed it on a hill near his Japan­ese home over­look­ing the Pacif­ic Ocean. In it, he added an old rotary tele­phone con­nect­ed to nowhere. He called it his “wind tele­phone.” When­ev­er he need­ed to “talk” with his dead cousin, he would go to the booth, pick up the phone, and let his words of love be car­ried by the wind.

On March 13, 2011, the largest earth­quake record­ed in Japan struck, trig­ger­ing a mas­sive tsuna­mi and caus­ing a fright­en­ing nuclear plant acci­dent. Over 19,000 peo­ple lost their lives, 2,500 are still miss­ing. Mr. Sasaki’s phone booth sur­vived and soon became a land­mark for oth­ers griev­ing for their loved ones. After talk­ing on the “wind tele­phone,” one woman said, “We were so bro­ken. Talk­ing on the phone today changed some­thing.” That some­thing is the begin­ning of heal­ing and a search for per­son­al peace.

The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Gar­den fic­tion­al­izes this sto­ry for a young audi­ence. Young Makio los­es his father in the great tsuna­mi. Mr. Hior­ta los­es his daugh­ter. One day, Makio hears Mr. Hiro­ta ham­mer­ing away, build­ing, of all things, a phone booth. Hear­ing Mr. Hiro­ta speak to his lost daugh­ter, Makio final­ly finds his way to the phone booth. He picks up the phone to nowhere and pours out his heart.

The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Gar­den takes place after the tsuna­mi no one could con­trol. Our chil­dren face a viral tsuna­mi. What can we do to com­fort our chil­dren as we grieve ourselves?

Caren and Ellie: Going Deep­er — Sup­port­ing a Griev­ing Child

The Rabbit ListenedThe Nation­al Alliance for Griev­ing Chil­dren is a help­ful resource. Among the many sug­ges­tions, experts remind— us of ten ways to help chil­dren through the grief process: • Take care of your­self • Be hon­est • Lis­ten • Acknowl­edge your child’s grief • Share • Be cre­ative • Main­tain clear expec­ta­tions • Reas­sure your child • Cre­ate new rit­u­als and tra­di­tions • Be patient.

The pic­ture book, The Rab­bit Lis­tened by Cori Doer­rfeld, ten­der­ly illus­trates these ten steps to remind adults of the impor­tance of patience and lis­ten­ing while reas­sur­ing chil­dren that it’s pos­si­ble to over­come dark moments

Caren and Ellie: More Path­ways to Peace While Grieving

SlinkyPeace as a slinky: Think of grief, not as a lin­ear series of stages, but as a spi­ral­ing journey.

Some days are dif­fi­cult. Some days are brighter. We will always miss our loved ones, or for­ev­er har­bor shad­ows of trau­mat­ic events, but in time and heal­ing, grief can find its place along the con­tin­uüm of the spi­ral­ing life of our future selves.

rocking chairPeace in a rock­ing chair: In My Grandmother’s Hands: Racial­ized Trau­ma and the Path­way to Mend­ing Our Hearts and Bod­ies, author Res­maa Menakem speaks to the phys­i­ol­o­gy of trau­ma and the vagus nerve, Menakem calls the “soul nerve.” The vagus nerve is “where you expe­ri­ence a felt sense of love, com­pas­sion, fear, grief, dread, sad­ness, lone­li­ness … (148) Rock­ing is one of the most instinc­tive­ly human ways to sooth our bod­ies. Rock­ing with a child on our lap is one of the most nat­ur­al and heal­ing ways to cope with our dif­fi­cult times.

Peace on the page: Julia Cho’s Decem­ber 30, 2020 New York Times arti­cle, “A 12-Year-Old’s Let­ter to her Post-Pan­dem­ic Self” asks: How will you retain grat­i­tude for the return to nor­mal life?  Cho’s daughter’s response is a let­ter to her­self: “I’ve come from 2020 to remind you not to forget.”

Time may not heal all wounds, but time, love, lis­ten­ing, under­stand­ing — and sto­ries — can help chil­dren, and the rest of us, find heal­ing path­ways to peace as we grieve.


For each Peace-olo­gy post, Caren and Ellie part­ner to learn and explore the mean­ing of peace by talk­ing and lis­ten­ing with each oth­er. If you’d like to share your ideas about peace, books, and chil­dren, please share your com­ments here, or vis­it our websites.

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April Halprin Wayland
3 years ago

What a help­ful post. I’m send­ing this to a dear friend who is walk­ing her chil­dren (and her­self) through grief upon the impend­ing death of her husband/their father.

Caren B. Stelson
Caren B. Stelson
Reply to  April Halprin Wayland
3 years ago

April, thank you for your response to our blog about griev­ing. I’m so glad you found it help­ful and I sure hope your friend does too. Ellie and my hearts are with you and your friend as she walks such a dif­fi­cult path. Again, thanks for reach­ing out to us. Best, Caren