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‘Why I wrote a book for children  coping with grief’

Behind these figures are a not insignificant number of newly bereaved families each year, many of whom will have other children to support – children who will also feel the loss of their sibling very keenly. 

“I think maybe people don’t think [young children] will be affected by it,” says Poore, who used to run her own design business. “One minute George was very upset and wanted to talk about Lydie and know where she was and if he could jump in a rocket and go and see her; he’d ask if he could take her a toy and wanted to know if she was cold. Then he’d go off and start playing cars. 

“So some people watching from outside might think ‘they’re OK.’”

But much of George’s grief was expressed in his drawings. 

“He put a picture of Lydie in my husband’s birthday card,” says Poore. “Often I’d sit with him and say ‘tell me more about your picture,’ and that would open up conversations as well. But only when he wanted to.”

When she called Sands’ bereavement helpline, they explained to her how George’s level of cognitive development would affect his ability to understand and process the loss. Cruse Bereavement Care, one of the charities The Telegraph is supporting in its Christmas charity appeal this year, also explains on its site that between the ages of two and five, “children do not understand that death is irreversible”. 

Helping them come to terms with a bereavement requires a tailored approach. Learning this helped Poore chart a course through the choppiest waters.

“I was then able to have those conversations with George and explain to him Lydie couldn’t come back,” she says. “That her heart had stopped beating, that his heart was fine and wasn’t going to stop beating, and that he would be OK. 

“The conversations were incredibly hard for me as a parent. They were often questions that came out in the supermarket or walking to nursery, where you’re not prepared, and it completely floors you but you need to answer that question in the best way you can.”

When explaining complicated subjects to very young children, picture books can be a good place to start. But as far as Poore could tell, none were available when she most desperately needed them.

Her second son Henry arrived two years after Lydie’s death, following an anxious pregnancy. “The first question George asked was: Is this baby going to die too?’” recalls Poore. “I had to be honest and say: ‘We really hope not; we really hope this baby is going to be OK.’ Having lost his sister he knew what could happen. We were asking ourselves that question as well, all the time.”

Even after Henry was born, those kinds of questions recurred. Henry was initially unwell, and his first year was full of emergency procedures and worry for the family. Poore herself also had to undergo a couple of procedures in hospital. 

“Poor George was going through all this as well, and was always worried,” she says. “His first question was always: ‘Is Henry going to die? Are you going to die?’ A lot of his play centred around ambulances and saving me and Henry.

“There are books about grandparents dying and pets dying and I think those are the deaths society is willing to talk to children about because they feel those deaths will happen when the child is young.

“It’s not taking into account the more complicated deaths, which mean, for example, that George’s first experience of death was that of his sister. Any book about the death of a grandparent or pet wouldn’t have helped.”

So she decided to write and illustrate one herself: a picture book called Where Are You Lydie?, which she self-published after being told by a literary agent that her work fell into too “niche” a market. Based on the actual conversations she had with George, and on the dynamic of his relationship with Henry, the book gently takes the three-to-seven-year-old reader through some of the questions they might have around loss and grief. It is also based on how Poore’s family chooses to remember Lydie on her birthday. 

When Poore showed the book to Sands, she says the charity welcomed it as a resource for grieving families. It also welcomed the fact the illustrations depict her sons and daughter, rather than, say, cartoon animals. “They felt from the cognitive development side, that was the best thing because the child can put themselves in that position,” she explains.

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