Books and children go hand in hand. Many of my favorite memories with my children revolve around reading. I can still quote Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are by memory. My wife and I read a lot to our children and the oldest two have not lost their reading ways (we’ll let Dov get through college before we give up hope!). Because Oliver was in the hospital so much we read to him even more. One of his favorite books was The Jesus Storybook that was sent to us as a gift.
The book takes great liberties with the Bible to make it understandable to children, but it works. And the stories are interesting and the illustrations are bold and we worked our way through it at least a couple of times. While Oliver’s bedroom is still filled with everything that was his (no, we have not cleared it out yet) that book and a few other items I pulled aside because they are special to me in my relationship with Oliver.
This year I’ve pulled that Bible back out to read to my first graders each week when I teach catechism. They love it as much as Oliver did and I love the connection with Oliver that they don’t even know about it. Books can connect us with people we’ve never even known.
I grew up loving an old edition of Winnie-the-Pooh with the original stories. My daughter, Maria, especially connected with those stories when she was little so now I’m giving my granddaughter an edition that looks like the one we read (I can’t give that version up yet!).
And I’m writing about books on a blog about grief, why? Grief is a void left when something ends, especially the life of someone we love. Anything that crosses the void and connects with the one we miss is a gift. Such are books. When I read the Bible to my first graders I’m reading to Oliver. When I recited Goodnight Moon to my granddaughter, Scout, I was reading to all my children, including Oliver. Books allow me another connection with Oliver and are thus part of the grieving process — a positive part.
Below is a poem I committed to memory due to repeated readings. All my children would hear this poem as they drifted off to sleep. I recited it countless times to Oliver at home and in the hospital, rubbing his back as he drifted off to sleep. Sometimes the line ‘”and some folk thought ’twas a dream they’d dreamed” comes to mind when my wife and I say that Oliver’s presence was so short it seems but a dream. But it wasn’t a dream and for that I am grateful.
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe,—
Sailed on a river of crystal light
Into a sea of dew.
“Where are you going, and what do you wish?”
The old moon asked the three.
“We have come to fish for the herring-fish
That live in this beautiful sea;
Nets of silver and gold have we,”
The old moon laughed and sang a song,
As they rocked in the wooden shoe;
And the wind that sped them all night long
Ruffled the waves of dew;
The little stars were the herring-fish
That lived in the beautiful sea.
“Now cast your nets wherever you wish,—
Never afraid are we!”
So cried the stars to the fishermen three,
All night long their nets they threw
To the stars in the twinkling foam,—
Then down from the skies came the wooden shoe,
Bringing the fishermen home:
‘Twas all so pretty a sail, it seemed
As if it could not be;
And some folk thought ’twas a dream they’d dreamed
Of sailing that beautiful sea;
But I shall name you the fishermen three:
Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes,
And Nod is a little head,
And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies
Is a wee one’s trundle-bed;
So shut your eyes while Mother sings
Of wonderful sights that be,
And you shall see the beautiful things
As you rock in the misty sea
Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three:—
(Goodnight little man!)