Final chapter: finding the words to talk about the passing of a loved one

Helen O’Callaghan | 23 November 2021
Following the sudden death of her father, a psychologist and mum of two writes ‘A Robin’s Tale’  to help parents discuss the topic of dying with young children

After her beloved dad passed away suddenly five years ago, chartered psychologist and mum-of-two Noelle Rock realised she needed to find a way to support her children around the death.

In particular, Erin – who’s now eight years old – had bonded very closely with the granddad she called Poppy Tom.

“Because she was the first grandchild, she had really bonded with my mum and dad. His death was overwhelming for all of us. She was a little person with feelings – it was a massive shock for her. We were all impacted and she would have noticed that change in us,” says Noelle.

“After my dad died, we started getting visited by a robin, so it became our rhetoric – ‘there’s Poppy Tom coming to visit’,” explains Noelle, who growing up had come across this robin symbolism. “It’s just something we grew up hearing: a robin visiting was a loved one looking after us – granddad coming from Heaven to look in on us.”

A passionate believer in reading/telling stories to children at bedtime, the Leitrim-based mother – her son Senan is five – began to create stories for her children about the robin. These stories gradually evolved into a book to help children understand death through the robin symbolism. Her story renders the age-old tale of robins appearing in the form of a loved one, who has passed away, into moving poetry and illustrations to engage young readers and ease them into the difficult topic.

Published by Currach Books, A Robin’s Tale explores the grief and eventual recovery of a family from the passing of the father. It is recounted from the perspective of the father who has transformed into a robin and visits them to check on their health and happiness. The robin watches his family grow and flourish, joining them in their joy and sorrow.

Noelle says A Robin’s Tale is a tool to help parents discuss the sombre topic of death with young children. “Children have feelings but at a young age they don’t have the cognitive capacity to articulate their emotions. A Robin’s Tale is a metaphor. Pain is acknowledged and it gives the rhetoric of feelings and an opportunity to children to explore what they’re feeling.”

The story, she says, provides comfort. “It gives the feeling the person who is gone is safe – and that we’re still safe.”

Illustrator Sasha Sakhnevich uses a palette of autumn colours to bring the story to life and the gently illustrated robin, witnessing precious family moments, lightens a difficult topic.

The original article is available here.

A Robin’s Tale by Noelle Rock and illustrated by Sasha Sakhnevich is available here.