More than 20 years ago, Billy and Lynn Light of Dunwoody both lost their mothers within the same year. Losing a beloved parent is hard enough, but how do you explain the illness and loss of two doting grandmothers to a preschooler and a 7 year old?
Faced with such questions as “Where is grandma” and “What is dying?,” Billy Light turned to his own faith rather than the self-help section of a bookstore.
“I believe in God, I believe in heaven,” said Light. “I said God didn’t want them to suffer anymore, and they are looking down on us and smiling.” He told the children their grandmothers were the brightest stars in the sky. “She can’t talk to us but she is always listening,” he said.
Light didn’t just talk to his children, Lindsey, then 7, and Andrew, then 5. He wrote a story for them about their grandmothers and asked his daughter to draw pictures to accompany the words. Light recently self-published the book, “Grandmas Never Leave Us,” with the hope that it will help other families.
Light wrote not just about the good times the children shared with Louise Light and Shirley Ruskin, but also about visiting them in the hospital. Lindsey’s drawings depicted circus clowns and Ruskin’s famous birthday cakes, as well as the children standing beside grandma at her hospital bedside.
As time passed, the typewritten pages of the book, along with the original handwritten pages, were put in an envelope and tucked away in a drawer.
Lindsey is now 30 and married to Michael Kuniansky, who had created a hardcover book of family photos. Light admired the book and that sparked a memory for Lindsey and Lynn, who retrieved the envelope containing Light’s manuscript and gave it to Kuniansky to create a hardcover version.
The book was presented to Light as a surprise birthday present. “It was the greatest gift I’ve ever gotten,” he said.
“Publishing never crossed our minds,” said Lynn. Other people who saw the book thought differently.
“Everyone I showed the book to said, ‘you should do something with this,’” Light said.
Andrew, now 28, created computer files of Kuniansky’s version of the book, and “Grandma Never Leaves Us” was published.
According to Lindsey and Andrew, the original version accomplished its goal.
Andrew has few memories of time spent with his grandmothers, yet, “To this day I still look up in the sky and see the stars and remember the story my dad told me,” he said. From an adult perspective, Andrew thinks it’s impressive that his father created something for his children when he was dealing with his own grief. “His mother died, but he was most worried about us,” he said.
Lindsey doesn’t recall asking her father questions about death, but she vividly remembers his answers. “He said our grandmothers were the brightest stars in the sky and they were the boss of heaven. We told all our friends about the stars,” Lindsey said.
She said her pictures “summed up our life with [our grandmothers] and how happy we were.”
Licensed clinical social worker Dan Arnold backs up the method Light used to tell his children about illness, dying and death.
“Children take the lead from their parents as to how they’re going to grieve. He helped the make sense of the situation. He opened up the dialogue and listened to them. He spoke to the children on a level they could understand,” said Arnold, the clinical supervisor of the Tools For Families program of Jewish Family and Career Services, headquartered in Dunwoody.
Arnold appeared with Light and Lindsey when they gave a talk recently at the Book Festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta in Dunwoody. Speaking to a crowd of about 100 people, including friends and family, Light shared his family’s experience while Arnold answered clinical questions from the audience.
Light is gratified by the response to his book and its message. The reason he published “Grandmas Never Leave Us” he said, is “to help other kids ease their pain just a little bit.”
For more information, visit www.grandmasneverleaveus.com.
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