The passing of a grandparent is often a young child’s first encounter with mortality.
I’ve always tried to keep open to life’s possibilities, taking the opportunity to say “yes” whenever prudent and possible. But when a chance conversation turned into a way of helping children cope with one of life’s great difficulties, I was very surprised.
In June 2011, while taking a writing break in Central Park, I sat on a bench near the softball fields. Most Park benches have plaques; this section of benches honored firemen who had died on 9/11.
A family of four on the next bench spoke a language both familiar and strange – Danish, it turned out. They were looking at a map, and I helped with directions to Strawberry Fields, the John Lennon memorial. The family included Glenn Ringtved, his wife, and two teen-age sons. He was, I discovered, a well-known children’s author whose works had yet to be translated into English. He described one of his books.
In December of 2001, Glenn’s mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness. She watched her son cry, and then said to him, “Cry, heart, but never break.” That night Glenn used her words for a book he wrote for his own then-young children, to help them deal with the loss that was to come. I was immediately taken with the subject matter.
In our culture, conversations about death and dying can be difficult. But, I thought, it could be different. When I first read Cry, Heart, I saw how the book managed, in just a few pages, to use the magical combination of words and pictures to help children begin to explore one of life’s greatest mysteries.
When I first read Cry, Heart, I saw how the book managed, in just a few pages, to use the magical combination of words and pictures to help children begin to explore one of life’s greatest mysteries.
Working from a word-for-word version of the text, I translated Cry, Heart, But Never Break into an American English I knew my grandchildren could understand.
Since its release earlier this year, the warm reception of this book has echoed what I knew to be true, and Cry Heart, But Never Break has begun to touch an American readership of children, families, parents, and grandparents.
What began as a chance encounter in Central Park has become a unique opportunity to bring this beautiful work to a new audience. Life is brief, but there is always time to discover new stories.
Death tells the kids:
“It is the same with life and death… What would life be worth if there were no death? Who would enjoy the sun if it never rained? Who would yearn for the day if there were no night?”