PROSPECT — At a distance, stone bleeds into stone. The graveyard homages prove so subtle, they are barely perceptible to most eyes.
Venture closer among the graves at most Jewish cemeteries and you will see them more clearly: stones perched inconspicuously atop the clean-cut slabs. The Jewish tradition — the small act of mourners leaving rocks and stones at loved ones’ burial sites — speaks volumes. Someone cared for the person interred here, the inanimate symbols signify. This person is not forgotten.
At her husband’s grave site in Cheshire’s Hillside Cemetery, Renee Londner follows the ritual, placing not only stones, but mementos of the lives they shared. Yet the rocks, bits of sea glass and other trinkets are not the wife’s only tribute to her husband of 33 years, Michael, a former chemical engineer who died of cancer in 2007.
This spring, Londner, of Prospect, published her second children’s book, “Stones for Grandpa.” Small details about Londner’s husband and family, especially his grandchildren, permeate the book. But its focus is helping children in general cope with the death of a grandparent. The simple-yet-poignant, illustrated story follows a family through a year of firsts without grandpa. It starts with the unveiling of the headstone and moves through events like the first Hanukkah without him. But instead of dwelling on absences, the narrator — a young boy — learns from his mother that “whenever we feel sad, we should remember Grandpa laughing.”
The idea for the book, published by the Judaica children’s book publisher Kar-Ben, came about four years ago.
“I’d like to find a gentler way of presenting death to kids,” explained Londner, adding though death inevitably brings grief, remembrance should focus on a person’s life. “We talk about (Michael) all the time, and it’s not a sad thing.”
The book targets children ages 5 to 9. Its text addresses fears of forgetting someone, and shows a fictitious family creating a memory box and paging through pictures. It also includes a realization by a child that his mother might be sad because she just lost her parent.
“It’s a tough topic. I wanted to be straightforward. You can’t talk down to children. They’re so much wiser than we think,” said the former special education teacher.
Londner hopes that the interpretation of some of her own family’s experiences with loss will resonate for other families of all faiths. The widowed mother of two and grandmother of three plans to share the book with children at local schools and in community groups in coming weeks.
“I’m hoping it will be helpful when I talk to children,” she said, explaining she will bring a memory box she made for her husband that others could emulate. “I tell them, ‘Put in things that made you laugh and hopefully it won’t make you sad.'”
“Stones for Grandpa” serves as a literary memory box of sorts. The grandfather character shares the special nickname Londner’s grandchildren called him — “Duke,” a reflection of his love of John Wayne movies — and the activities he enjoyed, from stargazing to knot-tying.
Londner described her own journey to what she called a “new normal” after her husband died. She sought out a bereavement group and ended up co-facilitating one at an area temple.
“I miss him. He was also my best friend,” she said, lifting her glasses to dab her dark brown eyes with the pad of her finger.
Londner still visits the cemetery, and takes a stone or special flower with her each time. On one visit, she sat beside her husband’s grave and read aloud the book she had conceived in his memory.
Said Londner, “He hasn’t been forgotten.”
For more information on “Stones for Grandpa,” call 1-800-4KARBEN or visit www.karben.com.