Life lessons through literature: Grieving a raccoon

Sometimes reading good books together can lead you onto paths that you are not expecting — just like life.

The girls and I have been enjoying our latest read-aloud, Kildee House by Rutherford Montgomery. I had never heard of this book, but picked it up after it came highly recommended in some context that I have since forgotten. Anyway, it is a Newbery Honor book and it features a woodland home that becomes a refuge for wild animals. What could go wrong?

Yesterday at breakfast, we were so thoroughly engaged in our reading that we couldn’t stop, oblivious to the hard kitchen chairs we sat upon and the milky bowls strewn about us at the table. But in the midst of chapter three, an unexpected plot twist occurred [spoiler alert] and Mrs. Grouch, a dear raccoon, dies suddenly at the mouth of a Doberman. I read on with trepidation, knowing that our girls are quite sensitive to violence and imagery, and that for seven-year-old Rosie, nothing is worse than the death of an animal. And so the chapter ended…and Rosie burst into tears.
Tissues, toy cats, and Kildee House.

Lucy comforted her sister with great compassion, bringing Rosie tissues and piles of stuffed animals. Rosie sat on my lap and wept while we murmured about how awful that part was, and speculated about why the author would write the story that way, and prayed together for Mrs. Grouch. After several minutes, we moved to more comfortable seating, and I decided to read a bit more to see if we could find some redemption in the tragedy.

The next chapters are still grief-filled as the main character (a stone-worker by trade) crafts a beautiful headstone for the grave of this raccoon. Rosie wept more, and we read more, until the plot turned toward a fateful encounter between the Doberman and a self-defensive skunk. This seemed to diffuse the tension, and we were able to move on into the rest of our day.
Rosie writing.

I did wonder that morning, should I just stop reading the book for awhile? do the girls need a bit of time to get some distance from the story? Is this too much for the tender, animal-loving heart of Rosie who, as she says, “cares for everything”? But I’m glad we kept at it. Small as it was, we experienced together a taste of what it means to grieve well — to weep in community, to talk and wonder, to continue on, and to see what happens next.

And so, although I am careful about overwhelming these sensitive girls, I’m grateful for the unexpected moments together in literature that teach us to live well. I pray that these girls will not know grief in their lives for a good long time, but that when they do experience loss, the lessons they learned from Kildee House will echo in their souls, reminding them of the healing powers of tears, community, and time.

6 Replies to “Life lessons through literature: Grieving a raccoon”

  1. So beautiful. Thanks for sharing this. I love your take on “what it means to grieve well…” This is something that society seems to have such a big influence on. “Why aren’t you over it?!” seems to be more the mantra, instead of giving time, space and perhaps an occasional stuffed animal! What a wonderful piece of real life you shared today. <3

    1. I agree, Lisa. It is tricky to find the sweet spot between denial and being overwhelmed with emotion, but somewhere there is a place of learning to tolerate the pain and embrace comfort. So grateful for good books to give us practice in finding that sweet spot!

  2. Youse is a good moma, Ann. That is a really touching, warm, loving portrait of children being raised in the arms of love. Thank you for letting us in on that moment.

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