How do you talk to a child about death?
When my daughters want to know why they no longer see a dear friend at church anymore, or how come their great-granddad had to die before they met him, I am profoundly grateful for the Resurrection. You will meet him one day, I say. You will see her again.
This is not fluffy-winged, angel-studded wishful thinking, but a promise: Jesus has gone first, through death and into new life (1 Corinthians 15:20). He died and rose from the dead, and he has made a way for us to follow him. Clothed in resurrected bodies, we will sit at the table with him and feast; we will fill a city with song; we will see our heavenly Father face to face.
We do not know what will happen between now and that moment, and sometimes the not knowing is bitter. But, I tell them, God knows how our stories go, and he will help us bear our burdens. He will shepherd us through those gates.
I am glad for that hope when they sigh heavily or fearfully connect the dot “she died” with “I could die, too.” In those moments, we can look back to Jesus, who died—and yet what beauty came through his death! And we can look a back further still to Lazarus, whose story is both a beacon of what Jesus can do, as well as a foretelling of what he would do in himself.
Goodbye to Goodbyes, the newest installment of my absolutely favorite series Tales That Tell the Truth, shares the story of Lazarus and his sisters. Lauren Chandler’s telling is both gentle and honest—Jesus doesn’t swoop on the scene like a superhero and command Lazarus to live amid a cloud of applause and confetti. He takes his time coming to Lazarus, and Chandler lets that sink in: Mary and Martha called for him, and Jesus didn’t come right away. And while he dawdled, Lazarus died.
But when at last Jesus does come, we see why he waited. And in the meantime, we see him grieving with Mary and Martha—Catalina Echeverri’s illustrations (again, among my favorites) capture their grief in a way that feels true to life and yet isn’t overwhelming for young readers. They weep and it’s messy, and the way Jesus holds them—I feel comforted just looking at it.
(In fact, those pictures of Jesus holding tight to them in their grief might be my favorite scenes in the whole book. We cannot see him now, but that reminder that he has arms for holding the hurting and that we will one day see and feel them wrapped around us—that is beautiful. I feel a little sniffly thinking about it.)
I said in my post about The Friend Who Forgives that that one was my favorite of the Tales That Tell the Truth because it was the one I’d read most recently. Which means that this one must now be my favorite. And it is.
But I think it might really and truly be my favorite because of the story and the grace with which it’s handled. Giving children a book that addresses both the sorrow of grief and the hope of resurrection—that is beautiful and hard to do, and I am so grateful Lauren Chandler has done it.
Goodbye to Goodbyes: A True Story About Lazarus and an Empty Tomb
Lauren Chandler; Catalina Echeverri (2019)