Every year in May, Dying Matters host an Awareness Week, which places the importance of talking about dying, death and bereavement firmly on the national agenda. In 2018, the week will run from 14th to the 20th of May and will be asking “What Can You Do… in your community?” To find out more about the week and to find events near you have a look at the Dying Matters website.
Books can be a huge help in many ways when talking about death and bereavement. They can provide practical help such as family law to help with wills and probate, to poetry books to help you choose the right poem for a funeral. We have all these and more in our libraries to help you.
Talking about death can be tricky, especially to children, and books are a good way to help with this. Below is a review from one of our librarians on a book that helped her through a very difficult time in her life.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, reviewed by Sam.
I have never been so scared to read a book in all my life than I have this one.
Last year I watched the film adaption of this book and I cried like a baby, then something unexpected happened, my mum was diagnosed with cancer and suddenly I was in the same shoes as Conor the young boy who this story is based around. Unlike Conor I only had a week before my mum sadly passed away. In the book Conor’s mother seems to have been suffering with cancer for a while going through various trials and treatments. I suppose in a way I was lucky that I didn’t have to suffer the horrible feeling Conor does of waiting for his mother to pass and guilt that Conor does which in turn causes him to summon the monster.
I felt that the use of the monster and his stories was a fantastic way to portray how a child rebels against life and it’s unfairness. The monster visits Conor three times and tells him three stories. These are very misleading as both the reader and Conor believe that the good person will always win and that justice will be done. However the monster shows him that unfortunately that isn’t always how the world works. During the monster’s visits Conor seems to have “black outs” where damage is done and it’s like a small child who has done something bad and blames their imaginary friend, “The monster did it”. I thought that this was a good way of showing how even though he is a teenager he is still a child.
During the book the adults in Conor’s life all have different ways in which they try to deal with the situation. His teachers give him special treatment – which leads to him being bullied by a gang of boys in his class. His grandmother is very hard but underneath she is caring and believes that Conor should be told the truth about what is happening. His parents both seem to want to hide some of the harsh facts with regards to his mother’s treatment. While reading this I agreed with the views of his grandmother as a lot of Conor’s frustration with the situation is that both his parents keep telling him everything is going to be fine and don’t worry about it but he knows that that’s not true. This causes him to bury what he knows to be true and pretend that everything is fine. I felt this way myself even though I was 25 at the time of my mum being in hospital with cancer, because I was my mum’s youngest I have always been somewhat put in a bubble whenever difficult things happen. You notice certain looks between people, things get said that you weren’t aware of and even though I am an adult people would rely on my older sister but not myself which was extremely frustrating. I felt that feeling throughout reading this book – the total and utter feeling of helplessness, that nothing you can do will help.
Another of the feelings that I felt throughout this book was isolation and loneliness. Despite his teachers offering to be there for support, his dad who comes back from America and him having to live with his grandmother, Conor spends most of his time alone or with the monster. Even in school surrounded by his classmates, he still feels alone. His main friend Lily has been cut off from him because despite them being close from their mothers’ friendship because she was told what was happening to his mum and told everyone at school. This caused what the kind of situation it always causes, that awkwardness, when people don’t know what to say so they don’t talk to you at all. The only “normal” contact Conor has and I say that in the loosest form possible is when Harry the teacher’s pet and his cronies bully him. Conor puts up with this because they are speaking to him and not treating him like he isn’t there. Eventually Conor uses the monster’s help when Harry decides that the worst thing for Conor would be treat him as if he were invisible.
I felt this book was a great way for people who may know someone who is going through this situation to try and understand what they are going through and how they may be feeling. It also helps identify the stigmas that cancer brings that no one wants to talk about and shows that not talking about it can actually make it worse in the long run. For me the best way if you ever find yourself in this unfortunate situation or know someone who has is to talk to them and ask them how they are feeling. Do something fun or have a cup of tea, treat them how you normally would and listen if they want to talk. That is what got me through and even a year later I’m still getting over the loss of my mum. It’s not something you ever lose but you also need to think about yourself. I think the book reflects this as Conor realises that those you love never really leave you, they are always with you in your memories.