Badger’s Parting Gifts
by Susan Varley
published by Andersen Press in 1984
winner of the Kentucky Bluegrass Award
This is a wonderful picture book which is useful to share with children who are facing bereavement and loss. Susan Varley- creates a soothing tale focused on woodland creatures who must say goodbye to their beloved friend, Badger. I have done some courses on bereavement and grief counselling, and value highly this type of resource which can aid adults to have conversations with children about this emotive subject.
Badger was dependable, reliable, and always ready to lend a helping paw. He was also very old, and he knew almost everything. Badger was so old that he knew he must soon die.
Badger wasn’t afraid of death. Dying meant only that he would leave his body behind and, as his body didn’t work as well as it had in days gone by. Badger wasn’t too concerned about that. His only worry was how his friends would feel when he was gone.
At first, I felt, that this concept was too controversial and complex to be addressed in a children’s picture book, however I do think this approach is successful. It manages to present the idea of dying a “good death” – that death, can be a release and for some people, the most difficult thing about the natural process of dying, can be the fear of how loved one’s will cope with their emotions. Sometimes, physical pain and suffering become so great, that the desire to be released from that is overwhelming. I was very comforted to be reassured that as a Christian- it is not controversial to pray for a “good death” for a person- in fact, god honors that prayer.
Much to Badger’s surprise, he was running. Ahead of him was a very long tunnel. His legs felt strong and sure as he ran towards it. He no longer needed his walking stick, so he left it lying on the floor of the tunnel.
Badger moved swiftly, running faster and faster through the long passageway, until his paws no longer touched the earth. He felt himself turning head over paws, falling and tumbling, but nothing hurt. He felt free. It was as if he had fallen out of his body.
As part of his process of preparing for his own death- Badger takes time to write a kind note to his dear friends. Although they are all overcome with sadness on hearing the news of his passing- in time they go through a grieving process together and are able to cherish the memories of times they spent with their beloved friend, instead of dwelling on their separation.
Each of the animals had a special memory of Badger- something he had taught them that they could now do extremely well. He had given them each a parting gift to treasure always. Using these gifts they would be able to help each other.
Grieving takes time….something I have learned painfully myself. There are certain things which can help in the process, but trying to hasten or skip “steps” can result in getting “stuck”, and inevitably the time one tries to save by mitigating some of the grieving work- ends up being misspent.
I recommend keeping “reminders” or remembrances of your loved one to hand- to help you feel connected. It can be a special way of incorporating healing into one’s everyday life. What could be a broken landscape of tears and sadness, can become an opportunity to gaze upon beauty- and remember with gratitude.
I like to gather some of my special memorial items together- and will group them in areas, where I can look at them throughout my day.
One warm spring day as Mole was walking on the hillside where he’d last seen Badger, he wanted to thank his friend for his parting gift.
“Thank you, Badger” he said softly, believing that Badger would hear him.
And ….somehow….Badger did.