Back in 2017, my brother-in-law was dying. We all knew it. And yet, it felt like a secret. Something we couldn’t really say out loud. The terminology and mythology around “battling cancer” has the effect of making it feel like accepting the fact that you are going to die, is giving up. Not only was my brother-in-law dying, he had suddenly lost all feeling and ability in his legs. This combination left him depressed and hopeless. It made doing all the things we imagine we’ll do when we want to say goodbye basically impossible.
And it wasn’t just my brother-in-law who was suffering. Everyone who loved him was stuck in a sort of limbo. We were already grieving his impending loss but he was still here. I called it pre-grieving. Others have termed it “anticipatory grief.” It is a very real and very debilitating feeling that nobody understands until they’re living it.
My brother-in-law wanted to leave his toddler daughter with something. Voice messages. Letters. But by the time he was able to face what was coming, his body was in too much pain, to much decline, to act on it. It was devastating to watch. I’ve since seen other families go through similar situations with similar results.
I wrote YOU’LL FIND ME after my niece, then three years old and about seven months after her father’s death, came to visit me. Immediately upon entering my house, she found a prominently displayed picture of her dad, picked it up, and carried it around with her. When she left, I found the picture in her bedsheets. She’d slept with it. The words to this book flowed into my brain and I ran for a pen.
Between those two experiences, what I wanted in writing YOU’LL FIND ME was to provide a tool for families to use to say goodbye. To create a bridge when all our romanticized ideas about leaving letters or videos don’t happen. Sometimes, often times, it’s simply too hard to face what is coming so honestly and vulnerably. Sometimes, it is easier to allow a book to say the truths that we can’t yet utter. Sometimes those words will allow us to have an important conversation, even if it’s just saying, “When you cheer on our baseball team, I’ll be there with you.” Or, “I want you to remember me every time you visit the beach.” It could even be simply having the dying person sign their name in the book. Sometimes that is all they can do. But it can be enough.
A few months after my brother-in-law died, I went to breakfast with my husband and children. My husband and I were just coming out of our initial grief fog. At the table, my 6yo son suddenly got angry. “We never talk about Uncle Chris anymore!” He cried. We’d been trying to avoid the subject because I thought it was too sad for my kids. But what they wanted was to talk. They wanted to remember his jokes and how he named one of their stuffed animals Scratch Scratch Poop. In trying to protect them, I had been withholding valuable healing from them.
And so I hope YOU’LL FIND ME can also address this for families. Children grieve too. They want to talk about it. They want to remember. You can use the ideas found in YOU’LL FIND ME to set up remembrance rituals. I’ve heard of so many good ones. Referring to their late father’s favorite salad dressing as “Daddy’s Dressing.” Going out for ice cream because they loved sweet treats. Listening to their favorite song. Making their favorite cake.
When we lose someone, we want to still find ways to feel close to them. I hope YOU’LL FIND ME can lead the way in finding those traditions.
My dream for this book is to ease a family’s transition through death, from the first tinges of anticipatory grief, through the sacred remembrances we commit to every year. When a parent in the late stages of cancer finds it too hard to say goodbye, I want them to know they have this book. When a family is looking for ways to keep their loved ones memory alive, I want them to know they have this book. When my niece is grown and wondering how her dad feels or felt about her…she’ll have this book.
Amanda Rawson Hill is the author of heartfelt middle grade novels and picture books. Her picture book, You'll Find Me, is used by grieving families, therapists, and child life specialists. She lives in California with her husband and four children who she loves homeschooling, playing board games with, and attempting to teach to knit.