By DAVID CRUMM
ReadTheSpirit magazine editor
This year, the CDC reports that more than 2.6 million men, women and children will die in the U.S.—leaving tens of millions of family members grieving the loss. Year after year, this is a sad truth about life in America that most of us tend to overlook.
Then, often with no warning, the death of a loved one strikes us like a thunderclap! Suddenly, we are in the circle of grief, as well, pondering with friends and family the loss we share.
Fortunately for the countless mourning families, each year, thoughtful community leaders stand ready to assist. More than that, they always are looking for fresh ways to help. Among the most creative of these compassionate professionals are the writer and the artist behind Never Long Enough, a unique new illustrated book that prompts families to share life’s most important memories.
Right now, word of mouth about the new book is spreading coast to coast.
An elementary-school teacher in Illinois heard about the book a week ago and told me, “I’ve got a child in my class whose grandmother is dying and it’s such a difficult time for her that I can see effects in our class of what’s going on at home with her family. I’ve been looking for something that might help—so I’d like to try offering this book. I love the idea that the book sets aside space to write something yourself. I’m a teacher, so that’s something I really want to encourage: Talk and remember stories—and then express yourself. What a great idea.”
Clergy, health-care providers, funeral directors, educators, social workers all are among the first readers of this brand new book. (Want a copy? You can order it in a reasonably priced paperback format. Or, if you’re intending the book as a keepsake for someone, there’s also a hardcover.)
“Wow, this is different. We can flip through the pages with someone—until we reach a page where the picture or the words just click. That’s a great idea,” said a social worker who first heard about the book late last week. As she talked, she flipped through the book’s pages herself, stopping at the image of a hug. “And I love it that there are images in this book for everyone. It’s not just for one cultural group. Everyone seems to be welcome here.”
That response was echoed by the Rev. Kenneth Flowers, a prominent Detroit pastor known for his decades of work on civil rights and cross-cultural issues.
“This beautiful work transcends race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation as everyone in the human family must one day face the death of a loved one,” Flowers said after seeing an early copy of the book. “When that happens, we inevitably ask God, ‘Why now?’ Even when my grandmother died at 94 and my father at 38, I equally felt that I didn’t have them long enough. Yet, the comforting words contained in this cutting-edge book touched my heart—50 years after my father’s death and 18 years after my grandmother’s death.”
That’s the unique chemistry of this book:
- Thought-provoking artwork in a wide range of styles so everyone can find inspirational images to ponder
- Coupled with reassuring words that echo our natural reflections at a time of death
- All bound into a book with extra space set aside to add personal memories either with a pen or pencils—or by pasting favorite photos or clippings.
SHARING STORIES IN NEW WAYS
In creating Never Long Enough, Rabbi Joseph H. Krakoff and artist Dr. Michelle Y. Sider brought together their professional expertise with families.
Krakoff drew on lessons learned in many years of counseling adults and children wrestling with death, grief and remembrance. Sider’s years working as an artist, arts educator and psychologist influenced her approach in creating evocative images that demonstrate how art can help to unlock emotions and heal the heart. Together, they crafted an interactive keepsake book for families and friends, complete with pages to add personal reflections thereby transforming the book into an individualized tribute to a loved one.
Never Long Enough is designed to be read along with someone nearing the end of life—or, it can be read by mourners after a death. Whenever this book is opened, it becomes an active invitation for conversation, lifting up memories and preserving the legacy of someone’s life.
“For many years, I’ve been working with families to guide them through honest conversations about the legacy and the values that remain even as someone we love dies,” Krakoff said. “This text has already comforted so many families through this difficult, emotionally charged time.”
Krakoff developed the thought-provoking text while in Rabbinical School at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. As he shared that text with families, he realized that powerful imagery would heighten the healing process of reflection.
Sider agreed. “I’ve seen how art can help people express themselves, bring out their feelings and tell stories,” she said. “By weaving the words and art together, I hope the reader will move slowly through the pages and reflect deeply on the words. Reading and responding to this book as an individual or with loved ones becomes a very compelling and helpful experience.”
‘STILL A LOT OF HEALING TO DO’
Death isn’t the end. All the world’s great religions include some promise that our years on the earth aren’t the limit of our lives—a legacy remains. Some faiths include a vivid description of heaven where saints and angels live eternally, other faiths teach about reincarnation—and still other traditions promise that, even if there is no specific spiritual afterlife, our memories, values and legacy can resonate through future generations.
This book doesn’t teach doctrine. Rather, the pages invite readers to remember a person’s living legacy that is universally celebrated in all faiths.
The key is that this book centers on conversations family and friends need to have around the end of a loved one’s life—a process encouraged by clergy, chaplains and counselors of all traditions.
“This is so important,” Krakoff said. “It is a universal truth. We need to guide individuals and their families to have honest conversations about the end of life. Even when we reach the point that we can no longer heal the physical body, there is still a lot of healing to do, emotionally and psychologically. Whatever your religious tradition might be, that’s a truth we share.”
As a rabbi, Krakoff has worked with families in this way for a long time. Currently, he is the Senior Director at the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network, so he serves and teaches across a much wider territory. Over the years, he often showed families the poem that inspired the text in this book. Then, inspired by Krakoff’s helpful text, Sider envisioned the accompanying artwork. Using various techniques from charcoal to paint, she created stirring images that powerfully illuminate the text.
“I’ve always looked for ways to use art to help others—it’s a way of getting to our emotions through images that connect with our lives,” Sider said. “As we go through the end of a life, we often find a disconnect with the intellectual process as these deep feelings emerge. Using our senses through art, movement and music helps us to tap into what’s happening to us and to our families in a different way.”
“As we developed this book,” Krakoff added, “I liked the way that readers can linger on any page that connects with their experience. As you move through the book at whatever pace you choose, we’re trying to evoke memories of those amazing, special, incredible times you’ve shared with people. We ask you to remember laughing, kissing, hugging. Yes, we know we will bring tears, but we also want to bring smiles and happiness.”
‘DON’T WAIT TO TALK’
There’s also a practical benefit in this process, especially if families go through the book with their loved one before death, Krakoff explained. “As a rabbi, so many times I hear from families who feel it’s an obligation to share memories at a funeral. In Judaism, there’s also a traditional time of sharing stories and memories in the home, a period of days called shiva. Different religious traditions have different ways of doing this, but it’s a universal desire to share the most important memories with others.
“But, how do we identify and lift up those memories? After someone dies, we’re sometimes challenged to remember what we want to share. If we do recall important memories, we may forget them later. We hope that the whole process of using this book—reading it together, talking, sharing, making some notes—will make this a much richer experience for the family, and one we can preserve.”
Sider said, “Another way to describe this is to say: Our book reminds people they’re not alone. In a sense, giving someone this book, then spending time with it, is like giving someone a really big hug.”
“I like that description,” Krakoff said. “And, I really do hope people take our invitation to go through this book with someone while they’re still alive. In my work with the hospice network, I do this a lot. I sit and talk with people nearing the end of life. And I can tell you, it’s so important.
“Then, after a death as I’m preparing a eulogy, people share more memories with me—especially things they wish they’d said about the person. I always wonder: How many of these things did they actually say while the person was still alive? Did they give that person an opportunity to talk about these wonderful things that we’re sharing after death. In this book, we’re giving people permission and encouragement to have those conversations whenever they’re ready. And, I hope people don’t wait to talk.”
Care to learn more?
Visit the book’s website: https://neverlongenough.net/