The Lessons of Starlight


{This is a little story I wrote several years ago, for children grieving losses that aren’t often addressed in age-appropriate and creative texts. The pandemic has taken so many of our beloveds; we know several families who have parted from dear ones through windows, screens, and phone calls. The loss can seem unbearable. Of course, we grieve together in our world; there is no other way, but children are so very sensitive to partings and grief. I believe the healing power of stories can speak to their seeking hearts. I offer my little story here for any comfort it can provide anyone you love, but especially little ones in their sorrow, and ask that, if you share it, you do so with my name–and love–attached. Respectfully, and in gentle peace, be well and safe.}

Papa Charlie and I went camping at the lake.
The pine trees and the waves whispered secrets back and forth.
The firelight snapped and made the shadows dance.
The moon curved like a smile and the stars were very bright.
They were red, and blue, and yellow, and white.

“A family of stars is called a constellation,” said Papa Charlie.
I searched the sky. “There’s the Big Dipper!”
“Good for you, Jack,” said Papa Charlie.
I smiled. “You and I, and Grandma Tess, and Mom, and Dad are a constellation.”
“Yes, we are, Jack,” laughed Papa Charlie.

I pointed and said, “There’s a W.”
“That’s Cassiopeia,” said Papa Charlie. “‘W,’ to remind us we should always ask WHY and keep learning.”
“You’re a good teacher, Papa Charlie,” I said.

“We’re looking at light that started its journey hundreds, even thousands of years ago,” said
Papa Charlie. “Starlight takes a long, long time to travel to Earth, Jack. Even after the star dies and is no longer there, we can look up and see its light coming to us, shining in the darkness. It is like seeing memories of the stars.”

An owl hooted beside the sleepy lake.
I yawned and Papa Charlie coughed.
The fire grew tired and dreamed its orange dreams beneath white ashes.

“Why do people die, Papa Charlie?”
“That’s a good question, Jack. Sometimes the answer to ‘why’ is a mystery.”
“Will we die?” I asked.
“Yes.” Papa Charlie nodded, adding a log to the fire.
“But our light will keep shining,” I said, “like the memories of stars.”
“You’re a good teacher, Jack,” said Papa Charlie.

“Does everything die, Papa Charlie?”
“No, Jack. Love doesn’t die.”

We sat close together and watched the stars.

Papa Charlie carried me to the tent.
The wind sang lullabies.
We all went to sleep: Papa Charlie, the pine trees, the lake, the fire, the wind, the owl, the stars, and me.

After that night, Papa Charlie was very sick.

When I went to visit him, I brought my books and we would learn together.
We learned about birds, and dogs, and bridges, and oceans.
“I still like learning about stars the best,” I told him.
“Me, too,” said Papa Charlie. He held me close and I heard his heart beating.

One day Papa Charlie died.

In the cemetery, the stones were gray.
Our umbrellas and coats and boots were black.
And everywhere, everywhere, white snowflakes whirled around us.

I hugged Grandma Tess. Then, Mom and Dad hugged us, too.
“We are a constellation,” I said.
Our tears glittered like stars.

There is so much I want to understand.

I miss Papa Charlie. I miss learning with him. I miss being still next to him.
I look up at the stars every night. They are red, and blue, and yellow, and white.
I will always see starlight that started its journey the night Papa Charlie and I went camping.

“I can see your light, Papa Charlie,” I say.
“It is always coming to me, shining in the darkness, carrying memories.”
I will keep learning.
And I will remember.
Love doesn’t die.”

Enlight162 (3)

6 thoughts on “The Lessons of Starlight

  1. So beautifully written! I lost all four of my grandparents when I was quite young. But, in India, death is dealt with in a very matter-of-fact way. We didn’t have any conversation around my grandparents’ deaths. This poem brought tears to my eyes as I remembered how I’d felt when my grandparents had died; I knew what it was but I couldn’t put a finger on my own emotions.


  2. Hello, my friend. I’m honored that my words touched this very tender part of your heart and—maybe—invited a healing moment for you. Such revelations often and gently nudge us into connections and new awareness, bypassing reason and directly opening to dormant feelings. I love art for its power to do this, not so much for the artist’s gifts, though that can be part of the mystery, but mainly because of the seeker’s ready willingness to be touched and healed.
    Blessings and joy to you and your beloveds in this new year.


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