Giving Hope

Conversations with Children About Illness, Death and Loss

Now available

Co-written with Elena Lister M.D.

The best and only resource you will ever need for helping any child understand and cope with loss and death.

Just as death is inevitable, talking about death is an inevitable part of parenting. The authors offer us the way to have conversations that are as much about life as about illness, death, loss and grief; conversations that anyone who parents, guides, counsels or comforts children can have.

Giving Hope is a must-have resource that expands our understanding of how to prepare for, initiate and facilitate these personal and profound conversations. The approach is honest, practical and compassionate and will benefit a grieving child now and in the future. Giving Hope offers us tools to make our children’s memories positive and life-affirming.

Author’s Notes

When people come into my consulting room, often I know nothing about them.  My first question is usually something like “What brings you here today?”  This is different.  In writing this book, I assume I already know something about you.  You are either a parent, a grandparent, a loving caregiver who has assumed the responsibility for helping a child weather one of the most painful experiences of childhood.  Perhaps you are the one who must share sad news.  Perhaps you are the one to help pick up the pieces. You are either apprehensive or filled with dread.  You are eager to engage your child or reluctant to talk or, maybe even, intent on avoidance. You feel unease and discomfort at the task ahead or maybe you are distraught yourself and feel completely unable to move forward. What do you do?  How do you do it?  Should you bring it up? What if you say the wrong thing? What if your child doesn’t want to talk?  Wherever you fall on this spectrum of loss and grief, anticipated or already experienced, Dr. Lister and I wrote this book for you.

There are many significant reasons to talk to your child about illness, loss and death and they are discussed throughout Giving Hope.  But the main underlying foundational idea, the key I have learned through my personal and professional experiences over the past forty-something years, is that starting conversations with your child at the earliest ages about the most difficult of topics in a way that is attuned to where your child is developmentally and emotionally helps lay the groundwork for future conversations—future conversations where you can continue to be a trusted source of knowledge, insight and comfort. These are deep connections and provide some of the most important blessings a parent can bestow upon a child.

Conversations such as these, at the simplest level, help to develop your child’s trust, resilience, strength, understanding and empathy.  They form the foundation for engaging in relationships fully, surviving the most difficult challenges and flourishing throughout life’s many stages. Giving Hope guides you through conversations that can signal attunement and understanding of where your child is and what he needs, that siphon off your own feelings so they do not cloud your vision of your child’s experience.  It can help you to reach your children, at different ages, where they are, and understand their responses and reactions to help them through to a balanced and manageable experience where they, too, can identify, understand and handle hard feelings.

Throughout the book, Dr. Lister and I share real stories about our own experiences and those of friends and patients alike who have had to confront the challenge of helping a child through loss and its aftermath.  Although the word “parent” is used throughout for the sake of simplicity, this book is meant for anyone who takes up the challenge to help a child during this time.

This is a very personal and painful journey and while each parent and child experiences it in their own way, according to their unique circumstances, there are overriding guideposts along the way that are important to share with you. For those who choose to read cover to cover, stories illustrate major points and guides for real conversations you can have with your child—how to begin a talk, how to answer a question, when to end the exchange.  For those who find it more helpful to use this book as a resource, “takeaways” are provided along with chapter titles and subtitles to highlight the issues covered and help you locate specific topics. The book is organized in sections that capture the essence of particular challenges from why people are so unsettled by talking about death to the practical steps to undertake a conversation, from how to address the death of an aging pet to how to broach the unexpected loss of a parent.  While the chapters were planned to be read in order, you may find it useful to dip into them according to your own needs and then to refer to others over the course of time.  Either way, my hope is that this book eases your way as you and your child transverse the painful passage from loss to hope.


“I am so grateful for this important book, a resource that is sorely needed. We have a duty to our children to offer them a clear and genuine hope when facing the realities of death and dying. Dr. Lister and Dr. Schwartzman have given us a powerful tool to help us do that work and do it well.  Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me.’ We must do no less.”
—The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church and author of Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times

“Ultimately, this is a book about truth, courage, empathy, and respect for children who must learn to live with loss and their parents who must guide them.”
—Steve Leder, bestselling author of The Beauty of What Remains

“What a gem you are holding! No less, about, perhaps, the hardest of subjects there ever was. The authors have eased what is easable, and they’ve held kind space for the rest. Dip in and out to suit, or read it straight through. You’ll learn about the unfathomable, about the inner life of kids, how to be there for them, and you’ll learn a lot about yourself, too.”
—BJ Miller, MD, Coauthor of A Beginner’s Guide to the End

“Talking with children—especially your own—about serious illness and death often feels overwhelming, but Giving Hope provides guidance on how to initiate these conversations. It gives parents and caregivers hope that they can help their children successfully navigate family tragedy and loss.”
—David J Schonfeld, MD, Director, National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and author of The Grieving Student

“A book of gentle wisdom, indispensable in our culture of denial, Giving Hope is a forthright and compassionate guide to speaking with children about death and grief in ways that support the resilience of the young soul.”
—Gabor Maté, MD, author of The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture

Giving Hope is a remarkable book by two sensitive, experienced therapists who deal brilliantly with the subject—often neglected—of how to talk with children about death.”
—Clarice J. Kestenbaum, MD, Professor of Education and Training in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Emerita and Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons

“Talking with children—especially your own—about serious illness and death often feels overwhelming, but Giving Hope provides guidance on how to initiate these conversations. It gives parents and caregivers hope that they can help their children successfully navigate family tragedy and loss.”
—David J Schonfeld, MD, Director, National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and author of The Grieving Student

“These authors give the incalculable gift of presence, guidance, and clarity. How to talk to siblings. How to talk to classmates and the kids’ friends and other parents. How to talk to the school.  When the unimaginable actually happens, we need help from people who have been there and can light the way. This book, miraculously, is that help.”
— Diane E. Meier, MD, Professor, Department of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Giving Hope is a compassionate and practical guide for parents who need to have the hardest and the most important conversations with children, announcing and explaining death and loss—this is a book which will support adults in speaking truth and providing comfort when children need it most.”
—Perri Klass, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, New York University, and author of The Best Medicine

“As a pediatrician who communicates with families on difficult topics on a regular basis, I took away valuable lessons and helpful tidbits to share with families. It is a  wonderful, accessible and important read for people dealing with loss in their lives.”
—Susan Bostwick, MD, MBA, Weill Cornell Medicine, Professor of Clinical Pediatrics

“Lister and Schwartzman’s sensitive, insightful book is both practical and profound, an important guide for parents wrestling with one of their most challenging responsibilities. Enriched by poignant personal stories from decades of clinical practice, Giving Hope underscores the power of honesty in situations where we are inclined to hide the truth, and provides the vocabulary for the tough conversations necessary to build a foundation of trust and resilience.”
—Miguel Sancho, author of More than You Can Handle

“Sharing, explaining and comforting children in the face of losses, including death, is one of the most demanding tasks we confront.  Drs. Lister and Schwartzman have created the most simple, readable, yet psychologically-sophisticated guide to date. I cannot recommend this book strongly enough!”
—David O’Halloran PhD, Headmaster, Saint David’s School

Giving Hope has the words and guidance I wish I had in my head and heart as I approached these important conversations with our children. It not only helps to make us better and more informed parents, it helps to deepen the bond between parent and child while creating a better humanity for us all.”
—Anne Williams-Isom Esq., Former CEO Harlem Children’s Zone

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