Potter and Hospice publish book series for children battling grief
Photo by Jamie Alexander
Caleb Potter has served as the bereavement coordinator for Hospice and Palliative Care of Western Kentucky for nearly a decade. During his tenure, he’s witnessed an increased number of children requesting grief counseling.
After further research, Potter discovered that Kentucky ranked among the top for childhood bereavement, and resources for youth were scarce. This epiphany propelled him to begin writing children’s books that addressed topics surrounding death and emotions.
“The state ranks at the top for childhood bereavement, and I wanted as many resources as possible to give kids and caregivers assisting with bereavement,” Potter said. “I wasn’t finding a lot, nor was I finding what I was looking for. At that point, my CEO told me to think outside the box and get creative.”
The book series chronicles the most prevalent types of loss a kid will go through, beginning with a grandparent, then transitioning to a parent and a sibling. The first book is titled Billy’s Story, and while Potter said the stories and characters are entirely fictional, they are a conglomeration of his experiences at Hospice.
“Billy Bear worked with his Granny Bear in the garden, read books in the recliner, helped with dinner, and preserved other family traditions,” he said. “The book utilizes different storylines to allow a child to reflect on some of their fondest memories.”
Potter titled the second book Jenny Bear and centered it around a young girl’s relationship with her father.
“Jenny Bear would typically watch cartoons with her dad, but beyond that, this book is a little broader and with a sense of humor,” he said. “Daddy bear is always doing silly things to make her laugh. The goal is for kids to embody that same sense of humor later in life.”
Potter is originally from the small town of Cleveland, Oklahoma, and met his wife Jessica when he ventured to Louisville for seminary school. After marrying, the two decided to move back to her hometown of Owensboro to begin a family.
With five children of his own, Potter is adamant about providing ways for caregivers to distill info about grief and how to grieve in an age-appropriate manner to the children in their life.
“Children tend to get left in the dark when it comes to discussing terminal illnesses – imagine telling a five-year-old that there’s a sickness in Papaw’s body, and even though he’s receiving medical care, it’s not going to go away,” Potter said. “Adults will often shoo kids off, leaving them to perform some magical thinking that is typically worse than reality.”
Potter said kids are constantly looking for culpability, which can spark significant misunderstandings. He referenced a situation where an adult might tell a child that something is wrong with grandma’s heart and leave a lot to interpretation and imagination. Children might assume that they broke their grandma’s heart because of a fight instead of chronic health issues.
“Kids will immediately ascribe guilt and culpability on themselves,” he said. “Adults are already trying to grieve independently and navigate their own personal and mental health, let alone try to help a child with it. A lot of my counseling is helping kids understand that they are not to blame for the death.”
As an employee of Hospice, Potter dedicates time to authoring the books in his regiment. The organization can only produce the books when they receive grant money. The third book will be published in the near future, as funds are made available.
Potter also maintains a biblical counseling practice outside of hospice and is a lay pastor for Pleasant Valley Community Church.
The Hospice team was recently one of four sites selected in the country for Camp Erin, a 3-day/2-night grief camp for youth. They will host that at the Gasper River Retreat Center from August 6 -7.
For more information about Hospice services and the book series, visit their website at hospiceofwky.org. While the books are distributed at no cost to clients, community members can receive a book by way of a $10 donation. The donation allows Hospice to underwrite some of the costs associated with the program.