Friday, April 7, 2023


Written by Bill Richardson


Illustrations by Emilie Leduc


(Groundwood Books, 2022)



Kids don’t know how to process death. I’m not sure I ever came to terms with the possible death in Bambi. I saw the movie at the drive-in as a kid, but I don’t remember anything about that part. I’ve heard rumblings it involved Bambi’s mother. Even now, I won’t Google it. Why mess with my precious, imprecise memories of Bambi and Thumper, two blissful forest creatures? I can Disney-fy Disney.  


Adults aren’t exactly good role models in talking about death. When I was eight or nine, I asked my mother, “How come we don’t visit Great Grandmother Carmichael anymore?”


She looked at me, stunned. Eventually, she said, “Honey, she died. I told you that.”


Maybe she did and I filed my deceased relative away with Bambi’s mom. Still, I’m convinced she didn’t. Banked on the fact the woman didn’t mean much to me since she was always calling me Reggie. The mistake always made me cranky and I’d be shooed off to explore her old brick house with its secret back stairway, a musty basement and a room I thought was a jail cell. 


Huh?! I should have been more inquisitive.


Fortunately, there are books for children that help us broach the subject of death. When I did an online search, books about the death of a pet popped up the most. I’m not sure they would have helped me cope with the deaths of my goldfish, Chloes I, II and III. The wise move was to turn the fishbowl into a terrarium. 


I have high praise for Zetta Elliott’s Bird, which deals with the death of a boy’s brother, a rare title that shouldn’t be confined to a parent support shelf in a bookstore. Most books are understandably designed to be more educational than masterful works of prose, the illustrations often typical of what appears in low-budget publishing. I’m guessing death books aren’t big sellers in children’s lit.


I was intrigued when I stumbled upon mention of Last Week by Canadian author and radio personality Bill Richardson. At the time, a friend of mine was dealing with news that her husband had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. As a couple, they were considering Canada’s Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) as an option for when living became more of a struggle and the prospect of a painful death neared. As well, I’d listened to an older friend of mine speak with grief and confusion over his ninety-year-old mother’s decision to pursue MAiD as part of her end-of-life journey. 


Some people find MAiD repugnant. It has been in the news more this year as Canada was about to extend making MAiD a legally protected option for people with mental health disorders. As of now, that remains on hold. Still, assisted death is an option, under very specific circumstances, for people with terminable physical conditions. In listening to my friend whose mother chose MAiD, I realized that loved ones need various supports to understand this decision and to be a supportive presence in the final days. Last Week, a novella, serves as a tool to talk about it with children.


As the title indicates, the book chronicles the last week of a grandmother’s life from a grandchild’s point of view. Grandma is called Flippa, a nickname arising from her love of swimming in her wetsuit and fins, the name representing the distinct sound she’d make whenever she’d walk in her gear to the water for her hell-or-high-water daily swim. But the swims have stopped. Her arms are thin. She’s in bed much of the time. As Richardson succinctly tells the reader, “What’s wrong with Flippa can’t be fixed.”


Richardson makes sure to include brief but essential conversations to help the grandchild understand what is happening and to ease some of the emotional pain.


“Will it hurt?” I asked.

“No,” said Mom. “It’s very gentle.”

“Does it hurt now?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Flippa. “Now, it hurts.”


Last Week familiarizes the young reader with some of the rituals that correspond with a person’s final days. Lots of food dropped off. Visits that aren’t entirely sad. There are stories, there is laughter. With Flippa’s final day known to all, there’s a cutoff to the visits, after which it’s just close family on hand. The grandchild cuddles in bed with Flippa. 


Flippa said, “Ask me anything.”

I thought for a long time. I said, “Are you sure?”

She didn’t need to think.

“Yes,” she said. “Very sure.”


In addition to the sparse prose, the story includes black and white digital illustrations by Emilie Leduc, double page spreads of blackness to represent each night so each day of the week is more distinct, plus drawings that project a sense of pleasant quietness. Flippa smiles regardless of whatever pain she’s experiencing.


In the medical note that follows the story, Dr. Stefanie Green, co-founder and president of the Canadian Association of MAiD Assessors and Providers, offers her professional perspective to complement Richardson’s words: “When a person has an illness that will cause their body to die…they might ask the doctor or a nurse practitioner to help them to die a little sooner in order to end their suffering, or to be sure they are not alone…Because a medical professional is involved, assisted dying does not hurt.”


There is a time and place for this book. Children don’t get to make the decisions about a loved one dying but let this be a support to understand the process prior to and after death. Last Week is a story a child may need to revisit many times, hopefully with an adult on hand to answer questions and offer emotional support.   


  1. I wish this had been an option for my mother, who had Parkinson's Disease. Have you read Grant's A Green Velvet Secret? It approaches MAiD from a #MGLit perspective.

  2. I'll have to track down A Green Velvet Secret. Sounds lighter and quirkier. Thanks for the recommendation!