Health Scan: Telling a child that a loved one has died

Dr. Edna Katznelson, has written a new illustrated Hebrew-language book called Grandma’s Star that makes the painful task easier.

Touring the south, children in feild  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Touring the south, children in feild
(photo credit: Courtesy)
How does one tell a young child that a beloved grandparent or other close relative has died? Informing him that the loved one has merely gone elsewhere and watches over him from afar would give the false hope that he or she will return. Author Yuval Atad, with help from Tel Aviv University clinical child psychologist Dr. Edna Katznelson, has written a new illustrated Hebrew-language book called Grandma’s Star that makes the painful task easier.
The grandma is actually the child’s great-grandmother, who lives on a farm with a cowshed and trees. The high point in the child’s life is visiting her, listening to her stories and going with her to see the cows.
But suddenly, she “doesn’t feel so well,” and is hospitalized.
One day, his father tells him she doesn’t live on the farm anymore. She has died, he says.
“What does dying mean? Did she go to live somewhere else?” the child asks.
“When one dies, one isn’t here anymore,” he is told.
“Maybe she went to Africa to live with all the animals and birds, and if not in Africa, maybe to a farther place we don’t know?” the boy asks. “If not, surely she went to live in the stars, maybe Saturn. How did she get there? Maybe on a rainbow? Can we be with her again on Shabbat and holidays?” No, says his father, “But she will remain with us forever in our hearts.”
The boy decided she was on a shining star. But how could he find her star among all those in the heavens? His father suggested looking for the most radiant star. Going outdoors on a moonlit night, the boy found the most luminous star – Grandma’s star.
“And when I think about her and close my eyes tight, I can see her star in the sky,” he says.
Katznelson explains at the section for parents that they should not use terms like “passed away” but rather the word “died” explicitly.
Parents must explain that dying means that the person doesn’t feel, think, hear or see. He doesn’t suffer pain and isn’t cold in winter or hot in the summer. He will not live again in this world, but he lives in the hearts of the people who loved him.
Don’t hide the truth, she urges, as this would harm the child’s right to know, and would ignore or twist reality. Disregarding the facts denies the child’s world, and he could feel abandoned. Without knowing the truth, he could imagine something must worse – that the loved one was kidnapped or eaten by animals or abused, the psychologist insists.
A digital version is also available via
All profits will go to the voluntary organization Afikim that helps children at risk.
Prof. Dan Tzivoni, the longtime chairman of cardiology at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, is retiring after 22 years on the job. Under his leadership, the Charles and Els Bendheim Cardiology Department expanded from a handful of beds to 50 – the largest in the country – with 100 staffers working in the Jesselson Heart Center that occupies the entire 10th floor of the medical center. Tzivoni treated tens of thousands of patients, was president of the Israel Cardiology Society and authored over 240 medical journal articles in his field.
His replacement is Prof. Giora Weisz, a graduate of the Hebrew University Medical Faculty who after specializing in internal medicine went to study interventional cardiology and complex catheterization at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. He then proceeded to Columbia University Medical Center to work as a senior catheterization specialist and headed the research department. He learned to open clogged blood vessels in the legs and arteries leading to the brain, and to install artificial heart valves without surgery. Now he has returned from New York to Jerusalem.
Other manpower changes in hospitals include the return to Shaare Zedek of Prof. Francis Mimouni as head of its neonatology department; he was head of pediatrics there before going to Tel Aviv to head the Dana Children’s Hospital at the Sourasky Medical Center. Mimouni, who says he prefers treating babies to being an administrator, replaces Prof. Michael Kaplan, who is now in charge of neonates at Bikur Cholim Hospital, which is run by SZMC. Over 20,000 babies are born every year at SZMC (including some 5,700 at Bikur Cholim) – making it the hospital that reportedly delivers more babies than any other in the world.
Mimouni was thrilled to return to the Jerusalem Medical Center as the neonatology department moves into new premises in the huge new “next generation” building constructed adjacent to the main building. It will be able to take care of 70 premature babies, with no more than four in a room to prevent the spread of infections – the bane of many premature baby wards around the country – and the most advanced equipment.
Mimouni graduated from medical school in France at the age of 22 and is a specialist in pediatrics and neonatology.
In the 1980s and 1990s, he worked in the US, running pediatrics in four Brooklyn hospitals. When he returned, he rain the premature baby unit at Sourasky and then spent five years at SZMC as head of pediatrics.
Replacing Mimouni at Dana will be Prof. Dror Mendel, a graduate of Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University medical schools. Simulaneously, he will continue as director of pediatric intensive care at the hospital.