Podcast: Helping Children Grieve
When children experience the deep pain of separation or death, it can be extremely healing to learn they are still connected to their loved ones by an invisible string of love. That’s the premise of the children’s book The Invisible String, written by Patrice Karst, today’s guest on the Psych Central podcast. Patrice sits down to talk with Gabe about what sparked her idea for writing this classic book as well as her subsequent books, including The Invisible Leash, a story to help kids deal with the loss of a pet. As Patrice puts it, her books are about love and connection to each other, to our animals, and to the planet.
Join us to hear Patrice’s incredible writing journey and about the many lives who have been touched by her books on loss, grief and the eternal connection of love.
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Guest information for ‘Patrice Karst- Children Grieving’ Podcast Episode
Patrice Karst is the bestselling author of The Invisible String, The Invisible Leash, The Invisible Web, the upcoming You Are Never Alone: An Invisible String Lullaby (in stores January 5, 2021), and the co-author of The Invisible String Workbook. She has also written The Smile that Went Around the World, God Made Easy, and The Single Mother’s Survival Guide. She is passionate about spreading her message of love across the planet. Born in London, England, she now lives in southern California and is the mother of one grown son, Elijah.
About The Psych Central Podcast Host
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author. To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Patrice Karst- Children Grieving’ Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to the Psych Central Podcast, where guest experts in the field of psychology and mental health share thought-provoking information using plain, everyday language. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Welcome to this week’s episode of the Psych Central Podcast. Calling into the show today, we have Patrice Karst, who is the best selling author of The Invisible String, The Invisible Leash, The Invisible Web and the upcoming You Are Never Alone: An Invisible String Lullaby. Patrice, welcome to the show.
Patrice Karst: Hi, Gabe. Thanks for having me.
Gabe Howard: Well, I’m very excited about this. It’s a children’s book on some big concepts, right? And can you kind of explain what your books are about for our listeners?
Patrice Karst: Yeah, when I wrote the book, which was many years ago, I wrote it because my son at the time, who was very young, I guess 5 or so, was in kindergarten and would be really sad when I was a single working mom. And when I brought him to school, he would cry because he had separation anxiety really badly and didn’t want me to leave. And then I would cry and it was a mess. So I started telling him about the invisible string that connected us all day long. And it was like magic potion. The minute he heard the story, the concept of this invisible string, that was it. His separation anxiety stopped. He was like, there really is an invisible string? And I said, Yeah. And then all of his friends wanted to hear it. And I knew I had something pretty special. And that’s when I went to a publisher, wrote it as a story and got it published. But I guess in the simplest terms, my books are about love and our connections to one another, to our animals, to the planet. The invisible string is the string that connects us all. And it’s invisible, but very, very real. Love is a very abstract concept. But the invisible string is a very tangible idea. And I think that’s why kids just really, really got it that, oh, this is what love is. It’s an invisible string.
Gabe Howard: I have a copy of your book, and it’s beautiful. It was just rereleased and it has new art and this is a stunning book that I’m holding.
Patrice Karst: Thank you.
Gabe Howard: Can you describe what the book looks like?
Patrice Karst: It’s a children’s book, but part of what has been the amazing miracle about the book is that adults buy it for each other, spouses, adult children for their adult parents, beloved friends. You know, it’s sort of a children’s book that spans all ages from 2 to 102. Personally, I think that if we never read another adult book ever and just read children’s books, we’d probably learn everything we ever needed to really learn because you don’t need a lot of words. In fact, I think sometimes the less words the better to really understand things on a deeper level.
Gabe Howard: I love that and I love specifically what you said about adults using the book, and one of the things that you mentioned in our pre-interview was that adults all over the world are using this book to help deal with grief. Can you expound on that a little bit?
Patrice Karst: Interestingly, when I wrote, it was very important to me that the concept that this invisible string that can reach all over the planet, that could transcend time and space would also be able to go to our beloved ones that are no longer here on the earthly plane. And so I use the word heaven as that word. So in the entire book, there’s just one page and one word that eludes to permanent physical departure. And the publisher was really reticent to have a page about death because, oh, it’s a kid’s book and we don’t want to talk about death and use the word heaven. And my comeback, because it was super important to me is that children are going to face death, whether it be their guinea pig, their hamster, goldfish, a grandparent. They hear about death on the news. You know, death is something that is part of life. And the sooner we can address that with our children, the better. It shouldn’t be something that’s a taboo subject. So it was allowed. And I use the word heaven, because to me, that was just sort of a universal word. I did not mean it to have any religious connotation because my readers are from every faith there is every religion or none at all. And it’s just a gentle word. Interestingly, that one word on that one page in the book, because the book is not about grief. The book is about love and connection and how we’re always connected no matter what. But because of that one page. It has become the number one book for children to deal with death and dying. And it has become a huge grief book used by bereavement organizations all over the world and hospices and hospitals. And you name it, because what could be a truer statement and what could be a more comforting concept than to realize that those that we love that are no longer with us, that we still have an invisible string that reaches to them and that we can tug on it and they’ll feel it. And when we miss them, that’s them tugging us right back.
Gabe Howard: You do tackle death head on in The Invisible Leash. Big difference there is the invisible string is between humans and the invisible leash is between a person and their pets. But another difference between those two books is that The Invisible Leash does talk explicitly about death.
Patrice Karst: Mm-hmm.
Gabe Howard: The death of a pet.
Patrice Karst: Yes. You know, I had gotten so many letters over the years from people that said we’ve used the invisible string to help our child deal with the death of their cat or their dog. Have you ever considered writing a book that would be specifically about the loss of an animal? And that’s why I did it, because I thought it was important for there to be even a separate book directly about animals. But yes, we deal with death head on. But we also deal with love head on. The two main characters are Emily and Zach, and Emily lost her cat and Zach lost his dog. And these two friends take a meandering walk through the neighborhood where they begin discussing their beloved animals. And in Zach’s case, how much pain Zach is still in. Although Emily has now dealt with her grief and is now absolutely aware of the invisible leash that she has to her kitty cat who’s now in the great beyond, and Zach wants to know, well, where is this great beyond? I don’t believe in any great beyond. And it’s beautiful because by the end of the story, Zach absolutely feels the connection he has to Joe-Joe his dog in the great beyond. And yes, we deal with death head on. But so much of the book is about the joy that Zach used to have with Joe-Joe when Joe-Joe was alive and how that connection still exists and that he can go on to get another dog and never lose his connection to Joe-Joe.
Patrice Karst: I think it’s a gentle story and I think it’s important because as I said before, children will deal with death, especially death of animals. I’ll never forget I was taking a hike with Eli, my son, when he was very young. And we came upon a dead bird on our hike on the trail. And I thought, oh, my God, this is my moment. You know, this is it, I’m going to have to address death here and discuss this with him. And the bird had a lot of ants all around it. And Eli stopped and said, Mommy, it’s a dead bird. And I said, yes, it is. I said, but don’t you worry, honey. You know that the bird is with God now in heaven. And he goes, Well, no, actually, mom, the bird is with the ants. And it was it was like one of those moments that, you know, it just kids are so literal. And it was funny. I mean, it was like, you know, I had to, like, just stop and laugh and. Yes, yes, yes, you’re right. The bird is with the ants, right now. Well, but yeah, we do deal with death head on. And I think it’s important to do that.
Gabe Howard: That is incredible. Thank you so much for dealing with concepts like grief and death head on, because, whether you deal with it head on or not, it’s common. We cannot avoid it. Like you said on a on a walk, you ran into a dead bird. It’s also depicted in pop culture. You know, even Bambi, which is a G-rated Disney movie that came out in, what, the 40s, Bambi’s mother passed away. So this is this is not a new concept. Death is and has always been around us.
Patrice Karst: Mm-hmm.
Gabe Howard: And parents have always struggled with how to address it.
Patrice Karst: Right. Right.
Gabe Howard: So thank you.
Patrice Karst: You’re welcome. My pleasure. It’s a sad subject, but when we realize that the invisible string or the invisible leash is real, it becomes a lot less sad.
Gabe Howard: Patrice, let’s say that a parent came to you and asked you how to help their child deal with grief and loss. What are some of the most important pieces of advice that you could offer?
Patrice Karst: I would say the most important thing is to let the child talk and really listen to them and encourage them to express all their feelings and questions and fears and sorrows and to not try to tidy it up real nice and quick. And then let’s move on to something happy now. And that’s what a lot of parents and adults try to do, because grief is messy. It’s painful. And I think they’re afraid that if they spend too much time dealing with the grief, it’s going to prolong the child’s pain and agony when really the opposite is true. The more sorrow and real they can be with their child and give the child the space and the time, whatever that is, if the child needs to talk about it every day, you know, for months on end, that’s OK. To really let the child be the guide, in other words, and to be real with their own answers back. And feel free to show their own grief, show their own tears, show their own sorrows. But then to take it to the next level, if they’re going to be using the invisible string as a springboard. I think the most important thing when it comes to grief and healing grief is yes, to acknowledge that the physical departure of that person or that animal is real and it’s painful and it’s terrible and it’s sad and it’s worthy of tears and it’s worthy of sobs and it’s worthy of feeling an emptiness in the heart where that person used to be, you know, and their physical presence.
Patrice Karst: But then the healing comes from the realization that that person, that animal is not disconnected from us. That we do indeed still have a connection to that person. And it’s now an invisible connection in that we’re not going to see that person again, at least not in this lifetime. But we do still have a connection. And I think that that’s why the invisible string is so healing. And that’s where the parent can really help their child is to help their child realize. Let’s take grandma, for example. Grandma passes away and the child is bereft because of this, that that child still has a connection to grandma. Grandma is still just a hug and a tug along the invisible string away. And the love is forever. And as I said before, it transcends time and space. And just because that person’s physical presence isn’t here does not mean that that person’s soul cannot feel their connection along the string and we can feel them.
Gabe Howard: We’ll be right back after these messages.
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Gabe Howard: We’re back discussing The Invisible String with author Patrice Karst. One of the things that I was surprised about when I was doing research for the show was I was like, wait, this book is 20 years old. I often get books that are in the pre publishing stage or that have come out in the past year. Almost nobody is is still able to put a book out 20 years later and have it still have so much relevance. And that sort of forms the basis for my next question. What have you seen over the last 20 years from the start of this book to today? Has anything changed or is it exactly the same as it was 20 years ago? Did you have to update the book at all? Do the readers respond the same way?
Patrice Karst: Yeah. It’s been one of those true publishing miracles because there was never any advertising for this book when I got it published. I went to a very small publisher who had never done a children’s book before. Very tiny publisher, no distribution. And I was just grateful the book had been published. And I was onto other projects. And I didn’t, quite frankly, put too much energy into it. But I started getting beautiful letters from readers that told me this book had brought great comfort to them and their children. And, you know, it sold, but not massive amounts of copies. And then about seven or eight years ago, there was a Sandy Hook parent, not a parent of a child that had passed, but a survivor who had written and said that the book had brought great comfort to his daughter when so many of her classmates had been killed and thanked me for it. And that obviously sticks out in my mind. And it was right around that time that I noticed this phenomenon beginning with the book. And I don’t know what started it. It just seemed like it was a chain reaction. Divorce attorneys and hospitals and hospices and the military and the prison system and foster care adoption organizations, bereavement organizations, teachers, psychologists, therapists. The list goes on. All of a sudden the book was blowing up like, word of mouth. And one of those things every author dreams of is having your book go viral, basically. And I wanted to give the book New Life with a Big Publisher, because I knew that if all this could be happening, it wasn’t even in the major chains. I mean, it really it was
Gabe Howard: Wow.
Patrice Karst: You know, there was no distribution. And I wanted new art, refreshing, beautiful new art. And by the grace of God and kismet and miracles, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers got hold of the book and they fell in love with it. And not only did they fall in love with it, but by this time I had written with my coauthor, Dr. Dana Wyss, PhD, we had created the Invisible String Workbook that goes along with the invisible string and takes the book to all new levels with creative activities for kids to use for the book and the invisible leash and the invisible web. And they just bought them all. And they released the paperback last year in October with gorgeous new art by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, my wonderful illustrator for all the invisible brand books. And so they put the book out and it’s just flown. It’s taken off. People love the new art. And now it’s in every store, Target and Wal-Mart and Barnes & Noble and just anywhere you can think of. And we’ve sold the Italian rights, the Korean rights, French, Spanish, Slovenian. So it’s going global. And it’s just a very, very, very exciting time. But has anything changed? No. People are still people. Love is still love. Grief is still grief. And that’s why 20 years later, it’s like a whole nother generation. Children that grew up with this book are now having children of their own. So it’s just an amazing, amazing, amazing experience.
Gabe Howard: The thing that I love most about that story is it years. It’s measured in years between the time that you wrote the book, published the book, and then it went, the words that you use were viral.
Patrice Karst: Oh, yeah. Probably 14. Yeah.
Gabe Howard: So many people are just, is it gonna happen for me? Is what I have good? And, you know, when it doesn’t happen in the first couple of weeks or the first couple of months, people give up and you endured. And because of that, your book has sold well over a half a million copies and has spin offs. And it’s going really, really strong. I think there’s an incredible lesson in there for people that are working on their dreams. It’s
Patrice Karst: Absolutely.
Gabe Howard: It’s not going to happen when you wanted to, but. But it could.
Patrice Karst: All in God’s time. And if a book or a message, if your message is meant to be heard, it will be heard. This is a phenomenon that has taken me by complete surprise and awe and joy. But I do think you’re right. I think that when we put a message out there in the world, it’s not up to us. You know, it’s kind of like we’ve got to let go of the results. We were called to write or create something. Our job is to create it and put it out there. And then really it’s up to destiny to decide what’s going to happen with it. Our job is to put it out there.
Gabe Howard: Exactly. I could not agree more. Let’s switch gears for a moment and talk about your work with Dr. Wyss. And the reason why is because now it’s a companion workbook. You know, it started out as a story and we know that that story has helped hundreds of thousands of people. But now you have a workbook and this companion workbook. It allows you to delve deeper into the original books, but it also has therapeutic benefits. What are your goals for these to help more and more people, especially with their mental health?
Patrice Karst: Well, that’s just it. You know, I had started seeing that therapists and psychologists and teachers and caregivers all over the world were creating different activities to go along with the book because it just lends itself to that. And probably again, around six, seven years ago, I got an e-mail from Dana. She was an art therapist and she was local to where I live. And she wrote me a beautiful letter and said that she and so many therapists she knew were using the book and she was dealing with drug addicted mothers that had never bonded with their children because a lot of them had come from their own abusive family situations. And she was using the book to help bridge the gap so that they could bond with their own children. And one of her clients had created a beautiful piece of art with the invisible string as the theme. And she wanted to send it to me. And I said, well, you know, you’re local, why don’t we have lunch? And you can give it to me then. And we met for lunch. And she was so lovely and telling me about all these activities that she had created. And I said, my god, we should do a workbook for the invisible string.
Patrice Karst: And she just jumped up and down and we were both so excited. And so we signed on a napkin on a paper napkin in the restaurant. We signed our deal that we would do this workbook together and we would split it 50 50. And then she went off to create most of the activities with me sort of overseeing. And then Little Brown bought the book and said, of course, we want this workbook. And by that time, Dana had become a PhD in art therapy. But yeah, it’s got over 50 activities, art activities, journaling, puzzles, games, creative, amazing, beautiful activities, including we created these gorgeous colored cards that are sort of like affirmation cards that the kids can pull out of the book. They’re perforated and we’ve got all kinds of games and activities they can use these cards for. So it’s such a rich workbook and we’re getting amazing feedback because it just is the next step. It’s wow, there’s all these concepts we’ve now explained and the invisible string. Now, how do we take it even deeper and make it even more personal for each child? So we’re very excited about the workbook.
Gabe Howard: I know that you mentioned that there were 50 activities in the workbook. Can you talk about your favorite one and explain it to our listeners?
Patrice Karst: Well, honestly, I would say that probably the cards that are in the back of the book, because there’s so many different things that they can do with these cards, they can journal on each card, they can play games with the card. They can each day pick up a different card and talk about the meaning of that card. There’s one activity where it’s called two hearts. And because an invisible string is love that travels back and forth forever on these two hearts that we’ve already drawn, they can collage, write, or draw all of the things that they get from the person that’s at the other end of their string and then the other heart, they draw all the things that they give to that person. And so it’s beautiful. If I was a child, which we all are children at heart, I would dig deep into this workbook and have a great time doing it.
Gabe Howard: Now, this workbook, can it be used with the parents and the children? Is it?
Patrice Karst: Absolutely. Obviously, it’s best to have an adult kind of showing the kids the different activities and guiding them. But yeah, it’s something they can do side by side or the child can just do the activities all by themselves or in groups. You know, the activities lend themselves to be done as group activities, too. So it’s multi-faceted.
Gabe Howard: Patrice, thank you so much for being on the show. Do you have any final words or final thoughts for our listeners before we head out?
Patrice Karst: Just make love the number one priority in your life. I mean, I know that sounds cliche, but it’s a cliche that is worthy. Love really is, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters. And if you are fortunate enough to have children in your life in any capacity, whether you’re a teacher, caregiver, parent, grandparent, or you have a neighbor that’s a child or if you ever were a child. Love is the only thing that matters. And you’re blessed to have children in your life and just spread the love because it’s real and the invisible string is real. And not just, you know, we’ve talked a lot about death, but the invisible string that’s right here and alive and whether we have a best friend that moves across the country or to another country or someone like in my son’s case, why I wrote the book. You know, we’re gonna be separated for a few hours or fill in the blank that the love is real and we are all connected by invisible strings. And just to end the invisible web, which is the book that’s coming out, April is really the ultimate concept, which is where all of our invisible strings connect all over the world. We really are all connected by invisible strings. Therefore, we live in an invisible web of love. And what I say to you has ramifications and we’re all connected. There is no separation between us. Not really. We’re one big family.
Gabe Howard: I couldn’t agree more, Patrice. Obviously, you can get Patrice’s books, The Invisible String, The Invisible Leash, The Invisible Web and the upcoming You Are Never Alone: An Invisible String Lullaby, along with the workbook, pretty much wherever books are sold, it’s very widely available. But Patrice, do you have your own social media presence or Web site that people can find you on?
Patrice Karst: I do. There’s The Invisible String Facebook page and my website is www.PatriceKarst.com. And I love to get letters from my readers and my fans and I write everybody back a personal letter so you can contact me through the Web site and let me know how the invisible string has been moving in your life.
Gabe Howard: Thank you, Patrice, and thank you to all of our listeners who have listened in. Remember, wherever you downloaded this podcast, please subscribe. Also, give us as many bullet points, stars or hearts as possible and use your words. Tell people why you like the show. Share us on social media. Remember, we have a private Facebook group that you can find at the shortcut PsychCentral.com/FBShow and always remember to support our sponsor. You can get one week of free, convenient, affordable, private online counseling anytime, anywhere simply by visiting BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. We will see everyone next week.
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Central Podcast, T. (2020). Podcast: Helping Children Grieve. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/podcast-helping-children-grieve/