July 3, 2024 // National

Missouri Catholic Mom’s Storybook for Children Opens Door to Discussions About Grief, Loss

By Jay Nies

JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri (OSV News) – “In grief and loss, love’s light will prevail. Through shared support, we can mend and set sail.”

Jeanette Steiner wove lessons from her 15-month-old son’s sudden death into vivid couplets about how family members help one another cope with grief in her book, “Owen’s Light.”

She spent about a year gently shaping the words to fit the reality that she, her husband, and her children were experiencing in that terrifying realm no parent wants to imagine visiting.

Jeanette Steiner, a member of St. George Parish in Hermann, Mo., displays a copy of “Owen’s Light,” a children’s book she wrote based on her family’s process of helping each other work through grief and loss. (OSV News photo/courtesy Jeanette Steiner via The Catholic Missourian)

“This is more or less a living memoir of my son and a way to let my children know in a childlike way that it’s OK to be sad and it’s OK to talk about it,” said Steiner, a member of St. George Parish in Hermann, Missouri.

The 30-page children’s book, imaginatively illustrated by Amelia Atika, introduces readers to a happy and secure family of owls, each representing a member of the Steiner family.

Steiner gives insight into the ways different members of a family process their grief. “But in the darkness, they found strength anew,” the book says. “Together they stood, their love shining through.”

Steiner and her husband were at work on January 28, 2020, when healthy, 15-month-old Owen closed his eyes for a nap at a local day care. “He went to sleep at 12:30 and didn’t wake up,” Steiner said.

There was no time to prepare, no time to say goodbye.

“It just came out of the blue, and it was such a shock,” she told The Catholic Missourian, newspaper of the Diocese of Jefferson City. “When you don’t have any way to expect it, it’s that much more devastating.”

The mother had a major falling-out with God. “I was very mad for a very long time,” she noted.

“I have days when I’m still mad,” she said. “I will always have days that I question. But I also know that God is the reason I got the pleasure of getting to know Owen in the first place. … God is showing me how to heal. He’s the reason I wrote the book.”

Together, with help from their extended family and the community at large, the couple learned to recognize and respond to their children’s evolving needs as each began coming to terms with the loss of their brother.

Four months into the journey, Steiner gave birth to a daughter, Sadie.

Steiner began writing “Owen’s Light” in secret, hoping the finished story would bring comfort and clarity to her still-grieving family.

She recalled a daytime sighting of a white-faced barn owl in a neighbor’s tree when she and her husband were on their way to Owen’s funeral.

“I had never seen one before, especially not in the bright of day,” said Steiner. “But after that, I saw one at least once each week for over a year.”

That’s why she decided to tell her story about owls.

Drawing on what was occurring in her heart, she crafted each verse with the image of young owls in her mind.

Writing the story became part of her healing.

“It’s a child’s story, so it’s supposed to be simple,” she said. “I didn’t know how to put it all out there, so I did it at my own pace. Nothing was rushed. I felt completely at ease.”

Finally, she asked her husband to read the work, and then she shared it with each of her children.

Steiner wrote “Owen’s Light” to help heal her family, but her husband and mother-in-law recognized upon reading it that it could also help other people find peace.

“Grief is a big, heavy load to carry,” she noted. “It will build up in your body if you don’t talk about it and let it out. You just need someone to listen.”

* * *

The best news. Delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to our mailing list today.