The Buddha and the Mustard Seed

Ages 4-8

This activity (described by Molleen Matsumura earlier in this chapter—see box) is especially useful when your family has experienced a loss. Act out the story of Buddha and the mustard seed. A woman goes to see a great teacher (the Buddha) and asks him to bring her child back to life. He tells her to bring him a mustard seed from a house in which no one has lost a child, a spouse, a parent, or a friend. After spending the day looking for such a house, she comes back empty-handed, but with the understanding that death and grief are universal.

To act out the story, have your child knock on the wall or a table and ask for a mustard seed, each time, make up a different story of a death in that house, like, "My grandfather was very, very old, and he died last week," or, "My dog ran into the street and got hit by a car." Each time, mention that the two people comfort each other somehow (e.g., by talking, or offering something to eat). Finally, knock on the wall and say, "Now the mother is knocking on our door." Have your child pretend to answer the door. Take the role of the grieving mother as your child explains who your family has lost and what you are doing about it. This activity goes beyond the original story's message that death comes to us all by highlighting the ways that people can support each other.

All ages

On the birthday of someone who has died, or on the anniversary of the person's death, light a 24-hour memory candle (in a glass container). Share stories of the person as you light it. Caring for the flame creates a pleasant sense of caring for the person, and the slowly disappearing candle serves as a poignant reminder of the cycle of life and the power of memory.

The idea of a "deathday" observance was popularized, but not invented, by J.K. Rowling for the Harry Potter series. Jewish tradition includes the Yahrzeit, precisely this kind of commemoration. Search for "Yahrzeit candle" online to find 24-hour commemoration candles.

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