November 21, 2014

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Funeral director illustrates the pain of suicide in book

Veronica Thomas always knew she wanted to help people. Now the funeral director for Waite and Son’s Brunswick chapel has written a book aimed at helping families with young children cope with suicide.

Thomas’s book, “Mommy’s Sandcastle,” explores the difficulty of coping with depression and how the suicide of a parent does not mean the children were not loved.

Brunswick resident Veronica Thomas wrote a book, "Mommy's Sandcastle," to help children understand the loss of a family member to suicide. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY LOREN GENSON)

“I knew I wanted to write something about this,” Thomas said. “Suicide doesn’t need to be swept under the rug, sometimes we can talk about it delicately.”

Thomas, 28, holds a bachelor’s degree from Shawnee State University in psychology and is a 2008 graduate of the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science. She said she became interested in working as a funeral director during her senior year at Shawnee State.

“I kind of thought I would go on to get a doctorate in mental health counseling,” she said.

But during her senior year of studies, she was required to take a course on dying and death, including time in a funeral home. She met the funeral director and the experience taught her that the job wasn’t just for “older men in top hats.”

“The funeral director was younger, under 40,” she said. “It was the first time I saw the job as a career I could have.”

Working in the funeral business, she said she often sees families struggle to explain depression and suicide to children, often because they struggle to understand it themselves.

“We have a lot of books and handouts for children that help them understand the funeral process but nothing for suicide,” she said.

Some families struggle with deciding whether to explain suicide to children.

“I think it’s really sad to see families struggle with that,” she said. “I think you have to somehow try to relate it to a child.”

Thomas said she wrote her book while attending mortuary school in Cincinnati.

She asked Jonny Thomas, who was her boyfriend at the time and now is her husband, to do the illustrations.

Thomas's book, "Mommy's Sandcastle," helps children cope with the death of a family member by suicide. (PHOTO PROVIDED)

Thomas said she had a personal reason for wanting to write the book: Members of her family have battled depression.

She uses metaphors to help explain the difficult subject to children.

“In the book, I use the waves on the beach as depression, and the sandcastle is the person,” she said.

The book teaches that a strong fort or walls can keep depression at bay, she said. And if they ever need help dealing with depression, it’s OK to ask for help.

“Kids sometimes worry they can ‘catch’ depression because it’s an illness, and kids sometimes think it’s contagious,” she said.

“I tell kids that it’s something you can inherit, like your mommy’s eyes or hair.

“In the book I say it’s OK to ask for help to keep the waves (of depression) at bay.”

Thomas said she hopes funeral directors and grief counselors will use her book, and she encourages parents or guardians to read the book first before sharing with their children.

“You want to be prepared to explain or answer any questions they may have,” she said.

“Mommy’s Sandcastle” is available on Amazon.com or through Rosedog Books at www.rosedogbookstore.com.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.