|The POPPO Books
where written on behalf of my Graduate
School Professor, mentor and dear friend. In
the spring of 2005, a phone call from a
former classmate informed me of my
mentor's passing. I sent a sympathy card
only to learn he was not dead! I met with
him to apologize and soon realized that my
mistake had given me the opportunity to
reconnect with a wonderful friend and happen
upon his journey through illness and death.
So what began as an embarrassing mistake
became one of the greatest gifts of my life.
My friend, also known as Poppo, asked me
to write a story for his granddaughters, to
help them understand the progression of his
debilitating illness. And once again, I
found my mentor inspiring me to stretch, to
learn and grow even as he struggled to walk,
to talk and to do all the things that I took
During the summer of 2007, Poppo took on the incredible task
of attempting to illustrate the first of the POPPO Books. He
was diligent, and worked tirelessly despite his failing
health and increasing limitations. However, Poppo died
before he finished.
As you read the POPPO Books, take
a moment to embrace the ones you love, and remember the
determination that led Poppo through the final journey of
his life. His legacy and his incredible spirit filled with
joy and hope, will forever remind us to live life completely.
About Annie MacDonald, M.Ed., GC-C
Working as an elementary school counselor for over
twenty years, Annie is no stranger to children
dealing with death. Having received her master’s
degree in education, she has worked with children in
many capacities, including parent, teacher, social
worker, and counselor. Her unique and varied
perspectives create for her a broad and well-rounded
approach in how she views children and their
Over a four-year span of time,
Annie experienced the death of her mother, graduate
school professor, and her father-in-law. With each
loss, she gained greater insight, and through the
consistent practice of meditation, reflection, and
prayer, she began to see death with a new
perspective. With great enthusiasm, she set out to
learn more about the topics of spirituality,
children and death. She welcomed many new
opportunities, including the publication of The
POPPO Books, a series inspired by her graduate
school professor. These books offer death education
to children coping with the failing health and death
of a loved one. Through this book series, Annie
teaches children some of the central issues of loss
In 2012, Annie presented at
the ASCA (American School Counselor Association)
National Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She
spoke about S.M.I.L.E.; an approach for grieving
that offers tools children can use to deal with loss
in a positive way. This approach is based on the
concepts presented in Poppo’s Memory Book; the fifth
book in her series.
Annie is an ordained
minister; a path she chose to support her work with
both children and adults through their issues
related to grief and loss. She has a strong
dedication and compassion for those who are
grieving, and aspires to offer hope and healing
through her book series.
READ ANNIE'S RECENT ARTICLES IN THESE MAGAZINES AND
|Helping Children Learn to S.M.I.L.E. After
November 7th, 2012 by Annie MacDonald
My mother’s passing was
my first intimate experience with death. Gathered in the living
room, our family surrounded her to say goodbye during her final
moments. There was an unbearable sadness in me that day. I was
heartbroken. It was hard to imagine how my life could go on
Over the next four years, I experienced
personal death twice more: Poppo, my graduate school professor,
and my father-in-law, a man I affectionately called Bucko. With
each loss I gained greater insight, and through the consistent
practice of meditation, reflection and prayer, I began to see
death with a new perspective.
|Somewhere along the way, I realized that saying
goodbye is not really what death is about. Of course in one
sense, I did need to say goodbye to my loved ones. How could I
not? They left my physical world. But with time and healing, I
found truth in the age-old adage “time heals all wounds.” I
learned that with love and patience my sadness would eventually
lessen, and the loss I felt would unexpectedly transform into
acceptance. In fact, I discovered that I really didn’t have to
say goodbye at all. Our relationship hadn’t ended. I just
thought it did.
Death is a difficult but natural part of
life that impacts everyone. Children mourn and yearn for their
loved ones just as we do. As adults, our natural desire is to
protect and shield them from the sorrow and pain that arises
when loss occurs. Through the death experience, we have an
opportunity to teach our children how to grieve. Our personal
religious or cultural beliefs can be helpful to us, but these
beliefs vary, as do the explanations of death. We need to find a
way to offer a spiritual framework for children to understand
death, while providing them the tools they need to help them to
move beyond their grief and feel happiness once again.
a school counselor, I have worked with many grieving children.
Parents often seek guidance when a loved one has passed. Some
struggle to find the words that will help their children
understand. I offer to create a memory book with the child, one
that embraces the lessons I have learned. In this book, the
child explores S.M.I.L.E. – Share, Memories, Imagine, Love, and
Enjoy, an approach that provides children with a healthy way to
cope with grief. After all, when we lose someone we love, the
best we can hope for is to be able to smile again.
steps to help children move forward after loss
Share your feelings with someone you trust.
Share all your
feelings with the people that love you. Whatever you are
feeling, express it through writing, drawing, or talking to
someone that you trust. And don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Everything you have to say is important!
Remembering keeps your loved one close.
Memories are also
important! Look through old photographs, participate in special
traditions, share stories and spend time in places that remind
you of your loved one. It doesn’t matter how you remember,
simply that you do!
Imagine: Use your imagination to
Imagine! Use mind magic to keep your loved
one close in your heart. Imagine your loved one is with you
keeping you company, just like you did when you could really be
together. Feel your loved one’s spirit close to you and loving
you. Your love for each other will never die.
yourself and others too.
Love and show kindness to yourself
and others in every way you can. Remember the love you shared
with your loved one, and allow yourself to feel it in your heart
now. Practice kindness by smiling, helping others, and by doing
things that make you feel happy inside.
Enjoy: Enjoy your
life in a new way.
Enjoy your life in a new way. Keep your
loved one close through your memories. Imagine your loved one is
still with you, and feel all the love in your heart. Find
reasons to be grateful for each and every day and for all the
good things that come your way.
Moving on after someone
dies does not have to feel difficult and scary. With love in
your heart, you can build your own bridge, one that connects you
to your loved one. It’s my hope that everyone reaches for this,
and learns to live joyfully in the memories of those they hold
dear to their hearts.
||Coping with Tragedy - How
to Offer Hope to Grieving Children
Annie MacDonald, M.Ed.
Has someone important in
your child’s life passed away? As a school counselor, I have
worked with many grieving children. Parents often seek guidance
when a loved one has passed. Some struggle to find the words
that will help their children understand.
I offer to
create a memory book with the child, one that embraces the
lessons I have learned through my own experiences with death. In
this memory book, the child explores the S.M.I.L.E. Approach –
five steps I personally use to keep my loved ones close. After
all, when we lose someone we love, the best we can hope for is
to be able to smile again.
Approach: Share, Memories, Imagine, Love and Enjoy
offer children tools to help them deal with their loss in a
positive way. It also provides a spiritual framework for
children to understand death, while giving them the tools they
need to help them to move beyond their grief and feel happiness
once again. By learning how to smile, children learn how to hold
the relationship with their loved one in their hearts, so that
it can continue to be a source of great comfort and love. They
learn that life must go on and that they can continue to live
and be happy with the knowledge that their loved one is still
with them in their hearts, even though they may no longer be
When children learn to S.M.I.L.E., they
learn five key points:
Share your feelings with someone you trust. Share all your
feelings with the people that love you. Whatever you are
feeling, express it through writing, drawing or talking to
someone that you trust. And don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Everything you have to say is important!
Memories. Remembering keeps your loved one close.
Memories are also important. Look through old photographs,
participate in special traditions, share stories and spend time
in places that remind you of your loved one. It doesn’t matter
how you remember, simply that you do!
Imagine. Use your imagination to create
mind-magic. Imagine! Use mind magic to keep your loved one close
in your heart. Imagine your loved one is with you keeping you
company, just like you did when you could really be together.
Feel your loved one’s spirit close to you and loving you. Your
love for each other will never die.
Love yourself and others, too. Love and show
kindness to yourself and others in every way you can. Remember
the love you shared with your loved one, and allow yourself to
feel it in your heart now. Practice kindness by smiling, helping
others and by doing things that make you feel happy inside.
5. Enjoy your life in a new way.
Keep your loved once close through your memories. Imagine your
loved one is still with you, and feel all the love in your
heart. Find reasons to be grateful for each and every day, and
for all the good things that come your way.
Moving on after
someone dies does not have to feel difficult and scary. With
love in your heart, you can build your own bridge, one that
connects you to your loved one. It’s my hope that everyone
reaches for this, and learns to live joyfully in the memories of
those they hold dear to their hearts.
Elementary school counselor Annie MacDonald hopes to teach young
children how to handle illness, death and grieving in their
lives and to learn to live joyfully in the memories of lost
loved ones through her latest book on the subject.
“Poppo's Memory Book:
A Child's Guide to Remember and S.M.I.L.E.
After Loss” is the fifth installment in her
children's book series and works as a workbook/companion guide
to the third and fourth books in the series —
Poppo's Very Best Trick and Bubbles
MacDonald started the series
with “What's Up with Poppo” and
“Poppo's Half-Birthday Wish.”
|MacDonald wrote the books
from the perspective of a young child and in them addresses the
progression of terminal illness and eventual death of a loved
She began writing the books after a serendipitous
reunion with a former college professor. The reintroduction was
mortifying at first, she said. A friend had told her that her
old Keene State College graduate school professor and mentor
Stephen Smith had passed away, so she sent his family a sympathy
The family wrote back saying he had not died. She
met with him to apologize and learned he was ill with ALS. They
started up a friendship that was a rekindling of their
teacher/student relationship. Except this time, “I wasn't a
student there to learn about counseling. I was a student there
ready to learn about dying.”
“In that time when I
reconnected with him, he asked me to write a children's book for
his granddaughters so they could understand what he was going
through,” she said. “We talked about ways the stories could be
used to help others and worked on the curriculum a little bit
together. … It was an amazing journey and it really changed so
many things for me and I learned so many things from that
experience. He was a great teacher till the very end.”
Poppo was the name Smith's grandchildren had called him. He was
to have been the illustrator of the books, but died soon after
he began drawing.
“He was really an inspiration,”
MacDonald said. “He talked a lot about my magic and looking at
things in a positive way and believing in yourself and positive
thinking and living in the moment and finding what you love
doing and doing it,” she said. These lessons MacDonald learned
from Smith are the foundations of the book series and what
MacDonald wants to teach children, she said.
first four books cover illness, death, and after loss,
Poppo's Memory Book is a workbook that covers
S.M.I.L.E., MacDonald's approach to
grieving that has tools elementary school children can use to
deal with their loss in a positive way.
S.M.I.L.E. stands for Share, Memories, Imagine, Love and Enjoy.
When you can share your feelings with someone you trust,
keep your loved ones close through memories, imagine a bridge
between you and them, love yourself as well as those who remain
and enjoy your life in a new way, you can learn to live
joyfully, MacDonald said.
“That's really what we need to
do. We still have a life to live. We might feel left behind, but
we still have to keep going. I have to still make the best of my
life and be a joy to the people around me,” she said.
While there are other books on grieving, as a counselor,
MacDonald said, she has never found one before that takes her
approach. MacDonald teaches kids that even though they are
separated from their loved one, they don't have to feel
separated. They can use their imaginations and memories and
feelings to continue to have that person in their life.
“I've never seen a book that really does that. That teaches
that. And that is what I wanted to teach,” MacDonald said. “We
need to be able to move on in our lives. … It's about changing
your perception. This person is not with me now, but they are
still with me in my heart.”
Her books, unlike many others
on grief, also steer clear of religious explanations or imagery.
MacDonald said her books are spiritual, but never religious, so
they are appropriate for all children regardless of their
“Especially as an elementary school
counselor in a public school I never want to impede on anyone's
beliefs systems,” she said.
By MEGHAN PIERCE, Union
|BY MICHAEL GELBWASSER SUN CHRONICLE
What started with a graduate program in
counseling became a lesson in life. Annie MacDonald calls Steve
Smith her mentor.
Back in 1991, she was his student and
graduate assistant at Keene State College in New Hampshire.
Smith, a North Attleboro High School graduate, ultimately became
Annie MacDonald's Morrie Schwartz, the subject of the New York
Times best-seller, "Tuesdays With Morrie."
This spring, AuthorHouse published MacDonald's
"What's Up With Poppo?" a children's book about a
girl whose grandfather gets progressively worse from Amyotrophic
Lateral Sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.
MacDonald is donating a portion of the book's proceeds to the
|Smith, who died from
complications related to the disease on Oct. 9, 2007, asked
MacDonald, a former Foxboro schools' guidance counselor, to
write the book.
They reunited in November 2005 at a
Panera Bread in New Hampshire after MacDonald sent Smith's
family a sympathy card that June when a former classmate
mistakenly heard that he had died.
At the time, Smith - "Poppo"
to his two granddaughters - was more than three years into his
battle with ALS. "He said, 'I'd really like you to write a
children's book for me on behalf of my grandchildren,'" she
said. Coincidentally, MacDonald had written about "the
embarrassing mistake that brought him back into my life" as the
final assignment for a graduate correspondence course in writing
children's literature. At that time, she had only spoken with
Smith on the phone.
Her writing teacher found the story
compelling - and incomplete. "I don't know if I would've pursued
it if he hadn't written back to me and said, 'Your story is not
done,' " said MacDonald, who worked in the Foxboro schools from
1999 to 2007. She now resides and works in New Hampshire.
"She was the one that said, 'You've been given a second
chance to say goodbye. Go take it.' " MacDonald calls her
relationship with Smith "my own version of 'Tuesdays
Morrie" is Mitch Albom's New York Times
best-seller chronicling his reunion with one of his former
college professors after a 20-year absence. Albom's professor,
Morrie Schwartz, was dying at the time. The title refers to
their weekly get-togethers in Schwartz's study. The book later
became a TV movie starring Hank Azaria and Jack Lemmon.
Smith, MacDonald said, was "just one of those teachers that you
remember. He thought outside the box, and pushed you." "I was
having to learn again from my teacher. He was showing me about
dying," she said.
"He laughed. He thought it was so funny
I made such a stupid mistake," MacDonald said. At the time they
reunited, he could barely speak, she recalled. "After a while, I
didn't see it anymore, because the teacher I remembered was
still in there," she said.
Smith provided a list of "all
of the things he thought might scare a child" with a relative
with ALS, MacDonald said. He wanted them included in the book -
which he agreed to draw, but did not finish; Ashley MacNeil
illustrated the book.
The book is narrated by an unnamed
girl who enjoys visiting with her grandfather, "Poppo," who
"giggles when I dance." As the story progresses, Poppo becomes
more and more ill. The girl asks her parents, "What's up with
Poppo?" and they explain in general terms, and tell her how she
can help him. "Poppo's sick," Daddy says. "The muscles in
Poppo's legs don't work like they used to work. He needs the
wheelchair to help him move around." "Give Poppo extra hugs,"
Smith appreciated MacDonald's tribute so much
that his family mentioned it in his obituary, which ran in the
Oct. 13, 2007, Sun Chronicle. He was 60. "He was an avid artist
and was in the process of creating artwork for a series of
children's books he was developing with a former student," the
MacDonald said she has written four "Poppo"
books. She finished the first one in the spring of 2007, and the
second one, "Poppo's Half-Birthday Wish,"
before he died. Teacher and student also began developing a
curriculum to go along with the book, she said. "He would talk
about those books as part of his future, too," MacDonald said.
MacDonald wrote the third and fourth books, "Poppo's
Very Best Trick," and "Bubbles for
Poppo," after Smith's death. Only the first book
has been published. She is unsure if she'll publish
"Bubbles," in which mind-magic "takes the illness
away." "It would provide a wonderful message, but I don't know
if it's a realistic message for children," MacDonald said.
Foxboro students dealt with ALS several years ago. Ahern
Middle School Principal William Palladino died from the disease
in April 2000. He had been principal for nearly four years. The
school's media center is named in his honor.
"Through this caring series of
books, Annie MacDonald brings some much-needed death
education to children in a sensitive and creative way. She
teaches young people some of the central lessons of loss and
bereavement; including how to be present with someone who is
dying, how to say good-bye, and perhaps most importantly,
how to hold the relationship with the deceased inside your
heart so that it can continue to be a source of deep comfort
and love." Linda Belliveau, Beacon Hospice