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Vancouver writer Bill Richardson tackles love and death in new children's book

Last Week, a new book from author and former CBC host Bill Richardson, looks at how children come to terms with a loved one's choice for a medically assisted death.

Last Week, published this month, follows a child dealing with their grandmother’s medically-assisted death

Bill Richardson is the author of Last Week, which tells the story of a child counting down the days to their beloved grandmother's medically assisted death. (Submitted by Bill Richardson)

Vancouver writer and former CBC host Bill Richardson tackles a unique, but necessary topic in the context of raising a family in the world today in his latest children's book.

Last Week follows a child as they come to terms with a loved one's choice to die.

"I don't think of it as being a book about medically assisted death," he told CBC's Gloria Macarenko. "It's really a book about family and a book about love, and specifically, the love that exists between this child and the child's grandmother.

"I just wanted to write about it in a way that was warm and humane and that acknowledged as well the difficulty that everybody in the family faces around this."

The child, whom Richardson intentionally chose not to assign a gender, because he says it didn't matter in the context of the story, counts down to their beloved grandmother's medically assisted death.

Last Week, the latest offering from Bill Richardson, is available now. (Groundwood Books)

"Within the structure of those numbers, [they] find a sort of comfort and has a chance to be with family and with friends, and to take a while to actually talk with the person who's going to die about her reasons," Richardson said. 

As friends and family come to visit the grandmother one last time, the child observes the grief, humour, awkwardness, anger and nostalgia that come up. As time goes on, the child must find a way to come to terms with their grandmother's decision. 

Richardson, best known for his humour writing, says the book isn't so much a lesson in how to talk about death with children, but it could help open that space for conversation. 

"I didn't want to write something that was prescriptive, in a way. I didn't want to write a lesson book about medically assisted death. I wanted to write a book about love."

Richardson's partner's mother chose a medically assisted death in 2016, shortly after federal legislation was passed to allow for it. 

"What struck me most about the way that mourning was different was that you could prepare for it," Richardson said. "To literally make an appointment with death. It does change the way you process it, I think, and it certainly changes the way that you have this discussion with the person." 

Statistics Canada recorded more than 21,000 medically assisted deaths between 2016 and 2020.

Richardson says talking to children about death, and about medically assisted death, is often something that comes up naturally, often with the loss of a family pet or a loved one early in a child's life. 

"I think it's very, very unusual that a family pet dies and suddenly you have to confront the reality that this is a temporary situation we inhabit," he said. 

And while he says he has no children and doesn't want to tell parents how to have these challenging conversations, he said he hopes adults can find a way to strike a balance between love and openness when it comes to these learning curves.

"To have that conversation as well without the expectation that it's going to be made easy somehow because it's not. And it's never going to be." 

The last two years have given parents a lot of work to do when it comes to explaining complicated subjects to their children. The passing of loved ones is one of those subjects. How do you introduce the concept of death to your children? And perhaps even more complicated...how do you explain medically assisted death? We get in touch with a Vancouver author to talk about his new children's book dedicated to understanding death.

With files from The Early Edition

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