She’s basically an expert on death. Well, maybe not an expert in the traditional sense, but Loyola alum Deb Jackson knows a lot about grieving — a knowledge she shares in her new children’s book, Creamy Goes to Heaven.
Jackson — known as Deb Erickson when she received her bachelor’s from Loyola in 1971 and her master’s from the Marcella Neihoff School of Nursing at Loyola in 1977 — worked with children who suffered from devastating neurological injuries and illnesses for 20 years. She also worked as a hospice nurse for 10 years.
Although Jackson has retired to a small cattle ranch in Kansas with her family, she recently published Creamy Goes to Heaven, the first book of eight in the RedshoesDeb Series.
Creamy Goes to Heaven is an endearing children’s book about the acceptance of death, which emphasizes that it’s normal to be happy and sad at the same time when mourning the loss of a loved one. Jackson’s Queensland heeler, a cow dog, Sheila, narrates the story of her cat friend, Creamy, who is dying.
Jackson has an intrinsic understanding of death. She believes this is partly a trait she was blessed with, but also one that came from dealing with several family deaths she experienced as a child. The first was the death of her little brother, who died hours after birth, when Jackson was 2 1/2 years old.
“I don’t remember the death per se, but I remember the gloom,” Jackson said. “I recall my mom and dad being sad, and being a little girl trying to understand the change in our house.”
Jackson also dealt with the passing of great aunts and great grandparents. Before she became a nurse, she said she would sit with her dying relatives in the hospital and pray with them.
“It was through these experiences that I learned to accept death and be present quietly and help people,” Jackson says.
In the book, Sheila reminisces on the humorous antics Creamy does. At one point in the book, Sheila says, “Even though death can be sad, my stories will make me smile.”
Jackson said she was raised to understand the importance of talking about passed loved ones. “Memories are what help you get through [a death],” Jackson says. “When we share memories, we remember the joy of the relationship with that person and we don’t just focus on the loss.”
Jackson even included the opportunity for readers to share their memories in her book. Sheila asks if readers remember a loved one who died or will die soon. Then she says, “If you want to tell some stories about them, I have big ears and I will listen to you right now.”
Jackson says she added this section because if kids aren’t invited to open up, they may not think they’re allowed to. And for some families, they don’t know how to explain death, so they avoid the subject. While Jackson was doing a library reading of Creamy Goes to Heaven, she had several kids open up about loss.
“One of the girls, when we came to that section, said, ‘well my goldfish died.’ And she talked about it and what its name was. It didn’t bring her to tears but it let her remember the loss,” Jackson says. “Another kid talked about a dog and somebody else about a grandparent. It created an opportunity for them to open up.”
Jackson has a strong sense of purpose, which fuels her desire to write children’s books.
“God has a plan for me. He wants me to do things that honor the Lord,” Jackson says. “One of the ways to do that is to help the younger generation. These books are an opportunity for me to share good values.”
Jackson has always been a storyteller to her friends and family, but when three surgeries restricted her typically active lifestyle, she realized it was time to finally put her stories to paper.
Creamy Goes to Heaven started as a eulogy for her cat, and eventually became a book that balances the heaviness of death with the use of animals and illustrations. In this way, serious topics can still be accessible to young readers.
“I use animals because they have a great appeal to kids…and can be used in an allegorical way to teach all kinds of things,” Jackson says. “And I enlisted the help of my granddaughter because I wanted things to be seen from the eyes of a child.”
Essentially, what Jackson wants readers to gain is that although death is inevitable and necessary, it is natural and can be an experience from which to grow.
“I want people to know that you really do get through death,” Jackson says. “You don’t forget somebody and you don’t stop missing them but it doesn’t hurt as much. And you have a better sense of peace as time goes on.”
Readers can expect the second book in the RedshoesDeb Series, Maggie Mae’s Hare-Brained Day, in November, as well as two other books within the next six months.
Creamy Goes to Heaven is available at many bookstores and on Amazon. Deb Jackson can be reached at email@example.com.