G Is for Grief: 1983 Sesame Street Episode Helps Kids Cope After Newtown Tragedy

The tragedy in Newtown has left parents struggling to explain loss to kids. Fortunately, a Sesame Street episode from 1983 can help.

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In the wake of the horrific mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., parents are struggling to find ways to talk to their kids about death and loss. That’s where Big Bird and friends can help. For four decades and counting, Sesame Street has ushered in fun and educational entertainment for kids — but they haven’t shied away from tough topics, too. Experts are advising parents to tell kids the truth about what happened — “in their language,” says Emanuel Maidenberg, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA, recently interviewed by TIME’s Bonnie Rochman.

With its tempered, easy-to-understand dialogue, Sesame Street shines in explaining touchy subjects — from bullying to divorce — to those who’ve never been through them before. So it’s no surprise that as the nation mourns the tragic loss of life at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Sesame Street episode “Farewell, Mr. Hooper,” which first aired on November 24, 1983, has found a renewed voice.

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In the heartbreaking episode of the PBS mainstay, Big Bird learns that Mr. Hooper, the original owner of Hooper’s Store, has passed away. Big Bird is at a loss for understanding what this means and where his friend has gone. “But he’s got to come back,” he cries. “Who’s going to take care of the store? And who’s going to make my birdseed milkshakes?!” Susan, played by Loretta Long, finds herself having to explain rather bluntly, “Mr. Hooper is not coming back.” Elaborating, she adds, “When people die, people don’t come back.” Big Bird’s grown-up friends offer comforting words, though, explaining to him that though Mr. Hooper is gone,  they should fondly reflect on their memories of him and promise “We’ll all tell you stories and we’ll make sure you’re okay.”

As Jezebel noted when they posted the clip, “[I]t’ll break your heart about fifty times in one viewing.”

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