Mother’s storybook for children opens door to discussions about grief, loss


“In grief and loss, love’s light will prevail. Through shared support, we can mend and set sail.”

Jeanette Steiner wove lessons from her 15-month-old son’s sudden death into vivid couplets about how family members help one another cope with grief.

She spent about a year gently shaping the words to fit the reality that she, her husband and her children were experiencing in that terrifying realm no parent wants to imagine visiting.

“This is more or less a living memoir of my son and a way to let my children know in a childlike way that it’s okay to be sad and it’s okay to talk about it,” said Mrs. Steiner, a member of St. George Parish in Hermann and author of Owen’s Light.

The imaginatively illustrated, 30-page children’s book introduces readers to a happy and secure family of barred owls, each representing a member of the Steiner family.

“But one fateful day, sadness filled the air. Baby brother Owen was no longer there.”

With each succeeding verse, Mrs. Steiner gives insight into the ways different members of a family process their grief.

“But in the darkness, they found strength anew. Together they stood, their love shining through.”


Second family

Mrs. Steiner and her husband were at work on Jan. 28, 2020, when healthy, 15-month-old Owen closed his eyes for a nap at a local daycare.

“He went to sleep at 12:30 and didn’t wake up,” said Mrs. Steiner.

There was no time to prepare, no time to say goodbye.

“It just came out of the blue, and it was such a shock,” said Mrs. Steiner. “When you don’t have any way to expect it, it’s that much more devastating.”

The mother had a major falling-out with God.

“I was very mad for a very long time,” she noted.

“I have days when I’m still mad,” she said. “I will always have days that I question. But I also know that God is the reason I got the pleasure of getting to know Owen in the first place.

“God is showing me how to heal,” she stated. “He’s the reason I wrote the book.”

The people of St. George Parish and the families, students and staff of St. George School provided “amazing support” throughout the time when Mrs. Steiner thought she couldn’t go on.

“The church and school and parishioners carried us through,” she stated. “My children tell me that school feels like a family, as it should.”

Monsignor Gregory Higley, who was pastor of St. George Parish at that time, prayed with Mrs. Steiner’s mother-in-law at school upon hearing the news and then visited the Steiners at home.

“The teachers made sure the kids knew they could talk to them about Owen and that they had pictures of him hanging up, and they’d text-message me when they saw the kids were having a hard time,” said Mrs. Steiner.

“And the parishioners are people we have grown up with, so they felt our pain and lifted us up with prayers and a meal train and hugs,” she said.

Life, love and light

 Mrs. Steiner said every child is a gift from God.

“Each one gives you a new experience,” she said. “You not only teach them, you’re always learning from them.”

She called Owen “my strong-willed child.”

“He loved to climb, loved to play — he was a go-go-go baby,” she said. “He loved his siblings with a passion. He always wanted to be outside. At bedtime, he needed his compassion. He needed me to cuddle him and sing to him.”

Like with her other children, she and her husband would pray the “Our Father” with Owen before bedtime.

“We learned so many things from him,” Mrs. Steiner stated. “And after he left us, I went through such an unbelievable spiritual journey. I feel like I’m learning from him still every day.”

The week of Owen’s death, she had no idea how she’d get through the visitation and the Funeral Mass.

God comforted her and strengthened her with clear signs of his presence and power.

“There was a rainbow over the church,” she noted. “And I don’t really know how to explain this, but when we were walking him to the church, I felt like I was floating, like someone was actually carrying me, holding me up.”

Mr. and Mrs. Steiner learned that because they process grief so differently, they needed to ask each other outright each day how they’re holding up and what they need.

“We have so much love for each other, but you can’t just look at someone and know what’s going on in their head,” Mrs. Steiner noted. “So, you want to be sure they’re okay.”

Together, with help from their extended family and the community at large, the couple learned to recognize and respond to their children’s evolving needs as each began coming to terms with the loss of their brother.

Four months into the journey, Mrs. Steiner gave birth to a daughter, Sadie.

“In her eyes, they saw the sparkle of Owen’s soul, a reminder that love can make a heart whole.”

Words and pictures

Mrs. Steiner began writing Owen’s Light in secret, hoping the finished story would bring comfort and clarity to her still-grieving family.

She recalled a daytime sighting of a white-faced barn owl in a neighbor’s tree when she and her husband were on their way to Owen’s funeral.

“I had never seen one before, especially not in the bright of day,” said Mrs. Steiner. “But after that, I saw one at least once each week for over a year.”

That’s why she decided to tell her story about owls.

Drawing on what was occurring in her heart, she crafted each verse with the image of young owls in her mind.

Writing the story became part of her healing.

“It’s a child’s story, so it’s supposed to be simple,” she noted. “I didn’t know now to put it all out there, so I did it at my own pace. Nothing was rushed. I felt completely at ease.”

Finally, she asked her husband to read the work, and then she shared it with each of her children.

They were all amazed and impressed, but true to life, each reacted differently.

So did friends and members of her extended family.

“We’re all going through things,” she noted. “Whether you’ve lost a child or another loved one, it’s grief. You’ve lost someone you love.”

She wrote Owen’s Light to help heal her family, but her husband and mother-in-law recognized upon reading it that it could also help other people find peace.

Mrs. Steiner went about hiring an illustrator through an online application called Fiverr.

She corresponded with five before choosing Amelia Atika.

“It’s like she could read my mind, just from the words,” said Mrs. Steiner. “I said I needed my character to be an owl, and she read certain things between the lines and included them in her illustrations.”

Although the book is not overtly spiritual, the motivations behind writing it certainly were.

“The whole purpose is to help people heal,” said Mrs. Steiner. “If it helps one child or an adult release some of that grief from their shoulders, then it’s all been worth it.”

Tears and trust

Publication of Owen’s Light in January of this year brought a fresh wave of support from the people of St. George Parish.

“They shared it and cried with me and told me how they thought it would help many people,” said Mrs. Steiner.

Owen’s brother, Reid, is now 11; his sister, Quinn, is 9, and Sadie, the little sister Owen never got to meet, is 3.

“We know he’s in a good place and also with us always, and he’s happy,” said Mrs. Steiner. “But it’s hard to live without him, and you’ve got to find ways to deal with that.”

She said it’s important for people of all ages to feel safe expressing their grief and loss.

“Grief is a big, heavy load to carry,” she noted. “It will build up in your body if you don’t talk about it and let it out. You just need someone to listen.”

She realizes she’ll never understand in this life why her son died so suddenly and so young, but she’s learning to trust.

She’s committed to turning her family’s loss into a source of comfort and inspiration for others.

“Writing has been my way of navigating the stormy seas of loss, and I’m determined to light a path for anyone else who might be feeling lost in the darkness,” she stated.

“Among the stars”

Mrs. Steiner is now working with the same illustrator on a new book, titled Where Did Owen Go?

It will include references to the great tapestry of life, of which every person contributes a thread that gets woven in together with the rest.

“Even though Owen’s thread is very short, it is intertwined with ours and everybody else’s to help make a beautiful tapestry,” said Mrs. Steiner.

The last page of the second book will show Owen flying happily to the sky, with clouds and stars and rainbows all around him.

“I showed that illustration to my sister, and she said it’s breathtaking,” said Mrs. Steiner.

Reflecting on Owen’s life still summons forth an array of emotions, with gratitude steadily rising toward the top.

“I’m grateful for everyone in my life, but mostly my husband and my children,” said Mrs. Steiner. “I thank God every day for them, and I speak to him when I speak to God.”

Autographed copies of Owen’s Light is available at The Vine Boutique in Hermann.

To order a copy, visit and search for “Owen’s Light.”