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Yellow Day - Mito mum's book about grief sheds light on loss

Personal stories

7 October 2020

After losing her daughter to mitochondrial disease, children's writer and illustrator Hannah Chapman made a book to help others cope with grief. Here she talks about the creative process behind Yellow Day, and how it first took shape years before her own experience of bereavement.

A woman looking into the camera holding a picture of a baby in one and and a book in the other

The idea for a book about grief came to Hannah Chapman long before she suffered the heartbreak of losing a loved one herself. 

"I'd just finished my Masters degree in illustration and I came up with this idea for a project about grief," she says. "I remember people asking me what the backstory was, and I honestly didn't have one. That was eight years ago. Looking back, it's almost like I was predicting the future."

Hannah wanted to make a book about the objects, places and activities that remind us of a person we love when they’ve gone. The idea would take on a tragic significance years later in 2018, when Hannah's daughter, Maisie, died at the age of six months after being diagnosed with a mitochondrial disease. 

A pencil drawing of a bed with a smudge of yellow across it

"Losing Maisie made me realise that life is short and you have to make the most of it," says Hannah. "Often in life you have a project or a goal in mind but you never get around to it. After Maisie died, I knew I had to finish the book."

Hannah, who lives in Cornwall with her partner Ben and their son Lowen, 4, found comfort in returning to the creative process she had begun years before.

It's important to keep enjoying life even though the person you love is gone, and to keep memories of them alive."It was some time after Maisie passed away that I started working on the book again, but I kept finding myself getting really emotional," she said. "I'd be working on an illustration and suddenly burst into tears. I think it was a way of dealing with the loss."

Remarkably, all of the illustrations and ideas in the book are linked to Maisie in some way, even though Hannah had chosen them years before she was even born. 

"I’m not much of a believer in that sort of thing, but it does make you think," says Hannah. "I think all humans have an understanding of grief to a degree, but it was a bit strange that all those connections were there."

A pencil drawing of two holding a coat that is white on the inside and yellow on the outside

Hannah created the book's images of everyday images – a yellow raincoat, shells, a candle – using an etching technique she learned as a student at Newlyn School or Arts in Cornwall. 

"I'd gone through so many drafts and changes, and then I did this course at Newlyn and it was brilliant, really pushing me to think about the illustrations in a new way," says Hannah. 

"I found a way of using etching card, where you cut out pieces and etch onto them before putting them into the press. It takes a long time to do, but I really liked how it looked and ended up doing the book that way."

A head shot of a women in sunglasses looking down at a baby in her arms

Rather than focusing on the pain of grief, Hannah intended the book to give hope and comfort to those who have lost a loved one. 

"It's quite positive," she says. "The message behind it is that it's important to keep enjoying life even though the person you love is gone, and to keep memories of them alive. It's pretty much a picture book, with a poem in quite simple language, so people can read into it what they want and hopefully find something personal to them."

A pencil drawing of shells next to a glass jar

Hannah will be donating £5 from every copy of Yellow Day sold to The Lily Foundation, to help support people whose lives have been impacted by mitochondrial disease and fund research to find a cure. 

"I hope it will give others comfort," she says. "It could be a nice gift to give someone coping with a bereavement, because if someone's experienced a loss it can be really difficult to know what to give them. Perhaps it's something that parents and children can look at together, and find something in it that reminds them of the person they're missing."

Order your copy of Yellow Day and help make a difference
Yellow Day is available to order through Hannah's blog. £5 from every copy sold will be donated to The Lily Foundation to help improve the lives of people with mitochondrial disease. 

Need someone to talk to?

We provide a free counselling service for patients affected by mitochondrial disease in conjunction with Rareminds. Find out more.