Children and Grief: Video Interview with Tim Mostert

Feb 5, 2021 | 0 comments

Children and grief: helping kids understand death and grieving is a challenge around the world. The new book, What Now?, written and illustrated by Tim Mostert, can help fill the gap in educational materials about death and mourning.

Tim Mostert is known in South Africa as a cartoonist who created Speedy, an incredibly popular comic strip character in the country’s leading newspaper, The Daily Sun. Speedy is also featured in a TV series, educational books for children, and licensed merchandise. Mostert also authored and illustrated a series of children’s books about the life of Nelson Mandela, the Know Your Nation book about South Africa, and his latest, What Now? When someone you love has died.

He was interviewed by death educator Gail Rubin, Certified Thanatologist and The Doyenne of Death®, as part of her YouTube video interview series, Books to Die For.

Tim Mostert author of What Now?

What Now? is a children’s book about grief, correct?

Mostert: It was conceptualized as a book of how to explain death and grief to a child, and it is for children, but it’s actually for everyone. If you know how learning and content works, we prefer to have simple information, told in a very easy-to-understand way.

Why did you write this book?

Tim Mostert cartoonist

Tim Mostert, author and illustrator of What Now?

I was approached by a South African funeral company. I’m a cartoonist, and my whole life of cartooning is mainly about jokes and gags and making people laugh. And they said one of the needs we have in the funeral industry is communicating to children about loss and about grief.

Unfortunately, in many cultures when someone dies, the children are left behind. They fall through the cracks. No one sits them down and explains what happened, why it happened and what they’re going through. This is a universal problem. So, what they were asking me to do was to come up with a book to explain death to a child.

I thought, “I can’t do anything like that. I just write jokes.” But then I started thinking about it, and I thought, “That’s actually a really good idea. That’s something I think is needed.”

I don’t have a lot of experience with death. My father’s still alive. Most of my siblings are alive. But my mom passed away four years ago. That’s a huge loss when you lose your mother, because no one loves you as much as your mom does.

I thought, well, let me see if I can write this. I had written a lot of these short books. I could try and do a similar format where I don’t use a lot of words, but I use the right words. They say writing is easy. It’s just the right words in the right order, which is crazy, because writing is very, very difficult.

Did the funeral home company give you any information?

There was nothing. They made the suggestion then I never heard from them again. So, I went to that place of loss. And I just thought, what goes through your mind? What do you feel? What’s the tone?

When you write comedy and cartoons, you’re actually writing about tone. Jokes are emotional. Grief is emotional. It’s just a lateral move. So, with this book, I just went to that place of grief when my mom passed away and I started to write about what I went through.

I thought, if I was explaining this to a little person who just lost someone, who was feeling very confused and didn’t know what was going on, what would I say? More than that, what would I say that would help this little five-year-old brain to start to process?

You know, the best thing that happens when someone passes away is that someone comes and just cries with you. They just sit with you. And you feel their presence. You don’t want explanations. You don’t want comparisons. You don’t want to know what they’ve gone through. You just want that physical presence.

And the most powerful thing is when they cry with you. Why are tears so cathartic? Why when you cry, it’s so healing? Why if you don’t cry, is it so negative? People can have a physical reaction because they hold in all of this grief.

The book has one cartoon character throughout.

What Now? book coverIt has a generic cartoon character. The character could be black, white, mixed race, could be male, could be female. That was very deliberate, to try and have a character that was kind of generic. I’m also doing an Asian version.

How do you see the book being used?

I’ve spoken to principals of schools and teachers, and every one of them has said, “We need this book in our schools and classrooms and for our counselors.” One principal even said to me, “My dad died when I was 11. I wish I had this book.”

I’ve also spoken to people who are involved in grief counseling and they said, “This is ideal.” There’s a whole group of hospice companies here in South Africa that want the book as well.

This book is part of healing. It’s like a healing balm, it doesn’t it doesn’t fix anything, it doesn’t explain away what you’re going through, but it helps you cope, a little bit. The main comment I’ve gotten from people who’ve read the book is that they like the fact that it keeps telling you what you’re feeling is okay.

Any last thoughts about What Now?

I hope that it helps people deal with losing a loved one, when you’re in the rawest stage of grief. That’s a place we don’t want to be, but we end up being there from time to time in our lives. I hope it helps to soothe some of the pain we feel when we lose someone, because that’s the worst feeling in the world.

What Now? is available on Amazon through this affiliate link.

A Good Goodbye