Redesigning Mourning

This is the documented progress of an independent study by designers Vivian Qiu and Lea Cody researching current methods of mourning to design a new way of dying with an emphasis on planning on normalizing conversations about death.

January 20, 2017: Defining the Project

This project explores the intersection between design and mourning. How can we, as designers, create something that can facilitate the pain of loss? How can this piece of design yield the right amount of pain? What causes people pain? Why are we doing this?

As a method to bring ourselves closer to answering these questions, we began to define the constraints

What are our motivations?

Sustainability (we want this method of mourning to be more sustainable than current Western practices)

Personalization (although having an explicit template to follow in such tumultuous times is often comforting, we believe that the grieving process can be more personal)

A-Religious (we hope our product can be used by subscribers of all beliefs)

What elements of death, dying, and grieving do we need to consider?

Theology (are we designing for a universal religious landscape?)

Burying doesn’t make sense. How do you take your spirit with your memory, without your remains? How can you create a portable memory of a life, now that everyone is always moving?

Digital Modern (there is larger digital presence online during course of person’s life, how can we utilize this? or respond to it? AR/VR?)

Despite what you’d expect, seeing an open casket funeral is oddly comforting, we are always pleased to see the face of ones we love.

Physicality is integral to human emotion, how can we merge technological augmentation with raw physical experience?

Rituals can be disingenuous and boring. Maybe we should be representing the relationships the deceased shared with the living instead of the life of the deceased?

How do you know which parts of a relationship to focus on?

Rituals that celebrate birth and death are not for the main celebrity, it’s more for the loved ones around that person. How can we be more honest about this?

What would happen if we thought about funerals more as group therapy opportunity than as a summary/finale of a life?

How can we counter the tendency towards turning obituaries and funerals into bragging-contest?


January 26, 2017: Preliminary Considerations

The end-of-life experience encompasses

What are good sources of information? Where should we be looking?

Death Cafe’s are an effective way to gather research

Hazelwood, Pittsburgh mom’s have a lot of insight about the grieving experience they had when they lost their sons and daughters to violent deaths, gang-related crimes, and the throes of poverty. (But, these issues require finesse and high levels of sensitivity)

Ask Hazelwood mothers how they approached personalizing the funerals of their loved ones. (Pay attention to where these women are in the grieving process, what do they want now, where are they now? Do they want a physical reminder? Do they prefer a location to visit? Talk to the funeral directors that were behind these ceremonies.

Ask mourners what they’re glad they had and what they wish they had.

Ask funeral directors how people tend to cope, are there any patterns?

Ask mourners what they values throughout their mourning process, what helped them the most?

Look at cemeteries, walk through Allegheny Cemetery and explore existent strategies of personalization that already exist. (People offer tours there)

Look at Vid-Stones & Memory Medallions for examples of Tech x Death

What are questions we need to ask ourselves?

We need to think about what part of the grieving process we want to intervene in: is the ritual? Is it the process of ritual? How long of a time period does this design occupy in a mourner’s life? Is this for planning your own funeral?

Mourning is an expedited process now. What do we think about that?

What’s our goal?

How much are we willing to forgo the ease of implementation/planning that results from a long cultural history of a standardized funerary process?

How public/private is this solution going to be?

Is this a once-in-a-lifetime event or is it a routine ritual/interaction?

How much of the mourner’s life will/should grief occupy?

Look at spontaneous memorials.

What are factors we need to consider?

One of the greatest values of ritual is that they’re accessible, they have inherent meaning, it feels right when we plan funerals the way we do, and have always done

Everybody processes emotions differently: some people take years to even move the toothbrush of the deceased, while others cope by taking care of every single logistic as soon as possible. We need to strike the right balance, or create something that allows you to cope the way you feel comfortable.

There are legal complexities with dealing with human remains. Ceremonies that handle human remains tend to be very resource-intensive to begin with.

This is a project with a broad stroke: consider making short-designed projects throughout the way to tackle one problem at a time.

People are moving towards a transient way of life, how can our grieving method accommodate this new lifestyle?

Different age ranges results in different demographics that attend a death ceremony. How can we accommodate this?


January 31, 2017: Elements of Mourning

Grief occupies an expansive timeline: where on this timeline can design intervene? What will it do? What can it do?

We are creating a system/infrastructure/artifact that can accommodate…

Mourning at the moment of death (what is the most painful period of mourning? Does it come with shock? Or does it come with acceptance months down the road?)

Different causes of death (the perception of a death by sickness vs death by murder is very different, can our solution be sensitive to that?)

Logistics for those who want to plan their own funeral and those who died unexpectedly and those who simply do not want to plan their funeral at all

The spectrum of approaches to mourning (some prefer to deal with everything as soon as possible to get it out of the way, others struggle to put away the toothbrush of the deceased. This also begs the question: what is the healthiest way to mourn? Should this solution take a stance on that?)

Different processing of human remains (note: human remains are very difficult to deal with legally, maybe this project shouldn’t delve into that)

An ease of implementation (death is very difficult to cope with, how can we make the funerary/bereavement process easy, while also maintaining personalization and uniqueness?)

Both digital and real-life elements of an identity (how can you mesh these separate worlds together? How can the increasingly prominent digital aspects of a person’s identity be tactile? Are they important?)

Varying degrees of personalization (not everybody wants to fully design a funeral, it may hurt to spend so much time on personalizing)

All cultures/religions/theologies (where do cultural differences manifest? can this solution avoid/circumvent them?)

A nomadic people (can we create an artifact that can memorialize a death at a destination, within arms reach, in a home, online, at a ceremony, all of the above?)

The conversations around death (could this solution function as a therapy tool, collaborate with other funerary elements/objects/members to facilitate conversations?)

The funeral ceremony (could this solution function as a tool for the ceremony/ritual at varying time frames, being in use from the moment of death to the funeral to the months after the death occurs)

Different time frames (what if somebody wants to memorialize the death every year, every 5 years? Can the solution accommodate this?)

Different age groups (the age of the deceased dictates the demographic of funeral attendees, does this affect the mourning process?)

Different economic classes (the materials/accessibility should be affordable, everyone dies.)

Different levels of privacy (people process loss on a wide spectrum of privacy, how can this solution make the mourner mourn the way he/she wants?)

Multiple generations of death (or multiple deaths in a mourner’s life? How can you avoid the ‘collect them all’ mentality?)


February 1, 2017: Questions About Mourning

Why do we have so little to say at our funerals?

What makes people cope differently?

What makes people feel better? Do they receive the appropriate amount of support?

How much is money involved in the stressfulness of mourning? (Cost of funerals, wills, life insurance)

How do lovers grieve compared to friends and family? Do they deserve/require different treatment?

Can you capture the essence of somebody’s movements? Personality? Touch? Identity? Through an artifact?

What exactly is the appeal behind spontaneous memorials?


February 2, 2017: What Do You Miss Most About Him?

What are the more significant aspects of a life that we miss when it’s lost? What is the most painful to live without? This is important to think about when considering methods of mourning that do not require the manipulation of human remains, which may be the most sustainable form of grief.

Person-Centric

These qualities promote reflection on the deceased

  • Breath
  • Footsteps
  • Hand/Footprint
  • Smell
  • Heartbeat
  • Handwriting

Embrace/Touch — closely related to the body, a person’s embrace is a full body experience, extremely difficult to replicate

Voice — sources can be found from old footage or voicemails

Facial Features (i.g. Eyes) — can be replicated through photos, high variability — everyone has something special about them (cheeks, lips, the list goes on)

Personality Traits (i.g. Advice/Quirks) — this could be difficult to embody through an artifact

Note: a surrogate for a personality trait could promotes/fosters unhealthy dependency & uncanny valley

Relationship-Centric

These qualities promote reflection on the memories

Displays of Affection

  • hugs/embrace
  • kissing
  • holding hands
  • massaging
  • squeezing
  • playing with hair
  • eye contact

February 6, 2017: On Artifacts for Grieving

Below are considerations and questions that arise from the prospect of an artifact that facilitates the mourning process. How can you attribute physicality to the spirit/memory for the purposes of bereavement?

The form could result from transformative, responsive forms that change/evolve throughout the mourner’s multi-year journey

There is a difference between representing/exhibiting the entirety or a portion of an individual’s life or the relationships that the deceased shared with the mourner

Should the artifact be personalized for the mourner or for the deceased?

This artifact could…

  • embody embrace
  • be a surrogate for touch
  • “hold your hand”
  • create a separation between the corpse and the memory of a loved one
  • have a strong aspect of personalization
  • nest together throughout generations of deaths
  • individually function as grieving tools
  • be portable
  • be discrete
  • be engraved with a message
  • evolve overtime
  • be different objects that the mourner graduates to

Note: look up minerals/rocks that change color overtime, or other materials, think about the relationship between touch & temperature


February 9, 2017: Examining Current Examples

This post examines current contemporary treatments of death

Earn/Urn by Neil Conley

This urn was made of recycled carbon fiber, an effort to reuse an extremely permanent and abundant material.

Interesting way of using death to promote sustainability, but it still doesn’t address the fact that cremation is extremely resource-intensive. Additive approaches to sustainability are not effective: we need a paradigm shift.

Soot Home Grieving Set by Franziska Steingen

If an astronaut were to die on their way to the red planet, German designer Franziska Steingen’s Soot Home Grieving Set is intended to help their family mourn the loss.

After studying the topic of Mars space travel on a trip to NASA in Houston, Steingen began to consider what would happen if one of the astronauts would die during a mission.

This is an interesting exploration of a method of grieving when the body is absent. Flames are an interactive, ritualistic element. It contributes warmth, compelling visuals, and is a process that the mourner can be physically involved in. However, it lacks personalization

Memento by Geraldine Spillker

As a response to a recent spike in the number of cremations, Geraldine Spillker created this solution of reshaping ashes into this interactive toy

This might be a little facetious…trying to stray away from ash-manipulation, but this interactive aspect could be a lighthearted, easy, pleasant way for the mourner to grieve.

21 Grams by Mark Sturkenboom

Called 21 Grams, the box is made from layers of wood, which are glued together and hand-sanded to create the final shape then coated with a pale grey matt finish. It opens using a gold-plated brass key that can be worn as a necklace, and incorporates an amplifier for playing music from an iPhone that slots into the base.

It also contains a scent diffuser and a small gold-plated urn that holds up to 21 grams of ashes inside a blown-glass dildo.

This is an attempt to acknowledge that lovers may require different methods of mourning, but this is ridiculous. Interesting concept of this entire product being a holistic experience for the mourner to elect to delve into at any given time. This is reserved for a set period of time, and hidden away when it is unused. Is that healthy?

Death Masks by Neri Oxman

Neri Oxman and the MIT Mediated Matter group have unveiled their latest collection of 3D-printed death masks, designed to contain the wearer’s last breath.

The Lazarus masks, described by Oxman as “air urns”, are modeled on the facial features of the deceased individual.

This is an effective, beautiful way of memorializing without human remains, but require forethought to capture/measure the “breath” of somebody. Creating artifacts that you can hold shouldn’t have ashes or human remains, it’s a little unnerving


February 14, 2017: On Planning

This post examines the mourning process as it relates to planning and pre-meditation, especially in the case of unexpected deaths

Why is planning good?

  • there is no pressure on the friends and family to create a funeral that may or may not be to the deceased’s liking
  • we want to make planning easy so that unexpected deaths are less shocking and intensive and adults have the ceremony/death that they want

Why don’t people want to plan their funeral?

  • people don’t want to think about dying, the thought is daunting
  • people don’t think that they’re going to die, it seems impossible
  • it’s too complicated, requires lawyers, consultants, etc.

How can we make people want to plan their own funeral?

  • make it cheap
  • make it easy
  • make it simple

Could the key to a ‘successful’ funeral be to involve the dying in the planning process?

  • what does successful mean? personalized, optimistic, nostalgic, pleasant, well-attended, collective, cooperative, cheap, happy
  • we can utilize Hazelwood data to figure out what are the important aspects of an identity/memory of a person

How can you make young people want to plan their funeral?

  • separate the idea of close, impending death from planning the funeral (i.e. people feel compelled to input information about their lives, their accomplishments, their likes/dislikes, but not for the purposes of memoriam, but simply for social media, self expression
  • how can you make planning your funeral an element of self expression?
  • difficulty lies in a solution that requires people to change behaviors

February 15, 2017: Analysis of Funerals/Group Gatherings

This post analyzes why funerals and ritualistic group gatherings are such an important, widespread part of grief.

Group gatherings of mourning help remind people of fond memories, can we create something that facilitates that conversation? Grieving in company promotes nostalgia, gendering a wealth of good memories about the deceased, this can facilitate the mourning process and bring people together who contributed to the nostalgia.

There is something beautiful and comforting

What are mementos that connect you to other mourners?

  • t shirts
  • posting on Facebook
  • public
  • group therapy?

February 16, 2017: Interview with a Pastor

These are notes from an interview with Tim Smith, a pastor from Hazelwood, a Pittsburgh neighborhood suffering from divestment, gang violence, and resultant young, unexpected deaths

What are the series events that occur after a death?

  • get a phone call, go to the family’s home, comfort them, inform them of the resources they have access too (especially for murders) and then immediately planning the body for burying, which usually costs about $7,000–$10,000
  • then the body goes to the coroner if it’s not in the hospital, then to the funeral director within 1–3 days, then the funeral occurs about a week after.
  • the timeline is quick because the body is decaying

What types of conversations do you have when somebody comes to you?

  • questions about insurance, getting a grave plot, recommending/working with the funeral director, prepping the body, cost, recommendations
  • calming them down, listening mostly, getting information for the eulogy

What kinds of questions do you ask for the eulogy?

  • What kind of kid they were, hobbies, favorite foods, personal facts, their smarts, achievements

What are your responsibilities as a pastor?

  • bringing the family and funeral director together, saving the date, tell them about what a typical service entails, providing music, ideas for personalization (depending on the religion)
  • a couple days after the funeral, he likes to check up, make sure the family’s finances are ok, seeking financial help from the church community if need be

How do people usually seek solace?

  • they usually disappear for a long time, years even, some people move because of the strong memories they have in Hazelwood, some people go to Hazelwood (Jada House Int’l)

How do you comfort people?

  • turn the conversation into one about life instead of death
  • he tries to hold on to characteristics about the loved one that are still alive (hobbies, accomplishments, etc)
  • he tells people that the human spirit is an eternal spirit, that we are “infinite beings.” This helps people cope with the abrupt end to a life

How do people feel after they lose a loved one?

  • they miss simple things such as having lunch, fun activities, spending the holidays together, the stuff of life
  • some people say I’m glad they’re gone, because their life was out of control
  • people always hope to see their grandkids, or their kids go to college, or are waiting for their children to buy them a better home
  • they wish they had more time, wish they were a better parent, wish they couldn’t seen what their child could have been had they not died

What effect does an unexpected death have on a family?

  • it significantly weakens the family base, leaving an unhealthy home life, sometimes it strengthens families
  • young people think their invincible, and never prepare for a death or even talk about the possibility.

What are your thoughts on open casket funerals?

  • he struggles to do the traditional funeral: people often say “it looks like they’re sleeping,” but they’re not sleeping. These types of illusions foster an unhealthy perception of reality.

What are your favorite funerals to do?

  • there are better ways to honor a life, without a body, looking at the pictures of when they were alive, be in the favorite place this person would used to go to, going outdoors, spreading ashes in a park
  • “I would do a funeral in a swimming pool”

February 16, 2017: Designing the Artifact - Looking at Materials

How can a mourning object acknowledge the long process of grief, acceptance, and return to normalcy?

Observing visual change overtime can give the mourner an internal (external? intuitive? subconscious?) sense of time

Looking at materials that change overtime:

Osage Orange Wood: This coloring changed from a bright yellow to a deep chocolate brown in the span of 8 years, with UV coating on top.
Bloodwood: Cut from a tree with red sap, this wood changes from a bright red to dark brown overtime, despite 10 coats of UV protection.
Bocote: This wood changes from a light brown to a dark chocolate brown with indirect sunlight over 6 years
Brass: Ystudio intend that both the walnut wood and brass elements of their stationary darken over time with skin contact and age gracefully.
Leather: Very much to do with hand oil/touching instead of just constant UV exposure

February 18, 2017: Designing the Artifact - Visualizing Time

How can you make the aging process visually obvious?

Embedding the changing material in a constant could make the aesthetic change more apparent

What if the artifact beckons an interaction that exhibits physical/visual transformation over time?

What are activities that leave a trace? that can visualize time?

  • moving an object on a track, predetermined path
  • chipping away material
  • hourglass

What are activities that could represent the actions/motions of a person?

  • blowing sand/moving sand
  • blowing up a balloon
  • movement (characteristic gait? jump?)
  • stroke (imagine petting a cat)
  • squeezing clay
  • kissing imprint

February 23, 2017: Final Artifact — Mourning Stones

These artifacts function as part of a potential, sustainable substitute for traditional modern grieving practices. They are worry stones are crafted from marble remnants of local gravestone makers. Each stone is intended to facilitate the post-mortem experience by allowing the mourner to interact with a symbolic artifact in remembrance of a loved one.

Current mortuary practices impose huge costs on loved ones as well as the environment; funerals become a platform through which people display how much they loved the deceased through expensive woods for coffins and flowers for bouquets.

In contrast, the stone’s finish changes overtime, becoming a visual and interactive gauge for the time after the death of the loved one.


March 26, 2017: Service Brainstorming

This post details the possibilities of how a service could offer a richer mourning experience for both the dying and their loved ones, answering questions such as, “how can we start talking about death in youth?” “how can we create serendipitous, nostalgic moments for mourners instead of depressing and dreadful ones?”

A concern when asked to reflect on life in a way that will be recorded for people later on (esp. when writing a letter to be delivered later, even to ourselves a la writing a letter when graduating elementary school to be delivered when we graduate high school) is that we may write about our life at this specific point in time, rather than about who we really are, overarching issues, triumphs, etc. A long-term solution to this might be teaching people to reflect over the course of life, giving them the opportunity to collect content as well as learn how to think about this content.

Ex:

Elementary School-High school: name, favorite hobbies, what you want to be when you grow up, accomplishments

College: what you are studying, what you are involved in, what you struggle with, what you are proud of

Adulthood: what you are working on, what you struggle with, what you are proud of, what you are preparing for (children, new job, moving, etc.).what children/spouse/friends struggle with and how you helped them through

Elderly: reading back over past entries and noticing trends, prompts to reflect on these trends, regrets, things you’re proud of, what you remember most about, what you wish you could forget

Short Term

It may be difficult for someone to be prompted with “reflect on your life”, even with specific things to address (family, friends, events) without training. Being prompted with a specific topic may be much easier to expand memories/wisdom/thoughts upon.

Going through storage or items displayed in a home (done by the person dying or family)in preparation for a will, moving to a nursing home, etc. and asking about stories related to a specific object, or experiences surrounding an object (I found this cast iron mechanical bank on a shelf in your living room, can you tell me more about it?) Answers can be recorded and attached to the item, to accompany the item on a journey to its new owner. This may reveal mundane or important information about the dying person.

Discovering Information

As the amount of digital belongings we acquire increases, passing those items on and having someone serendipitously come across interesting information becomes more and more difficult. Ways to facilitate this might be as simple as keeping photos in random, rather than chronological order, or it may be more curated and calculated.

Location: Photos could be revealed to the bequeathed using location as a prompt- putting photos in context and possibly allowing them to have more of an impact on the recipient.

Time: Photos, diary entries, documents, could be revealed to a recipient based on time as well. These items could be delivered to a recipient 25, 50, 75 years after they were originally created, or could be delivered based on the recipient’s age (a diary entry about Grandma’s 16th birthday could be delivered to Granddaughter on her 16th birthday)


April 6, 2017: Brainstorming Final Concept

Below are notes regarding the integration of the charrettes done prior.

What kind of information/interactions are discussed before somebody’s death, and what is revealed after somebody’s death? (i.g.

What role do objects/conversations have in regards to preparation and post-mortem therapy?

How can objects turn into jumping off points for other conversations about death? How can these objects be wholly meaningful or representative of somebody’s life (through conversation/facilitation)?

How can we create something that doesn’t fail without participation?

How can we harness the already emotionally-charged objects that people keep and cherish?

Are physical objects going to be relevant in the future?

Are we making a system or two products under the same system architecture? It’s nice to have a system where you could choose A or B or A & B

Four elements: objects, the conversation these objects inspire, the logging of the messages behind these objects/throughout somebody’s life, and the serendipitous discovery of anything after the death.

How can you motivate people to journal? Tie with object, broadcasting love, reflecting on old self, peer pressure, self-improvement

When do you start journaling? The first time you experience death?

What initiates serendipitous discovery?

  • location (is it ok that there is a possibility that certain location-based discoveries could never be unearthed?)
  • interaction with mourning stone (is the knowledge that interacting with the stone will provide future discoveries of old memories and messages enough motivation to interact with the stone? Is the fact that this stone is made from recycled gravestones meaningful? It’s not sentimental, but is that ok?)
  • life event
  • time (is this too arbitrary?)
  • synchronized journaling

Three Elements:

  • Digital Journaling Platform that your loved ones can read after your death (possibly initiated after first interaction with death, allows for self-reflection)
  • Digital Heirloom Index that logs the meaningful objects of your life and the stories behind them, slowly discovered after your death by your loved ones (promotes planning and normalizes conversations about death)
  • Physical Mourning Stone prompts the discovery of these above two things (while allowing people to seek physical solace in grieving)

April 07, 2017: Combining the Elements

Further considerations of how to create a seamless integration within a system for grievers that incorporates a digital journaling platform, digital heirloom index, and physical mourning stone.

Different combinations of journaling, heirlooms, and mourning stones can map to different personality types

What is the time frame of this usage?

What is the demographic? Hospice care?

Overarching Goals:

  • Serendipitous discovery
  • Normalization of conversations about death
  • Preparation for death
  • Physical solace
  • Self reflection and personal growth
  • Celebrating lives of loved ones

Re. Digital Journaling Platform

How can we motivate by having a future you tell you it is worth it? Do we highlight that it’s not for you?

Entries must be low pressure: Not everything will be sent to your daughter

Preemptive journaling can accommodate unexpected deaths and dementia

Life-advice based journaling: as advice is passed down generation to generation, the words become heirlooms in themselves

When do you select the audience? After you re-read it? Before you die? Are those the same? Are there different levels of “security clearances?”

What level of editing do you do when you pass your journal entries on?

Who is the audience? What if you read strangers’ journals?

This is powerful: prompting people in the present to record their life in a way they wouldn’t otherwise (recording everyday life)

How can we distinguish this from social media?

What are other methods of documenting words? Voice? Recording? Look at Graham’s Story

Another example of how powerful voice can be found here, where the widow of the voice actor announcing London’s Underground messages would sit in the metro just to listen to her husband’s voice

How can we inspire trust in the longevity of this service? Trust that your messages will be received? Physical letters? Gold? How can it be sustainable at the same time? How can this transcend the trajectory of technology?

Consider: why do people lost motivations to use fitbits?

People don’t want to be constrained by their path

This is god because it allows for selfish people to still leave behind a lot of content for their loved ones

Re. Digital Heirloom Index

Stone Tape Theory: environments can record extreme emotion

Allusions to Psychometry

How are objects introduced to the index? Friends and family can enter submissions of objects that belong to a person nearing his/her death, that they would like to have or learn about. Then the person writes the backstory and sentiments attached through that object via this digital heirloom index.

This promotes conversation outside of the digital context, i.g. “Hey son, I didn’t realize you wanted this bottle opener, I actually got this for my 21st birthday…”

Re. Receiving Postmortem Content (Mourning Stone)

It’s almost like a ghost

Memories are often too powerful to process all at once, it is nice to have a service that allows you

It is nice to have something with you at all times

Synchronized journaling based on…

life events? How can these life events by matched? With an emotional index?

Location? What if it’s a treasure hunt for memories, knowing grandpa was once there, make a trip out of it?

Social Mirror — RSA : Open-source self help, giving a social prescription

Allows for messages/artifacts to transcend

Sara Hendren — Abler

Conclusions

We are creating a service for individuals to use throughout their lifetime that normalizes the topic of death, collects and organizes meaningful verbal and physical mementos, and progressively delivers these mementos to those in grief from an organized repository.

This service must be a user-defined experience, allowing for flexibility and personalization. Offering recipients different landscapes for engaging through a journaling feature, heirloom index, and mourning stone.

The journaling feature is a low-pressure repository for thoughts, that should promote documentation of the everyday life. It acknowledges the importance of voice, handwritten sentiments, and tone. This should be a service that is separate from social media.

The entries in this journal are immortalized through a delayed messenger system that provides a serendipitous (and tailored) discovery by the friends and family that are left behind. The passing-on of the aforementioned journal entries must be trustworthy, and perceivably dependable. This is achieved through aesthetics, and tactility.

Coupled with this journaling feature is the heirloom index. This is a digital platform for submitting (by both the mourners and the mourned) objects, artifacts, and heirlooms to be annotated with meaningful stories, messages, and sentiments by the person passing away.

This heirloom index promotes conversations between the mourners and the mourned, before and after death. Messages behind these sentimentally charged objects will, as a result, be slowly discovered throughout the grieving process. This system brings forth new stories, new messages, and new experiences even after a death has occurred.

As a facilitator for these services and their planned discoveries, the mourning stone functions as an artifact that mourners can keep with them at all times, representing the memory of a life. This stone prompts discovery of words and stories from the dead.


April 09, 2017: Losing a Best Friend (Interview)

An interview with Grace, 21 year old who lost her best friend to a heroin overdose in November, 2016.

What was your relationship like?

  • Shaiyah and Grace met in 7th grade, did drugs together, but when Grace left town, he started doing it more and more

What happened?

  • Shaiyah died on November 4th, 2016
  • Grace’s friend from home called and told her, saying repeatedly “you need to come home, you need to come home”

How did you feel?

  • Grace was shocked
  • “Nobody was real, nobody understands, you can’t communicate your grief, how you feel”

When was the last time you saw him before he died?

  • “We got our noses pierced together in August, that was when he told me that he finally wanted to live and get old and have a family. I thought it was great”
  • “He texted me the day he died, he liked a bunch of my photos on Instagram”

Did you go to the funeral?

  • There wasn’t a funeral because his parents didn’t want anybody to know how he died
  • His parents never talked to Grace
  • His parents didn’t tell anybody that they died

Where did you seek solace? How did you respond?

  • tried to get close with his friend Sophie
  • “I just didn’t want to be alone, when I was alone I would think about it too much”
  • “I made a music video, about the cycle of addiction.”
  • “I got a tattoo for him, it says ‘babe’ on my hip. He used to call me that all the time, he used to say it all the time and got made fun for it”
  • In general, “I just try not to think about it; I deal with it when I’m emotionally stable enough but sometimes I just pretend it didn’t happen”
  • It’s nice wearing something, having something everyday that reminds you of them

What do you miss most about him?

  • “Everything.”
  • “Having somebody that I’m close to, who’s seen me in every stage of my life”
  • “I feel like that time in my life doesn’t exist anymore because he was the only one there, and now he’s gone”
  • He was a good person, inspired the people around him with charisma

Is there anything you wish you had?

  • “Yes, his parents didn’t let anyone have his stuff”
  • “I wish I had a funeral, everybody deserves that closure. If he saw how his parents treated his death he would’ve hated it more than anything, it would’ve broken his heart. We weren’t allowed to post on social media, we weren’t allowed to say anything”
  • “He used to collect crystals, he was really into their energies, I thought it was stupid. But I wish I had some of them.”
  • “And his clothes; he and I both had the same clothes since 7th grade so I really wish I had some of those”

What was the hardest part about his death?

  • Feeling like nobody understands
  • “Just the expectation that you need to pull yourself together after a couple weeks is really hard”
  • “I haven’t fully accepted it”
  • “The weirdest thing is walking by places you used to hang out. I feel like he’s still here, and that I could still see him. Probably because there was no funeral”

How does seeing old pictures and old messages feel? Hearing his voice?

  • “Old pictures make me feel good, they remind me that I was important person in his life, that we were big parts of each other’s lives
  • “Texts are creepy, especially because of the way he died, he would always tell me about drugs”
  • “Hearing his voice would make it super real. I think hearing his voice would really hit me that he’s gone.”

How often do you think about him?

  • Everyday, at least
  • Mostly when she’s with friends, because he was so social
  • “I was insecure before, but he helped me a lot with that”

What do you think about when you think about them?

  • He was special, so resilient, very honest
  • “We just knew each other forever, we had so much in common”
  • “A lot of it is the way he talks, when he texts the way he talks”
  • “He would like that”
  • “Wishing I could call him, just having somebody that I can tell something to”
  • “Thinking about the two years we were attached to each other, no one will ever know about those years”

How did your friends and family help you cope?

  • “My boyfriend broke up with me”
  • “My best friend from home was really worried about me”
  • “My parents didn’t get it, they have seen a lot of people die in their lives”
  • “None of my friends at school got it, nobody has really lost somebody that close to them.”
  • “I actually got really close with my ex-boyfriend’s roommates, they came over all the time and asked me how I was.” which was very helpful to have a support system
  • It was nice having people accept that her sadness

Do you have any advice for anybody who’s gone through something like this?

  • “You just never know how you’re going to respond”
  • “I’ve lost three people close to me in the past two years and every time somebody dies, you get a little more used to it”
  • “Stay in reality, it’s so easy to go somewhere else, find a way to stay grounded”
  • “Don’t be self-destructive. Be aware of yourself: you don’t want to hurt yourself more than the event has”

April 10, 2017: Refining Concept

This post contains a more specific definition of this service’s context: including the demographic, the location, and the content. It also explores strategy for journal content.

Journal Prototyping

When do you journal? What do you journal about?

  • first experience with death
  • first romantic interest
  • first sexual encounter
  • struggle with depression
  • feeling of accomplishment
  • location change
  • physical/bodily change
  • struggle with outcasting
  • career development
  • familial relations
  • first concert/music experience
  • personality/interests
  • hobbies
  • receiving a gift

Probing questions?

  • How do you feel about this?
  • What made you feel better?
  • What are the pros and cons?
  • Can you take a picture of your face?
  • Do you have any advice?
  • Write a letter to XXXX
  • React to this

How are these delivered to grievers?

It would be interesting if: there was a cyclical/generational response to entries/photos

Heirloom Index Prototyping

How does somebody submit an object? Do they have to take a picture with it? Is finding it via description part of the experience?


April 15, 2017: Digital Interface

This post details possible layouts and formats for the entire digital service experience

Homepage Ideas

timeline-based homepage vs emotional mapping homepage

Adding a journal entry

Possible interface for journal entry and heirloom entry

April 21, 2017: Testing Questions

This post details the research strategies for journal entries — how can journal prompts be compelling? convincing? interesting? worthwhile?

Test 1: Have a conversation with somebody, ask potential journal questions, and see which gets the most response

Test 2: Post a Google form with particular and optional questions about a specific event

Test 3: Ask what people write about in their journal, re: a specific topic?

Test 4: Ask people to have their photo taken by their friends/peers once a day

piece of me, everlasting existence, phrase it in a way that shows that you are extending your existence

“what would you wanna be asked?”

“what haven’t you been asked?”

“what do you wish you could talk about?”

“what has not been done?”

“did you have goals that you met? that you didn’t meet?”

“who do you care about?”

Other Considerations

objects can be a burden instead of a gift (i.g. inheriting a yacht)

objects indicate can indicate a narrative, value set, or relationships

how to prompt people to talk about the bigger concept from the object?

dimensional — layers, people layer, object layer, 3D graphical representation? layers: importance, content, (drag things throughout layers?)

think about things you can’t represent through photos or objects: hobbies, values, voice, (accountant example; how do you get non creatives to place stuff? disparate parts of life?), liking comics? liking sports? music?

what are the categories? security clearances, everyday vs significant, content format (recording, photo, object)

analogy — adobe software, works for different skill levels

ad: start with one layer and show how platform can organize

“reverse registry”

Preliminary Probe Tool?

Google Form

May 12, 2017: Final Iteration

Shown above is the final concept for a service for individuals to use throughout their lifetime that normalizes the topic of death, collects and organizes meaningful verbal and physical mementos, and progressively delivers these mementos to those in grief from an organized repository.

This service is a user-defined experience, offering recipients different landscapes for engaging through a journaling feature, heirloom index, and mourning stone.

The journaling feature is a low-pressure repository for thoughts, that promotes documentation of the everyday. It acknowledges the importance of voice, handwritten sentiments, and tone. This should be a service that is separate from social media. Users are instructed to log their memories via photos, words, and handwritten notes: these memories are of varying significance and privacy to the writer, which is denoted through the post’s opacity and position off the timeline. f

Based on different privacy levels, a user’s public profile may look a little like this

Coupled with this journaling feature is the heirloom index. This is a digital platform for submitting (by both the mourners and the mourned) objects, artifacts, and heirlooms to be annotated with meaningful stories, messages, and sentiments by the person passing away. Friends and family of a user are able to submit objects that they’d like to know more about, which the user writes about in the drafting section of the service.

This heirloom index promotes conversations between the mourners and the mourned, before and after death. Messages behind these sentimentally charged objects will, as a result, be slowly discovered throughout the grieving process. This system brings forth new stories, new messages, and new experiences even after a death has occurred.

As a facilitator for these services and their planned discoveries, the mourning stone therapeutic object that is passed on from generation to generation. These stones are a physical representation of the grieving process, used by generations and generations of users who find solace in the same artifact their lost loved ones have.


May 15, 2017: Reflection

Below is a reflection of the progress of the project and the final concept

This project culminated in a beautiful way that encourages everyday documentation, and normalizes the concept of death to be a less daunting, more approachable occurrence for family and friends. Through a deep understanding of the current available services and experiences offered to those expecting death or loss, I was able to create something that could sensitively fulfill some of the wants and regrets unaddressed by the current system for grieving the dead. It was an enlightening experience to speak to many people who work around this space or have experience in it. The final journaling concept could extend much farther and I plan on developing it further for the days to come.