Grief is forever. It is not temporary, something to be 'fixed' or ignored. How can the loss you feel for a loved one be forgotten after a year? a decade? more? Grief is an expression of the love you hold for another. It demonstrates the depth of emotion you have. There's nothing wrong with that, it's human.
The institutionalisation of death has resulted in a collective misconstruction of grief within our society.
People are unprepared to let the grieving take place and instead, there is an expectation that those grieving hide their emotional depth and avoid showing their vulnerability. This is particularly true for grieving teenagers who are too often treated as either children or adults, when they are not. It alienates them and may discourage them from talking and dealing with their grief in the way that they choose, or need, to do. At a time of enormous physical and mental changes, when they are reevaluating their self-identity and relationship with their parents or carers, the death of someone they are close to is devastating.
This project explores ways in which adolescents are able to experience grief at different times after a close death by proposing the use of storytelling and rituals. In literature, both storytelling and rituals have been identified as a powerful resource for the personalisation of the grieving process. This is further augmented with the exploration of three different grieving rituals; honouring the death, letting go and self-transformation.
These would allow teenagers to experience and deal with feelings of sorrow and grief which can come crashing down with a frightening intensity. Using a human-centred design approach, the project allows the uncovering of the emotional and complex within grief. It allows adolescents the creation of their own journey with the awareness and skills to survive. I believe that design adds value to this area through the use of tools and methods in order to humanise the grieving experience.
Dr. Areli Avendaño Franco (Supervisor)
Nic Humphrey (Editor)
Given the need to design for personal autonomy in grief, the information that needed to be conveyed to adolescents was compacted into a short book, 'Without Expectations'. The format allows for the processing of information at the readers pace, making it ideal for a delicate topic. It was designed and written to facilitate grieving adolescents in their personal journey, aided by my personal experience.
Excerpt from 'Without Expectations';
'Grief doesn't have to feel so isolating and lonely. It shouldn't be. Teenagers, like yourself, deserve to be respected as more than a child and without the overwhelming responsibilities of an adult. An adult's understanding of death is so different to yours. You will grow up without your loved one, and you will end up learning how to move through life without them physically beside you, especially as your identity changes over time. They do not need to be forgotten. Their death does not need to be all that you remember about them either.
This book is about you. It's about the horrible loss that you have undergone. It's about how confusing and lonely grief is for everyone that experiences it. This is for you, so that hopefully you choose to seek out support whenever you are ready for it. Shouldering the death of a mother, father, sister, brother, or someone as equally as important to you is something that alters your life forever and stays with you. It's not something that is easy to forget. We, as humans, desire love and support. Support that is helpful; that makes you feel safe to cry out or comfortable in thinking about anything other than your loss without judgement. This is what we need.'
Using Human-Centred Design, the project explores the emotional complexities within grief by discussing the use of ritual objects in order to help the adolescent process and comprehend, while maintaining important metaphysical relationships with the deceased. I created a silver pendant out of a deceased loved one's signature, and a silk scarf that conceals a handwritten letter from them until it's exposed to touch; revealing the words in a private statement of grief that can be worn publicly.
This project was evaluated by a multi-disciplinary team consisting of a professional psychologist, trauma counsellor and a deathcare designer from the fashion industry. Due to the sensitive nature of the project, implementation was kept anonymous when trialled with a select group of young people throughout the design process. During these discussions about death, many of the interview respondents noted that it was their first real opportunity to discuss their grief outside of close relatives.
Although this design solution focuses specifically on adolescents from a western society, grief is a near universal experience. By collaborating with others, and applying a human centered approach, the project has the capacity to be scaled and transformed to provide the same support for other age and cultural demographics.
Additionally, due to its taboo nature, design innovation is currently scarce in the deathcare industry. My intent when tackling this Wicked design problem is to promote conversation and encourage new opportunities for design to make a positive impact in people's quality of life and mental health.
Grief changes your very physiology and can have lasting negative effects if unexplored. It takes courage to face your grief, to immerse yourself deep into your emotions. It's a skill that you don't need this experience to have though, but one which would undoubtedly help in understanding grief in yourself and others.