Mourning Routine: A Workshop Experience to Normalize Conversations about Death

Western funeral traditions have separated life from death, creating rigid timelines and rituals that have stigmatized the discussion of death and mourning. The bereaved are utilizing digital tools to express the expectations dictated by society while also serving personal needs to maintain relational continuity with the deceased. This project seeks to use storytelling and digital tools to resurrect the intimacy and personalization of dying, deathcare, and bereavement to encourage reform in the funeral industry and raise awareness on alternative approaches to expressing grief.

This research is a work in progress for my master’s degree thesis project at New York University. Read more about my creative process on my thesis blog.

 

Proof of Concept - Video

In this video, I challenge you to think about your own death. How do you want to spend your last moments? What do you want to happen to your body? How would you like to be memorialized?

By the time death comes into a person’s life, it’s often too late for preparedness. Although it can be challenging, considering our own deaths can help us focus on reducing anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the end of life experience.

 

Prototyping and Exploration

Sketches on paper

Throughout my ideation process, I considered many vehicles to deliver my message, including: a "death spa" where participants are lead through guided meditation sessions; an exploratory installation that invites participants to answer the question "Where will you be when death calls?" (kudos to Merilynne Rush, Lifespan Doulas Association); and, inviting participants to physically create and lay in their own custom deathbed. Other sketches on this page illustrate an AR pin to identify bereaved individuals and share digital memorial pages, and sketches for travel-sized or connectable urns.

screenshot of pinterest board

“My Good Death” Pinterest Board

As an exercise to contemplate my own death, I created a Pinterest board for my dream funeral. I included inspiration for my funeral dress, suggestions for music, information on how to achieve both organ donation and home funerals, and selected readings. This was surprisingly challenging; I came to the realization that I might not be able to have everything I want, and that being a registered organ and tissue donor might impact or limit my options for funeral proceedings.

It's Your Funeral book cover

It’s Your Funeral - A Mindfulness Workbook

Mock-up of workbook cover. The book will be educational while also providing activities and thought-exercises to complete. It is important to me that this project open to door for others to become more comfortable having conversations about death.

Mock-up of physical installation.

Mock-up of physical installation.

I envision a gallery space with art, objects, and interactive media to explore. I plan to display objects that have associations with death or the funeral industry throughout history, which might include mourning jewelry (Victorian as well as modern-day designs), urns and burial vessels, devotional candles, death masks, death photography, as well as personal objects that have aided me through my grieving experiences. I am also considering inviting other artists to exhibit their relevant work. I would also love to feature the important work of the end-of-life doulas in the installation, perhaps by displaying video or audio interviews. The exhibit could then be mobilized to be shared in other communities outside of New York City.

The Creation of Mourning Routine

Based on a year of research and user testing, I’ve created a workshop experience that will:

  • Prompt individuals to contemplate their own death

  • Encourage conversations about death care preferences with family and friends

  • Help normalize all reactions to grief - death does not discriminate, and there is no wrong way to grieve.

I chose the title “Mourning Routine” to evoke the idea of a daily ritual related to death—a modern memento mori.

The workshop follows three steps: personal reflection, a hands-on activity, and a share-out where participants discuss their creations.

Mourning Routine website

MourningRoutine.com is a webspace that introduces visitors to the death positive movement and provides information and resources about how to engage in meaningful dialogue about death. The website allows visitors to view, favorite, and share the collection of works created in my workshop.

Mourning Routine landing page
Mourning Routine collection of works