The institutionalisation of death has resulted in a misconstruction of grief within our society. There is an expectation of those grieving to avoid emotional depth and showing vulnerability, especially in teenagers. This alienates and discourages teenagers from dealing with grief in a healthy manner. At a time of enormous physical and mental changes, reevaluating self-identity and shifting parental relationships, the death of a loved one is devastating. Initial support is crucial and it is received early around the funeral. However, it is in the six to twelve months after a death, that support is scarce when it is needed most.
The 'Without Expectations' book was designed and written to facilitate grieving adolescents in their personal journey. 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. Embracing my personal experience of losing my mother at thirteen, I created a silver pendant out of her signature, and a scarf that conceals a handwritten letter from my mum until its exposed to touch, revealing the words in a private statement of grief that can be worn publicly.
Grief is forever. Western society often frames grief as a 'stage' for people to overcome. However, new frameworks suggest that grief is an ongoing process. This leaves long-term grievers without support or agency. It's increasingly true in adolescents, as an under researched stage of development that wasn't even recognised until the 1940s. 'Without Expectation' is designed as a tool for adolescents to cope with long-term grief through the use of ritual objects and strategies for managing shifting relationship dynamics. The impact is to improve grief-literacy and facilitate the de-stigmatisation of death, by encouraging adolescents to talk openly about loss.
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 focused specifically on adolescents from a western society, grief is a near universal experience. By collaborating with others, and applying a human centred approach, the project has the capacity to be scaled and transformed to provide the same support for other age and culture 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.