Helping People Through the Grieving Process

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The Challenge

This project was made while studying Interaction Design at the Estonian Academy of Arts.

Mentor: Riina Raudne, PhD
Supervisors: Tanel Kärp, Nesli Hazal Akbulut

In a hurry? Skip to the end result. 

Overview: 

This project was created for my thesis, through which I wanted to explore ways to help people through the grieving process. Death is a topic we do not talk about, even though it affects or will affect everyone. It is an area where there are many opportunities for us designers to intervene and offer meaningful solutions that can help people cope and raise awareness about the lack of education on the subject.

In the case of a terminal illness, conversations may revolve heavily around treatment and practical issues, but there is also a brief opportunity to express love, appreciation, regret, and anything else that needs to be said to a loved one to create a sense of closure that might ease the grieving process. However, as a society, we tend to avoid conversations about the topics of death, illness, and grief, so we often miss this opportunity and in the grieving process regret the things we did not say when we had time.

The Process

I started with a fairly broad question (how to help people through the grieving process) and conducted desk research and expert interviews that helped me narrow my topic to communication within families and deaths from terminal illnesses.

The key insights that helped me narrow down the topic are:

    1. The key to coping with grief is to express everything one feels
    2. People tend to avoid expressing their feelings to their family or loved ones
    3. It helps people to know that what they feel is normal
    4. There is an opportunity to help people prepare for what comes next (in cases of terminal illness)
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Through semi-structured interviews with the bereaved, questionnaires, prototyping various ideas, and implementing feedback from the bereaved and experts, I designed and developed the final concept. The bereaved were asked for their views at various stages of the process to gain a deeper understanding of how grief develops over time, as well as people’s experiences, pains, and gains, and when, where, and how to intervene with a solution. The key insights that helped me develop the solution are:
  1. People not taking advantage of the time remaining
  2. People feel there is a lot of uncertainty and lack of direction at the end of life
  3. It is important for people to keep the memory of their loved ones alive
  4. People regret the things they did not say, leading to a lack of closure
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The Solution

The solution, MNEME (Greek word for memory), consists of two parts: An illustrated deck of cards to help start conversations and reflect on life and memories through associations. A memory book, to capture memories in time by creating a physical representation of them.

The entire activity is designed to be flexible and provide participants with a variety of options, while still providing structure and guidance. 

The card game includes four introductory cards (explaining what the game and its purpose is, and gives of brief overview of how to use the cards and the memory book), four game rules cards, and two safety cards (that help indicate whether a topic is sensitive and whether or not it should be discussed). 

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It also contains the illustrated cards, which are used to spark discussion and bring up memories. The illustrations on the cards were inspired by stories of loving memories, that were gathered during interviews and qualitative research with the target group.

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The purpose of the memory book is to co-create a visual representation of life and time spent together with the loved one. Through this activity, the patient and family create new memories while reminiscing about existing ones, and they create a tangible artifact of the person’s life. The card game can be used as a starting point to decide what to include in the book. There are different options provided in how to fill the book (text, visuals, audio, video), keeping in mind that people have different ways of expressing themselves. 

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This project is designed for people who have a loved one with a terminal illness, regardless of life expectancy. It is designed to help them have open, honest conversations that can deepen the relationship and provide a sense of peace and support while creating something tangible that can be kept as a keepsake.

If you would like to read in detail about the project, you can download the thesis report from the button below.