Due to the discomfort surrounding of mourning and death, people do not have enough sufficient space to process the loss. This tendency impacts the mental health of the grieving person and can cause severe problems. It is important to pay more attention to this in order to prevent massive social dropouts in the future.
Therefore, I’ve created ‘Een Teken van Rouw’ (A Sign of Mourning); an interchangeable mourning emblem that reveals the loss and needs of the grieving person. It consists of interchangeable colour elements that each communicates a different need. This gives bystanders a signal on how they can best support the grieving person at that moment and serves as a tool to make the conversation easier, without the fear of missing the mark.
‘Een Teken van Rouw ‘ (A sign of mourning) was part of my graduation research at the Willem de Kooning academy in Rotterdam and it's mostly based on my own experience. Back then, I noticed that there was often a tense and charged atmosphere when I wanted to bring up my grief. When it came down to it, people didn’t really know how to offer me emotional support. Because of this, I also found it difficult to express feelings of grief. This was out of self-protection or the feeling of being a burden to others. In order to spare the other person in their discomfort, I avoided my emotions, causing me to move away from it. This clearly affected my grieving process and mental health.
Even today is this topic a barrier in communication and is not openly discussed. The lack of knowledge and words, but also the predominant culture of performance and optimization, makes that there is little time and less attention for the loss suffered. This often makes the grieving person on its own. Because this still bothers me, I started researching; how we can make ‘mourning’ more open for discussion today, in order to find more space and attention for people in their grieving process.
In my literature research I’ve found out that grief, used to be more obvious and involvement from others a major role plays in shaping our grief and sharing emotions. Visibility and knowledge about the subject are therefore first steps in making mourning more discussable today and, in this way, giving more space and attention to the loss suffered. We need tools to allow mourning to take place publicly again, and thus to break through the discomfort.
(only in Dutch)
To find possible forms of communication in a grieving process, I first prototyped a number of conversation attributes to enter into a dialogue with the public.
The insights that emerged from these conversations showed that the sharing of experiences by relatives were perceived as helping. It provided a framework for them to tell their story and be able to have their say. This indicates already how great the need is, but it also became clear that resources are needed to facilitate that conversation. It had to be something discrete; what you can carry with, and you also take off or possibly adjust. These findings eventually led to ‘Een Teken van Rouw (A Sign of Mourning)’.
The design found its inspiration in the former black ‘mourning rhombus', which was sewn to the clothing as a replacement for the mourning band. That visibility and recognition of the past has been incorporated into the design in a contemporary way.
The black block in the middle serves as a recognition point for mourning, and the embrace of the outer elements serves as a signaling function to the surroundings. By choosing a square shape, it has gained its stable and modular character.
For the mourning emblem, birch plywood was used. The design is cut out with the laser cutter. The surface comes from a stainless steel plate with magnetic properties. Furthermore, neodymium magnets are used to connect the wood with the steel. By using magnets, the mourning emblem can easily be adjusted as needed. At the back is a pin to attach the mourning emblem to your clothing.
There is a certain relevance in grief. Even in times of the Covid pandemic, where we (in peak time) are confronted with new deaths on daily basis. A lot of people have had to say goodbye to their loved ones in very unpleasant ways. Many grieving processes have started very badly and it’s precisely because of that, that it’s important that we make grief more discussable and that more attention is paid to the loss suffered.
With ‘Een Teken van Rouw' (A Sign of Mourning), it will not only give mourning and loss a more visible place in society, it also communicates the needs of the grieving person. This signals to bystanders how they can best support the grieving person at that moment, surpassing, in this way, the discomfort of initiating the conversation about the loss.
The potential of this project lies in setting up a pilot among funeral companies and interested parties. From there it can become clear whether it will contribute in facilitating the conversation about death and loss or not.
Eventually I hope to achieve that grief is something that we face together. After all, we do not mourn alone, but it is something you do together with others. Others help us shape the grief and share our feelings.
Grief is something that happens to all of us. It is a natural reaction to a loss, where we realize that our loved one is no longer with us. This brings about a whole mix of emotions - feelings of sadness, pain, anger and disappointment that we would rather avoid. The challenge lies in having to continue living without the deceased. We can therefore say that 'grief' is a response to loss and 'mourning' is the way in which we deal with that grief.
Contrary to popular belief, mourning is not like a cold that goes away over time. It is necessary and a permanent process because it says something about the relationship one had with the person.
After the death of a loved one, the bereaved must find ways to reintegrate the relationship into daily life. This is different for everyone, but essential. This is also not something we can do alone, but rather in the company of others. However, when we look at how our current society deals with grief, we see a very different picture and the bereaved often find themselves alone.