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Seashell, Bird and Stone: What Was Once and is No More


Hadar Mitz

Design and Technology track

Mentor — 

Itay Laniado

How to help someone coping with bereavement? An interpretive design for the stages of grief

A beloved one is dead, and no longer with us. Can design help us cope with our loss? Three objects, one black and two white, create a nature morte scene, or a memento mori, reanimated by technological means. Each object serves one stage in the grieving process. 

The first is a transitional object – a seashell which retains the deceased’s heartbeat. The griever is invited to hold the seashell close to his or her heart, or alternatively, lend an ear and listen to the recurring rhythm. The seashell enables the griever to transition gradually from dependence to independence. 

The second object is the weeping stone. It sheds tears when it feels the close presence of the mourner, and stops weeping when she or he moves away. The stone functions like an hourglass with a container of tears that drips during the limited time when the griever is busy processing painful emotions. 

Finally, the mourner is invited to fool around with a stuffed bird that giggles with the voice of the deceased every time the mourner laughs. Thus, the bird marks the stage of acceptance and emergence from the crisis. 

The objects were inspired by ideas from the field of psychology, related to grief and separation, including Freud’s “grief work”, Winnicott’s “transitional object”, and Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief. I also interviewed several people who have experienced the loss of a loved one, and found that the presence of the deceased remains within us, and that mourners often used digital tools – reading correspondences and listening to recordings – in order to maintain a sense of continuity. I thus realized that there was a real need for mnemonic mechanisms as an alternative to tombstones or cemeteries. These insights led me to design objects that come into life and respond to us, by laughing or crying, thereby providing containment and comfort.

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