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Grief and Growth: Presentation Video

What could be the preferable future of death? How might we create a system that provides an accessible, dignified, personalized, and therapeutic experience to the users while aiding nature preservation and climate mitigation efforts?

What is it?

A new death service run by nature preservation charities that offers human composting. The service comprises of a series of steps, all of them optional, but profit from each of them contributes to habitat and wildlife protection. For this speculation, I’ve looked at the possibilities that human composting or "recomposition" could unlock. Recomposition produces a large amount of rich soil which can be divided into many parts and used in a variety of ways. One can choose to donate it, take it home, ship it to relatives, scatter it in one or multiple locations, or even buy a tree or potted plant planted in the recomposed soil. As well as a new system, the concept also proposes spatial and material guidelines for facilitating this new praxis.

The memorial grounds

The memorial grounds are where memorial markers are placed. Although it is all optional, some might still need a monument to memorialize their name. We also need a space to express gestures towards the dead. Physical acts of remembering like touching a name on a headstone are tangible ways we let ourselves know that we are taking real action to remember someone, a sort of small personal ritual. While there is not yet a finished design for the space, I created a sketch of what these spaces might feel like. The grounds must be planned in a way that’s not disruptive to the environment. It should be visually distinguished from nature to signify an added layer of meaning, without imposing on the landscape. As existing nature charities already form a wide network around the UK, the service could be easily available wherever there is demand for it.

memorial markers

When it comes to the markers themselves, the shape should allow for a variety of actions. Emphasis should be on the sensation of touch, so material and surface texture must be taken into consideration. They also need to be durable and fit to stay outside virtually forever. The material might also be reactive to light, heat, or moisture to give a visual response when touched.

individuality and personalization

The markers should also be personalized to best represent the person they’re commemorating. Inspired by a story told to me by an end-of-life-doula about a family that did a DIY funeral, I thought a way to do that might be to have the option of designing and/or making the marker yourself out of recycled or repurposed materials. This could be a way for the family to come together and let them take more control over their situation, while also being sustainable and cost effective. As a possible direction I thought about Precious Plastic, a company that provides open source plans for plastic processing machines, and offers guidance on production. A variety of other memorial objects like flowerpots, urns, or take-home tree markers could also be made this way.

ceremony and meditation

To facilitate rituals, ceremonial pavilion-type structures should be available close to the memorial grounds. These could be used for funerals and memorials, but could also accommodate meditation when not in use. They should be kept open so they can be used at any time. It might be necessary for these structures to occasionally be extended to accommodate large ceremonies and closed off to protect against bad weather. Also for shelter and meditation, smaller structures could be installed throughout an area.

details in nature and tactile experiencing

Focusing on the details in nature gives us an opportunity to pay attention to things we might normally overlook. It helps us appreciate them, allowing us to see the forest AND the trees. From the perspective of mindfulness, focusing on small details and the sensory experience of nature helps ground us in our bodies and break the cycle of rumination that often comes with complicated heavy emotions like grief. The interventions in the land should therefore be made to pull focus towards certain views or natural features.

what about the money?

A quote containing a suggested donation amount according to chosen options is presented, but the user may donate as much as they can anonymously. Coupled with existing financing mechanisms, Payment for Ecosystem Services schemes, volunteer work, and a larger number of donators, combined revenue could be able to cover those who need but can’t afford the service.

user storyboard pt.1

After a family member dies, the family decides to use the charities’ services. They explore their options and make a call. They can either deliver the body or have it picked up to be stored until the funeral. They have an informative conversation with a representative to discuss their wishes.

user storyboard pt.2

After discussing as a family, they contact the charity to make funeral arrangements. They don’t need to decide on what to do with the remains or if they want a memorial marker yet because the recomposition process takes thirty days, giving them plenty of time to decide what they want to do, and if needed they can make the decision well after picking up the remains. They decide to do the ceremony in the site’s ceremonial pavilion. They notify the extended family to let them know of the arrangements.

user storyboard pt.3

After the funeral, they decide to make a marker for the memorial ground. They’re able to choose the colours and textures they think best represents their loved one. If they had opted for cremation, they could have also made an urn at the trust’s making facilities. They decide to buy a plant from the trust planted in the recomposed soil and make the planter themselves. They request that part of the soil be shipped to everyone who wanted some, and take their plant and the rest of the soil home. Some of the relatives also buy a tree from the trust and plant it in their gardens, and a part of the family decide to install another marker closer to their home.

user storyboards pt.4

They received a quote from the trust with a suggested donation amount for each of the services they used. They decide to pay what they can at once, and the rest through an annual donation plan.

user storyboards pt.5

As time passes, several trees grow from the loved one’s soil. The grieving friends and family visit the memorial grounds and walk through the surrounding woodland. Some have joined grief walking groups organized by EOLDUK, where they found support amongst new friends. Every time someone visits the memorial grounds, they are also spending time in nature which on it’s own has physical and mental health benefits. They use the spaces to rest and meditate, and every visit slowly helps them grow. After a few years, they throw a lively memorial in the pavilion for their lost family member where they laugh, cry, dance and tell stories.


If you would like to learn more about the project, the research that went into it, or the specific insights that informed it, view the Personal Project Journal here.