The app, which also draws on the expertise of Dr Panote Siriaraya from the Kyoto Institute of Technology, offers a virtual and personal memorial space that allows mourners to deposit their memories and feelings about their loss and honour their loved one.
When a loved one dies, memories of that person become particularly valuable in connecting the mourners with the deceased. Living Memory Home users can create a memorial space that they can personalise with photographs and messages. A curated set of questions prompts users to write memories and feelings about their loved one. Users may write as if they are speaking to the person who died, which can help with the grieving process, said Dr Wan Jou (Lavender) She, a postdoctoral research associate at Weill Cornell Medicine who co-designed Living Memory Home with researchers from the institution’s Center for Research on End-of-Life Care.
People who experience the loss of a loved one through death often report that their biggest fear is forgetting memories and details of that person. Some people use social media as a forum to honour their loved one, however, the mechanism of receiving likes and comments on these forums often encourage people to act in a socially acceptable way. This discourages the sharing of negative thoughts or taboo subjects, according to Dr She.
While receiving likes or supportive comments on social media may feel gratifying, Dr She said, mourners may self-edit the content and remove some details of the relationship, making the content superficial and less reflective of the complexity of the loss. Grief involves revisiting the experiences and processing the variety of emotions, positive and negative, accompanied with the loss. Being unable to process grief appropriately could lead to prolonged grief disorder.
To support the mourning process, Living Memory Home – which is free and available to the public – offers a virtual space in which people can memorialise and reminisce about their loved one privately, reflecting on both positive and negative memories and emotions.
In the app development process, Dr Ang worked alongside Dr Siriaraya to provide insights into human computer interaction, particularly in relation to how users interact with technology in a social-technical context.
To study design opportunities and challenges to facilitate backstage grieving, the researchers recruited 20 adults who had all lost a loved one within the past three years to use the Living Memory Home app for one month, later interviewing them about their experience with the app. The researchers presented their findings at CHI’21: ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing System, hosted May 8–13 in Yokohama, Japan.
Dr Ang added: ‘This study helps us understand how people use digital technology for sensitive and personal matters such as grieving, so that we can incorporate human values in technology design.’