my grandfather's rosary

There comes a moment in everyone's life when they are faced with the harsh reality that someone they love is going to pass away. For me, that moment arrived in early 2013.

 
 

00. THE BACKSTORY

When mi Abuelito José fell very ill in late 2012, I began to wonder how my life would be without him. 

After years of witnessing my grandfather checking in and out of hospitals, I knew this time felt different. This time, I knew my grandfather was going to pass away. I guess my mother knew it too because she was very particular in the way that she took care of him. My mom has been a caregiver both formally and informally throughout her entire life. Becoming a mother at 16, a care provider at 34, and a grandmother by 36 makes her kind of a pro at loving you.

My mom was not only taking more time to help cleanse my grandfather's failing body, but his soul too. While sitting alongside his hospital bed, she used a rosario to pray with and for him basically every night. Seeing her pray comes as no surprise since I'm used to hearing her whisper in bed every night—but on this occasion, her behavior had changed in a way that I've never witnessed before.

Instead of praying for his health to improve, she began praying for his sins to be forgiven by God. Like any being, my grandfather had his demons and my mother was determined to help him make things right with God before his imminent passing. 

01. THE OPPORTUNITY

As a culturally Mexican-American Catholic woman, religion continues to play a huge role in my life, as it does in the lives of many others. Like my mother, people often use religious items such as prayer cards, pendants, or rosaries, as tools for prayer and comfort.

Items such as a headstone, an urn, or even family heirlooms are examples of such objects. Whether an item has spent generations in a family or not, those who are grieving often transform the recently deceased’s identity from the physical body to keep-sake heirlooms. Those who are mourning often become incredibly attached to objects that they associate with someone they have recently lost. 

As an unexpected result, designers are left with a monumental responsibility in facilitating some of the best and worst experiences of life through the objects they design: churches, coffins, gravestones, and in my case, a rosary.

02. Synthesis

A change in behavior could emerge from a religious item that captures the heartbeat of a dying individual. No longer is a rosary only seen as a tool for prayer, but as an extension of a person's identity—a digital family heirloom.

Rather than disrupt any already ingrained cultural paradigms with unnecessary technology, I decided it was best to enhance the communal experience of praying, grieving, and honoring the deceased with My Grandfather's Rosary. 

03. PROTOTYPE

My Grandfather's Rosary is a pulse-sensing heirloom that captures the heartbeat of a dying individual and later provides those who are grieving the ability to "feel" their loved ones' pulse during the ritual ceremonies of Dia de los Muertos—a Mexican holiday that honors their ancestors and the cycle of life.

04. LEARNINGS

Although these moments are sensitive by nature, we hold onto the memories we have left with our beloved individuals. And if given the chance, I want to keep my grandfather's presence with me too.


PRESS: CCA's Interaction Design Chair, Kristian Simsarian, speaks on the importance of designing with "Meaning First" at IXDA's Interaction15 and closes his talk with My Grandfather's Rosary, calling it, "really, really powerful."

My Grandfather's Rosary has also been featured in Adafruit's Wearable Wednesdays, and OpenIDEO's ReImagine Week on Designing for End of Life.

My Grandfather's Rosary is a pulse-sensing heirloom that captures the heartbeat of a dying individual and later provides those who are grieving the ability to "feel" their loved ones' pulse during the ritual ceremonies of Dia de los Muertos—a Mexican holiday that honors their ancestors and the cycle of life