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How does one humanize a body bag?

This product would humanize transport of the deceased, by placing the body in a custom "death garment" that honors rather than dehumanizes.

Photo of Ken Rosenfeld
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Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine the end-of-life experience?

It is designed for hospitals, nursing facilities, and hospice agencies, as well as people and their families engaged in advance care planning. I envision that it could become as "normal" as buying a burial plot or a headstone.

During my 20+ year career in palliative care, I've had numerous experiences of families arriving at the hospital room to find their recently-deceased loved one already "zipped up" in an opaque plastic body bag, ready for transport to the morgue, or arriving in the morgue where an attendant will "unzip" the deceased.  How utterly dehumanizing a memory for loved ones, and one that fails to communicate the respect due to decedents and their families.

This idea stems from a ritual in the hospice unit I directed at the VA, where every Veteran decedent was transported out of the unit draped with an American flag and we then all partook in a flag-folding ceremony.

I envision an alternative to the body bag -- a personalized "death garment" in which the body is placed shortly after the time of death, and in which it can reside through transport to the mortuary, crematorium, or other final destination.  The death garment could be fashioned in a variety of formats, perhaps quilted together from meaningful garments from the person's/family's life, embroidered with a meaningful phrase, or even custom printed with meaningful photos.  (I realize the last suggestion could be tacky, and/or conjure up images of Shutterfly discount coupons . . .)

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Survey mortuaries, hospitals, hospice agencies to define their perceptions that this is an important issue to people and their families, and to identify if they'd be interested in a pilot project to delve deeper into families' interest in designing and prototyping one with their loved one.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

1. Design expertise, including figuring out how to scale this so that it's not inordinately expensive to produce
2. Understanding regulatory issues re. infection control and other requirements of transport pouches
3. Piloting and marketing guidance

This idea emerged from

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Photo of Vibhu Krishna
Team

This is such a cool idea Ken Rosenfeld !! I am curious to know at which stage you see this entering--would someone have in their will/other legal document the specifics of their alternative body bag? Would it be more of a relative/loved one intervening to have the person re-"dressed"? Would it be a service that a hospital provides? Maybe in collaboration with a designer?

Photo of Lee-Jung Kim
Team

Hi Ken, this Saturday, during my Saturday ritual of making things with my little one, I made sleeping bag for her doll. I told her that her doll is going to sleep for a long time because she was not feeling well. We used her art work to decorate the sleeping bag.  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0kud9j0AjaHREtKU1ZZWnVad00/view?usp=sharing

Photo of Ken Rosenfeld
Team

Hi Lee-Jung, thank you so much for your real-life contribution to this idea.  I've been struggling with how best to translate the concept into a personal, functional, and scalable solution.  Your thoughts would be welcome. 

Photo of Lee-Jung Kim
Team

Ken Rosenfeld Was the sleeping bag idea at least somewhat close to what you are imagining? Since I never dealt with the body bag before, I was trying to imagine the way that I would as if I were to design any garment. I have experience in designing garments (via my fashion design education) and as anything else, we generally start with our inspiration.
 If I had to design a death garment (or body bag) today, I would probably have "Journey" as my inspiration. Then I will create a story board to really convey my feeling and finally design the garment (color, shape, patterns, materials will come into play).  For example, for fall/winter garment design that I worked on about 10 years ago, I used "edith piaf" as my inspiration( http://leejungkim.blogspot.com/2008/01/fallwinter-collectionclick-to-see.html). If you were to create these bags and sell it to hospitals/patients' families, it would be effective to have a story to share... let me know how I may be of any assistance to you and your idea!

Photo of Ken Rosenfeld
Team

Would love to brainstorm with you, Lee-Jung -- I really love what's in your link!  Body bags are constructed primarily to serve as a barrier to prevent transmission of infection or soiling from body fluids/waste during movement/transport of a corpse.  However, in most situations there is no serious risk of infection transmission and public health laws in most states don't require body bags except in special situations.
Body bags are constructed to be very sturdy, because the deceased is typically moved while in the bag.  The material is typically a thick plastic with a heavy-duty zipper that runs around half of it.
So, I guess the first thing we'd need to consider is how, if it's going to be used in transport,   how the garment would be constructed so it wouldn't easily rip.  Then we'd need to think about what would be the concept behind the design.  To make the garment in advance of death (i.e. the way we purchase funeral plots) would permit the designer to incorporate momentos (e.g. prized T-shirts) from a person's past.  Alternatively, one could just order a garment "off the shelf" but with a very unique, hand-crafted design.  What are your thoughts?

Photo of Lee-Jung Kim
Team

Ken Rosenfeld I have several questions: 1. who purchase the body bag? (hospitals? where do they get them?)  2. How can we share the new ideas to our potential clients?  3. Will the hospitals give the choice of body bag to the patients' family? (how would they start the conversation?)
I love the advance planning of the body bag (do people even know that they could have that option?) and equally love the idea of "off the shelf" hand-crafted design idea.
In order for us to create a user experience map, it would be helpful to know 1) how our users will get to know the existence of "friendly body bag" 2) how they decide to use this 3) what they would feel when they are using this product.

Photo of Lee-Jung Kim
Team

Ken Rosenfeld have you thought about making different designs for children? I have a ritual that every Saturday morning, I create something  (mostly dresses) with my 3 year old and each time, she asks different ones. Last week, she told me she wanted to be a bird and I made a bird costume. I wonder if we can personalize it with what the child wanted to be (could be a tree, bird, a super hero, etc.) 
I also wonder if the families can be part of creating this garment.... by giving inputs in designs (patterns), etc. If yes, how could they give inputs?

Photo of Jim Rosenberg
Team

Hi Ken Rosenfeld ,

I really like this idea, having had my own experience with the suddenness with which my wife went from a person with whom I was holding hands to hidden in a dark blue bag. It was incredibly jarring. I compare that to what it felt like to choose the paper urn for her ashes, that felt like what she would have selected herself for her dresser, and to look at her ashes in that vessel. 

I wanted to reach out too because I was wondering if I might steal a few minutes of your time. I've been working on the I Know Something About This (Updated 7/9/16) concept. I've been reaching out to palliative care professionals to get their reactions.  Would you have time for a brief conversation, or just to answer a few questions?

The overview,  prototype site, and a sample peer story are all on the concept page linked above. These are the questions I've started asking professionals:

1) What do you think about the idea?

2) What would it add to your work with patients and families? Does it fill a need?

3) Would patients and families be interested? What are the biggest challenges you see?
4) Do you think you would ever share a story from your experience? Why or why not?

5) Any other thoughts? All feedback is great, whether positive or negative!


Would a conversation make sense? Or you could just respond here, or through a Google form I set up at http://goo.gl/forms/AvxBsLT6bhZ3yDiV2.
 
Thanks for your time!

Jim  

Photo of Ken Rosenfeld
Team

Jim, thanks for reaching out.  First off, I think your idea is ridiculously good and has amazing transformative potential.  And second, I'd be happy to share thoughts via a phone call (and a few thoughts just below).  You can email me at hosenfeld@yahoo.com and we'll set up time to talk.
In terms of your idea, here are a few initial thoughts:
1.  I can imagine your concept being broadly applicable, including to patients, families, as well as physicians and other providers caring for patients approaching EOL.  A number of years ago I was mulling over starting a discussion board called "clinical pearls" in which providers would share their generalizable clinical observations, teaching tools for trainees, and other insights coming from their practice, with the ultimate goal of "raising the bar" for clinical practice and education system-wide.  I can imagine your platform being adaptable for this purpose, in addition as a means by which providers could offer their own suggestions on the same topics that you're getting P2P input.
2.  One thing you might want to think about is how to frame the topic you're addressing.  For most patients and families, they don't perceive themselves as being near the "end of life" until they are unambiguously close to death.  If you seek to engage people pretty far upstream from death (as I'd suggest you do, as they have needs far in advance of dying) you might need to find a balance between people knowing that EOL stuff is clearly included while still focusing your framing on the living part.    I spent a bit of time trying to come up with a catchy phrase for this, and moved from "living while dying" (too threatening) to "wellness in illness" (the "advanced" part of illness is implied).  I realize this is a bit of a cop-out, but it's the current reality in societal culture.

OK, email me and we'll talk more!

Photo of Jim Rosenberg
Team

Thanks Ken. This is great feedback, and the insight into the way patients and families see their experience is a huge help. I'll start thinking about the naming / "framing" to fit the way families think about their experience. I'll follow up via email so we can talk more. Thanks again!

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Welcome to the refinement phase Ken! Here are some key questions and milestones we encourage from all ideas in the Refinement:

1. How might this idea address the unique needs of the target audience you're designing for?
2. Clearly summarize the value offering of your idea in 1-2 sentences
3. Communicate your idea in a visual way with user experience maps http://ideo.pn/UX_Map
4. Identify assumptions that need to be answered in order to validate your value offering: http://bit.ly/1Oi8ZHu
5. Collect feedback from potential partners and users to answer the assumptions you’ve identified.

Lastly, here's a useful tip: When you update the content of your post, it'd be helpful to indicate this in your idea title by adding an extension. For example, you can add the extension " - Update: Experience Maps 07/12" to you idea title. This will be a good way to keep people informed about how your idea is progressing!

Photo of Dawn Gross
Team

I really appreciate your drawing attention to this detail.  i saw a Korean movie about two young people facing the end of life and choosing to go on a date to buy their burial shrouds...watching the woman try it one was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. The normalization, that such shops and fitting rooms exists is inspiring. Your idea also suggests an opportunity for each of us to contribute/personalize the garment which is reminiscent of a tradition I learned in making a talit for a soon to be Bar or Bat Mitzvah. The cloth can be so simple and can consist of something as simple as pins or beads being pinned to it to as elaborate as drawing and embroidery, whatever inspires.  And part of the gift is in the for-thought and preparation that goes into it, perhaps even like a quilting-bee that brings family and community together.

Photo of Ken Rosenfeld
Team

Awesome, Dawn!  Your comment captured the emotion behind the post completely.  If you have any interest in further developing the idea with me, would love to have a co-pilot.  (You do embroidery, right?)

Photo of Jeni Barnett
Team

I would like to share a couple of things from my mother-in-law's death. First, she had a lot of family with her,  we had some time to be with her if we chose afterward. When the time came to move her, the transporters asked us to leave them while they prepared her body. When all was ready, there was a velvet drape in a dark maroon color with the name of the funeral home stitched in a script on the side that covered everything. While kind of Victorian, it seems now more dignified than just a body bag.
My mom-in-law also picked out her burial clothes 10 yrs. previously, a red dress she found at Goodwill! No fear of planning for it, practical, and she was going to look good too! 

Photo of Ken Rosenfeld
Team

Sounds like it was managed pretty beautifully, Jeni.  (And I love the part about her burial clothes!). It seems to me that how this part of the dying process is handled offers an opportunity to personalize the experience, to add some personal "flair" for the benefit of the family, at a minimum.

Photo of Jody Gelb
Team

This is a brilliant idea. Years ago I would joke that Martha Stewart could help bring the aesthetics of death to a better plane. Seriously. Get rid of the ghoulish satin linings of caskets and now you're addressing the body bag which is a very important place to start and change this experience for all.
thank you....

Photo of Ken Rosenfeld
Team

Love the Martha Stewart idea, Jody.  I can just see her new magazine now -- "Martha Stewart Dying"!

Photo of Jody Gelb
Team

Exactly. Lovely pale blonde wood coffins. Lots of linen.
It's time to alter the aesthetics of after death care.
What you wrote about is a simple but PROFOUND idea.

Photo of Ken Rosenfeld
Team

Not sure you'll be quite as keen on it, but I just posted a new one about an in-hospital Viewing Room . . .

Photo of Jody Gelb
Team

And I just read it before seeing your message. This is another excellent idea that would offer so much to families. When my daughter died she was at home and we kept her at home for 24 hours because thank goodness I had prepared through extensive reading about after death care. She was medically fragile. The next step was moving her to our local funeral home in Burlingame and spending time with her each day for a few hours until her cremation. It was deep and beautiful. I cannot imagine how much more we would have suffered had we not figured this out.
Thank goodness for doctors like you. You can help bring about important change in this field.

Photo of Ken Rosenfeld
Team

Thanks for sharing, Jody.  I was just talking with a colleague about the movement within pediatrics to offer parents of stillborn babies or newborn deaths the opportunity to hold, nurture, and photograph the deceased child.  I can imagine parents having much ambivalence about how this deeply personal (and painful) event should be managed, but it's heartwarming that the opportunity is at least suggested as potentially healthy in supporting their grief.

Photo of Jody Gelb
Team

Thanks Ken.  The last thing I will say today and I really appreciate having this conversation with you, is that most people have no idea what to do around death before or after. They don't know that they have these options to be with a person who has just died. Or to even know about this possibility. As we all know DEATH has been completely removed from society. I have been to many graveside services where  the coffin is never even put into the ground.
So.
Thanks again for this conversation.

Photo of Meimei Chau
Team

Thanks Ken for your wonderful idea. Coming from own experience it is heart aching and devastated to watch our loved one who was a human being a minute ago were put into a zipped bag. The dignity of a human should carry thru after death. I wish this kind of idea can implement to every single hospital in the world.

Photo of Morgan Meinel
Team

Thank you for your contribution to the ideas phase, Ken! I wholeheartedly support any method and/or idea that maintains the integrity and sacred nature of our loved ones after they die. As a nurse on a Palliative Care Unit in a hospital setting, we are required to use specific body bags as per regulation of our institution - however, many of our nurses and other staff members will take the time to place a flower or some other meaningful memento on top of the deceased person's body bag, as a way of maintaining the beauty of the process of post mortem care and ultimately honoring that person in a compassionate way. 

Also, I make it a priority of mine to communicate to the deceased person's family that the post mortem process of bathing and wrapping their loved ones body is kept very sacred to our staff on the unit, with the hope of assuring them that their loved ones body will be well taken care of and respected. 

I often contemplate how meaningful it would be if we could personalize this experience - and your share here really sheds light on the possibility of that, so thank you very  much! 

Photo of Aaron Wong
Team

Wonderful idea, Ken, and thanks again for sharing, Morgan. You just reminded me of a very personal moment for me when I was young. As part of my grandfather's funeral service, each member of the family dropped a single rose into his lowered casket. Tears came bursting out of me as my rose hit his casket. It was as if all the denial and grief I was holding back found its way out in that moment of mourning. I still remember it vividly.

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Ken.
This is a beautiful idea.  What I like most is that it creates an opportunity to celebrate the individual during this time of transitioning and moving, physically and spiritually.  Everyone can be touched, family, friends and staff working with them in whatever setting.   One thought is whether this has to be the bag itself?   Can this intervention be something that is placed on top of, or around the bag? 

Photo of Lori Ruder
Team

Fantastic idea.  A presenter at the AAHPM/HPNA Annual Assembly shared a picture of her great-grandmother and discussed how at the age of 8 she had to sew her own death cloak and that cloak in Latin is "pallium" which also means to palliate.  That was back in the time when death was very much recognized as a part of life and not avoided as it in our current culture.  What an interesting concept that someone could create their own personalized death garment.  What a great way to make death a commonplace topic again.

Photo of Yue Liu
Team

I think this is a great idea. People can feel what will happen after death. They will be close to their death and experience each process to finish their thinking. But if I try to do this activity, I think l will be more afraid of death.

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Congrats on this being today's Featured Contribution!