In programme order

Avril Maddrell
Mapping grief and absence-presence: intersections of material and virtual spaces, continuing bonds and practices of mourning and remembrance

This paper builds on ideas developed within Deathscapes (2010) and a conceptual framework for understanding the varied spatialities of death, dying, mourning and remembrance including physical, embodied-psychological and virtual spaces (Maddrell 2009,2012, 2013, 2015). The paper moves from exploring the notion of virtual spaces and communities to discussing the intersection between material and virtual spaces and practices of mourning and remembrance and the relational absence-presence of the dead.

Shifts in social attitudes and the complexities of post-secular society in Britain have resulted in both a democratization and proliferation of individualized memorial sites and practices, across material and virtual spaces. This paper explores the meanings of these shifts towards greater expression private grief in public spaces (Clark 2006) while examining a number of digital arenas in order to consider whether these address mourners needs for a ‘spatial fix’ (Hallam and Hockey 2001) for the dead, their relation to them and as a site of relational inscription and practice.

Wan Jou (Lavender) She
Design for meaningful activities that empower the bereaved

Positive outcomes following bereavement, such as greater resilience, personal growth and enhanced meaningfulness, have long been discussed and empirically studied in psychology. However, these aspects were less explored in previous HCI studies which focused on pain easing, mediating social support and digitalizing existing practices of commemorating. It does not suggest that previous studies did not contribute to enhancing post-bereavement well-being, but we claim that a significance emphasis on enhancing positive outcomes following bereavement is necessary. Otherwise studying death and bereavement in HCI could be morally disoriented and lack of thoughtfulness in humanity development.

Therefore, this paper reports an explorative qualitative study of identifying how positive outcomes can be facilitated through bereavement activities and how these meaningful activities reflect needs to be supported by product service system. 12 participants from various nationalities and ages were recruited to report their bereavement experiences. The study included a sensitizing phase and an in-depth interview phase. The sensitizing phase was designed with writing and photo collaging assignments to revive participants’ memories and prepare them for the in-depth interview. Participants who completed the sensitizing task were invited to an 1-hour interview for further details of their bereavement coping activities, needs for external support and their reflections on the outcomes of bereavement. The content analysis involved 4 coders to code the interview data (Holsti’s coefficient 0.825) in 3 domains, meaningful activities, positive outcomes and external supports.

The result suggested 4 positive outcomes that were explicitly reported by the participants and 11 meaningful activities that have strong potential to facilitate these positive outcomes. This study reflected how the bereaved individuals spontaneously engage in and manage their grief and life changes and how critical the activities could facilitate positive outcomes. We then concluded this article with the design implications and discussions from the study.

Linda Woodhead
Reinventing rituals around death in a digital age

Rituals are undergoing a phase of rapid change in Europe. This presentation will focus on what is happening in Britain, which has always been a ritual innovator. It explains the background and causes of the ‘re-ritualisation’ of life, and gives examples and analysis of what is happening.  Particular attention is paid to the role of digital media.

Petri Kaverma
The Images of Life and Death

“The images of life and death” is an artistic research project that explores the cultural and visual aspects of dying. It pursues new visual ideas and produces new material artefacts of death, such as coffins and funeral urns. Perhaps such new imagery may help people to cope with their fear of dying and increase their respect for life.

Death is a theme with particular resonance in our society that admires eternal youth and strives to make death invisible. Presently, there are no updated images of death in our culture. Of course, we have the numinous black cars and coffins covered by shiny white synthetic fabrics, but we no longer see death through these worn-out attributes of sorrow. It could even be argued that the very object of dying – the body, the corpse – has consequently disappeared. A dead person has turned into an abstraction, and, thus, our experience of death has lost its meaning. The invisibility of death has made death all the more frightening for us.

“The images of life and death” will develop a new kind of coffin concept. During the owner’s lifetime, the coffin will function as a piece of art, and as the owner passes away, the coffin will become the final resting place. Thus, the owner lives a long and happy life with the artwork, finally to be buried in it. In the end, also the artwork will vanish, losing the form it originally held. What remains is a sort of framework that contained the parts of the coffin. This framework, now empty, will stay with those left grieving as a tangible memory, an object for reminiscence.

The project creates a set of conceptual and visual tools that can give us a new sensitivity about our life, a framework by which to ask ourselves how we feel today, how our life looks at the moment, whether it feels right and meaningful for us. In this sense, the project is extended from the artistic or visual realm to that of language.

Jakob Borrits Sabra
Future Dead: Designing Disposal for Both Dead Bodies and Digital Data 

Today the dying and the bereaved attend memorialization both online and offline. Cemeteries, urns, coffins, graves, memorials, monuments, websites, social network sites, applications and software services, form technologies that are influenced by discourse, culture, public,  professional and economic power. They constitute parts of an intricately weaved and interrelated network of practices and designs dealing with death, mourning, memorialization and remembrance (Graham et al. 2015; Gibbs et al. 2015; Graham et al. 2013).

The paper presents findings from two research projects; the 2015 exhibition Death: The Human Experience at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery (bristolmuseums.org.uk) and the Future Cemetery Design Competition 2016 held by the Centre for Death and Society and Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol (futurecemetery.org).

Grounded in sociological theory on death and memorialization technologies (Moncur et al. 2012; Jefferies 2013; Walter 2008), ethnographic fieldwork and survey results (n=348), this paper examines and discuss subjective and collective attitudes and approaches towards death and memorialization technologies, mobilities of death and disposal and the perspectives offered by new digital online solutions and services for memory and legacy.

Based on the research findings the author questions how death and disposal is perceived by a British (urban) public and if death has been liberated from social and individual emotional regulation or is (still) constrained by subjective and/or collective regulation. The design proposals from the Future Cemetery Design Competition 2016 are used to argue the above and reveal insights from the field of practice (art, technology and design) by discussing some of the creative solutions, ideas, scenarios, fictions and concrete examples of how to deal with dead bodies, digital identities and legacy construction in a hyper-­‐connected and digitally mediated society.

Gibbs, M. et al., 2015. # Funeral and Instagram: death, social media, and platform vernacular. Information, Communication & Society, 18(3), pp.255–268. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1369118X.2014.987152 [Accessed February 20, 2015].

Graham, C. et al., 2015. Gravesites and websites: a comparison of memorialisation. Visual Studies, 30(1), pp.37–53. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1472586X.2015.996395 [Accessed March 20, 2015].

Graham, C., Gibbs, M. & Aceti, L., 2013. Introduction to the Special Issue on the Death, Afterlife, and Immortality of Bodies and Data. The Information Society, 29(3), pp.133–141. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01972243.2013.777296 [Accessed March 3, 2014].

Jefferies, S.P. and J., 2013. Narrating the Digital: The Evolving Memento Mori. In C. Maciel & V. Carvalho Pereira, eds. Digital Legacy and Interaction. pp. 83–99.

Moncur, W. et al., 2012. From Death to Final Disposition : Roles of Technology in the Post-­‐Mortem Interval. , pp.531–540.

Walter, T., 2008. The sociology of death. Sociology Compass, 2(1), pp.317–336.

Miriam Schreiter
Now My Soul is Free – The Death of the Other in Digital Games

My contribution will explore the phenomena of death and dying in mobile digital games. From an analytical and empirical based perspective I will look into digital mediations of death. The main point of my considerations will be the concept of responsibility for the (digital) other, putting the representation of and the in-game-‘interaction’ with the dead and dying into focus. My presentation is based on recent findings in the context of my interdisciplinary PhD project.

Mobile digital games are very popular with a great number of people all over the world. They are therefore an essential part of many people’s everyday lives and use of technology connected with death and dying. While the majority of research on death and dying in digital games focuses on avatar death, the topic is largely unexplored when it comes to dead and dying digital others. These characters are usually not controlled by the player but in most cases some sort of relationship between them and the player is established (for instance as enemy, victim or person in need vs. friend, investigator, avenger or redeemer etc.). I will explore this relationship between player and the digital dead drawing especially on the philosophical thinking of Emmauel Lévinas on the death of the other. Using a digital game as example I will address questions such as: How is the death of the other represented by means of storytelling and visual display? Which ethical aspects and values are implied by this? How do they shape the player’s role and his/her perception of death and dying in the game?

Thus, a number of new and exciting research perspectives dealing with death and dying in digital worlds will be offered. At the same time a connection to current discourse concerning ethics and religion in games as well as concepts of digital afterlife can be established.

Corina Sas
Breakup and Loss: An Embodiment Approach to the Exploration of Physical and Digital Disposal Practices

This talk provides an overview of my work on technologies for the self, with an emphasis on the value of the human body and significant objects in scaffolding personally relevant memories. Objects – as extensions ofself – gain significance not only for defining the self, but also for reconstructing it. Therefore disposal becomes critical during life transitions, when people are required to re-evaluate their possessions which continue to evoke an old, undesired self. This presentation described an ongoing study where we interviewed 10 grief psychotherapists about their work on rituals of letting go. Our preliminary findings indicate that the symbolic objects to be disposed of weren’t  limited to the bereaved’s personal artefacts, they also included new natural objects such as stones and seeds. We also discovered two aspects of disposal practices, with possessions and natural objects being either passively, or actively disposed of, and three qualities highlighting the value of speed, visibility and embodiment in rituals of letting go. The presentation concludes with some theoretical and practical implications of this work.

Paul Coulton and Nina Ellis-Grey
PRESS DELETE! : The Future of Death

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” ― William Gibson, Neuromancer

Given that Science Fiction (SF) is predominantly concerned with the future it seems inevitable that this should include a great deal of consideration of what will happen to us when we die and this paper we consider the future or death using examples from Science Fiction (SF). Many SF writers have presented some form of vision of an afterlife in which either our consciousness is able to survive after the death of our bodies or present technologies that are able preserve our bodies beyond their natural limits. For example our opening quote is the first line of Neuromancer which imagines an electronic medium within which the dead reside. More recently Charlie Brooker explored explored a similar concept in the “Be Right Back’ episode of his series Black Mirror. It presents the story of Martha who turns to a service which is able to create avatar of her recently deceased boyfriend Ash using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and his social media data. Whilst to some this may sound far fetched it is the aim of AI start-up company Humai based in San Francisco. We pose the question as to whether such visions can be interpreted as Design Fictions, which are used to project possible future worlds using the trajectories of emerging technologies, and use them as a means of considering the somewhat paradoxical notion of the Future of Death.

Bruce Hanington
Life, Death, and Design in Transition: Looking for change in mainstream practices and products

In 1967, Barbara Jones wrote a book called Design for Death. Yet this was and has remained an isolated and obscure text. In 1995, I.D. Magazine published a coffin concept as part of a competition entry, with the caption, “This really is the dark side of design.” Since then there has been a proliferation of design explorations associated with death and dying, but most have been within academic or experimental realms, art projects, expressive provocations, or fringe operations reaching relatively select audiences. Industrial (product) design and interaction design lay claim to “design for human experience”, typically shorthanded as User Experience (UX) design. Yet why are the most fundamental human experiences, significant life transitions, including death, still routinely ignored by mainstream design? Persistent trends continue to drive the need for change: Do-It-Yourself (DIY) movements, personalization or mass customization, new technology, and sustainability. Opportunity abounds for design to influence consumer choice. The flexibility offered in both physical form through customized production technologies such as 3D printing on demand, and the affordances of new digital product interactions, should provide the bereaved with unique, satisfying experiences as they mourn, ritualize, celebrate, and commemorate the dead. Questions raised by this stance include, how might we change institutions and industries long steeped in the delivery of traditional products and practices? How, why and by whom are current products designed? How might we reconcile the combined need for dealing with both the physical and social body in new ways, and how might this correspond to the appropriate integration of tangible and digital product elements? This discussion will be seeded with past and current design examples, presenting both where things have been and where new potential lies.

Stacey Pitsillides
When ethics Underestimates its Subjects: What to do when Designing with ‘Vulnerable’ Others

This presentation seeks to challenge some of terminology and bureaucratic systems used for defining ethical practice within the academic fields of art and design, particularly when researching death and dying in a practice-based way. It uses the personal experience of working on a practice-based PhD in collaboration with two intuitions that engage with their ethical procedure in different ways, a hospice’s research governance and a universities’ ethics committee. It questions the element of risk within this kind of research, who holds the risk and how this risk impacts the way we bring ideas from theory to practice. This can be used as a template to consider more widely how the evolution of ethics within research alters the nature of the research being undertaken and allows the researcher not only to reflect on the ethical conditions of their own study but on ethics as a distinct thread in ones own research.

In relation to this a deeper consideration of ethics as principles of care, and ethics on an institutional level, as a reduction of risk or liability, this will allow us to question the nature and status of the word vulnerability[1] within the field of death and dying. It is a term that is often used to define the bereaved as group of people that need protection and should be approached with caution, preferably by those professionally trained to deal with them. However in practice we do all have to engage with bereavement in our day-to-day lives and therefore we should have the ability and social skills to discuss bereavement openly.

This view of bereavement as vulnerability defines it as something explicitly negative or diminishing, therefore difficult to engage with, as the status of the person will always be below you if you are protecting them. However if to be vulnerable is to expose oneself to the world, might this exposure not also benefit us as people? Might we not learn things about ourselves or about others we have loved and lost from this process? Tony Walter in his seminal paper A new model of grief: bereavement and biography[2] suggests this when describing his personal approach to bereavement and the ways that continuing bonds inspire more creative approaches to our relationship to the dead. It is this creative reflection that my research is interested in developing. I would argue that through vulnerability bereavement opens up a rare space, in the digital age, for existential reflection and deep embodiment of the self through those we have lost.

[1] The subject of re-defining vulnerability was discussed in more depth in the recent conference Digital Existence: Memory, Meaning, Vulnerability at the Sigtuna Foundation on October 26-28, 2015.

[2] Walter, T. (1996). A new model of grief: bereavement and biography. Mortality, 1(1), 7-25.

Wendy Moncur
How to design a digital memorial

Memorialization is a ubiquitous human practice, with deep roots in culture and tradition. As digital technologies increasingly pervade our lives, opportunities are created to memorialise and to sustain continuing bonds in new ways. While memorials that utilise digital technologies are becoming increasingly common, the design space for digital memorials is an emergent one. We developed an emergent framework for digital memorials, grounded in examples of current memorialization practice, and situated within a contextual understanding of memorials as an emergent digital phenomenon within a networked society. This framework was used in the participatory design of a bespoke, tangible, digital memorial for a bereaved parent. In this talk, I’ll describe the framework and its use, and reflect on the significance of process as well as outcomes when working with participants in delicate social contexts. I’ll also identify potential areas of future interest that this framework brings to the fore, such as HCI’s engagement with critical concepts of the post-self and temporality.

The talk draws on material from the following papers and book chapters:

Moncur, W. (Forthcoming). Living Digitally. In S. Groes (Ed.), Memory in the Twenty-first Century: Critical Perspectives from the Sciences and Arts and Humanities. Palgrave Macmillan.

Moncur, W. (2015). Digital ownership across lifespans. In C. Garratini & D. Prendergast (Eds.), Ageing and the Digital Life Course. Berghahn Books.

Moncur, W., & Kirk, D. (2014). An Emergent Framework for Digital Memorials. In Proc. DIS’14 (pp. 965–974). Vancouver, Canada: ACM Press.

Moncur, W., M Julius, Hoven, E. van den, & Kirk, D. (2015). Story Shell: The Participatory Design Of A Bespoke Digital Memorial. In Proc PIN-C 2015. Den Haag, Netherlands. Retrieved from http://sites.thehagueuniversity.com/pinc2015/home

Alberto Frigo
Stowing to Death: The Germinative Power of the Archive

Derridian notions have for decades now provided keys to understand contemporary phenomena. Among them is the notion of archiving, which, according to Derrida, is yet another manifestation of power. Shifting beyond the Greek meaning of the archive that he uses to make such a claim and discovering the  older  Masoretic meaning of the word  (הבה בת pronounced “tebah”), through my research, I was able to relate to archive as not so much the Arc of Covenant, where laws are archived and dictated but rather the Arc or basket in which little Moses was left floating in the river. In this sense I have contributed in bringing forward a new perspective on archival practices which implies a more precarious and life-saving manifestation. Inspired by this finding, this paper relates to the digital archive of my life comprising of, for example, all the photos of the objects I have used since 2003 (see more of my archival practice at: http://2004-2040.com), and the location in my native land in the Italian Alps that I have acquired to “stow” myself and the archive in 2040, when I plan to stop. While presenting the concrete plan of this act of life-stowing and relating the choices I had to make, I will present the practices of other marginal individuals who have undertaken such an operation and whose archives have been literally representing their “death drive” as much as, in Walter Benjamin’s word, “seeds of grain which have lain for centuries in the chambers of the pyramids shut up air-tight and have retained their germinative power to this day”. Additionally I will also present a McLuhan’s reading of these precarious forms of archives not only as an “anticipating” factor of social transformation ahead but also, as he puts it, as a medium which can be potentially “avoiding the consequences of technological trauma” (e.g. wars and economic crisis) if only societies would take them more in consideration.

George Julian, Chris Hatton, Hannah Morgan and Imogen Tyler
#justiceforlb: The multiple afterlives of Connor Sparrowhawk: A panel discussion

I made sounds at the John Radcliffe hospital yesterday I never expected to make. Or even knew I could make. Sounds of keening, howling, inconsolable, incomprehensible grief, sorrow, despair and darkness.
I hugged him while he died.
Unspeakable horror.
Agonising pain.
We are now in a space I can’t describe.  Sara Ryan, blog post, July 5th 2013

The #justiceforlb campaign and the scale of its impact, has much to teach us about the entanglements of death, mourning, commemoration, mediation, activism, social movements and justice in a digital age.

Connor Sparrowhawk (known as Laughing Boy, or LB) drowned in the bath in an NHS Assessment and Treatment Unit (Slade House) for adults with disabilities, on the 4th of July, 2013. Connor was 18 years old and had been in ‘the care’ of the unit for 107 days. The NHS trust (Southern Health) initially attributed his death to natural causes. Connor’s mother, Sara Ryan, a disability researcher, had already been writing a (then anonymous) blog – Mydaftlife – about family life with Connor. After he died she, along with family, friends and supporters, began a campaign to seek justice for him. An inquest into Connor’s death began on Monday 5 October 2015, and for the first time in British history a Coroners hearing, was live tweeted, @LBInquest. The Coronor’s Jury found that Connor’s death was preventable, and that neglect had played a part. As a consequence, NHS England commissioned Mazars, an audit firm, to examine the deaths of 10,306 patients in the care of Southern Health trust between April 2011 and March 2010. The findings of this report, leaked to the BBC, revealed that the trust had failed to investigate the deaths of more than 1,000 patients with learning disabilities or mental health problems. On December 10th 2015, the leaked Mazars findings provoked the tabling of an ‘urgent question’ to the Health Sectary Jeremy Hunt in the House of Commons. Hunt made a public apology to Sara Ryan and her family, yet as we write the Mazars report is still being withheld. The national implications of the Mazars findings are staggering.

This panel, composed of Dr George Julian, the knowledge transfer expert who has led the #justiceforlb campaign, Professor Chris Hatton, who researches health and social inequalities with a particular focus on learning disabilities and social policy, Professor Imogen Tyler, a sociologist of inequalities and Hannah Morgan, a disability studies lecturer who works on the rights of disabled people, will reflect on the multiple afterlives of Connor Sparrowhawk: the #107 days campaign and actions, the use of digital and off-line activist practices: twitter, blogging, vimeo, the LB Bill, the Justice Quilt, the Justice Shed, films,  art exhibitions, the #JusticeforLB Symposium, picnics and flags, along with the tears, mourning, loss, anger and rage  which have shaped this extraordinary, ongoing and growing movement for justice for people with learning disabilities.

Elena Semino
Grieving Online: Metaphors Used by Bereaved Family Carers on a Cancer Online Forum

Online forums provide an opportunity for people dealing with illness and bereavement to express their experiences in a relatively anonymous environment, and to give and receive support. Metaphors are well known to be an important tool for making sense of and communicating one’s emotions, particularly in the case of difficult, negative emotions such as grief. In this talk I consider the metaphors used on an online forum by people who have recently been bereaved after caring for a loved one with cancer. The data consists of approximately half a million words of contributions to the forum. Qualitative and quantitative methods were combined to study the metaphors used in this dataset. The analysis revealed a variety of metaphors that are used by contributors to express different aspects of grieving. These include Physical Fragmentation metaphors for the emotional consequences of a loved one’s death (e.g. your whole world is falling apart) and Journey metaphors for the process of grieving over time (e.g. I know I’m further down the line than you in the grieving process but at the moment I feel as if I’ve taken ten steps backwards). On the basis of the analysis, I will discuss the role of online forums as relatively safe spaces in which to disclose the emotions associated with bereavement, and in which to provide and receive support. I will also reflect on the importance of studying what people say online about the experience of bereavement, particularly in view of the ethical concerns associated with this kind of research.

Jennifer M. Huberman
Dearly Departed: Communicating With the Dead in the Digital Age

To be confirmed – possible Skype presentation

This paper explores the way the internet is reconfiguring relationships between the living and the dead. Drawing upon data from the online memorial site Forever Missed.com it asks: Why do online memorials increasingly involve writing letters to do the deceased rather than commemorating their lives through the more traditional genre of the obituary? How does the internet provide a new means for the bereaved to communicate with the dead, and even use the dead to communicate with others? How might these changes be reflective of new forms of consciousness and connectivity? Inspired by the work of media theorist José van Dijck, I argue that online memorials increasingly serve both a commemorative and “communicative” function (van Dijck 2007). Through these sites, the bereaved not only attempt to sustain relationships with the deceased, they also use these memorials as a means to communicate and connect with living others. By highlighting the communicative function of online memorialization this article also proposes an alternative perspective on how the internet operates as a “techno-spiritual system.”

Satya Savitzky
Welcome to the ‘zombie apocalypse’

Writing over 30 years ago Donna Haraway observed: ‘Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we frighteningly inert’. In the 21st century, autonomous machines and networked media sustain ever more routinized forms of social action.  Animating such arrangements is a largely invisible ‘life-force’, electricity. The power cuts which followed the floods in Lancaster and surrounding areas in late 2015 without warning rendered the built-environment ‘lifeless’, scrambling established patterns of social life and effectively exiling thousands of people from their habitual ‘electric lifeworlds’.

News reports spoke of a ‘zombie apocalypse’. The metaphor held together a number of (often contradictory) fears and fantasies, regarding life, loss, animation, suspension, routine and catastrophe, and gestured to the persistence of social life even after its sustaining energy was cut. Indeed for many of those affected, the temporary absence of electricity was tremendously generative, (re)animating dormant sociabilities and fledgling connections, seemingly awakening people from the slumber of electrically-supported life. The presentation will probe the extent to which the electricity-computation nexus which has come to subtend modern social life, simultaneously animates and deadens, connects and separates, preserves and forgets – as well as contains within it a dormant catastrophe.

Fiorenza Gamba
The Digital Age of Grieving Rituals: Mobility and Hybridization of Memory

The quest for the personalization of commemorative and grieving rituals has, in the last two decades, found a ritual context in digital spaces to satisfy the multiple exigencies of people regarding the emotions elicited by the loss of a loved one. At present a transition is occurring and it involves the experiences of grief of individuals with mobility, an emblematic category of contemporary life that connects people, places, emotions, things. At the present, the challenge is to understand further transformations in everyday life through both the practices of death and the key of hybridized space as a homogeneous space (Eliade, 1965), and especially to investigate: 1 the influence of digital rituals on the production of hybrid memories as the intersection of digital, human, media, and place-situated memories; 2 the transformation of the role of the subject in digital commemorative and grieving rituals, which also involves the idea of the extended identity; 3 the consequences of hybridization, linked to mobility, for the space/time setting of rituals, for grieving, and for the re-thinking of urban spaces of commemoration as places of memory and places of living and identity.

This interdisciplinary perspective could fruitfully be analyzed through four key concepts : personalization, contemporary interpretation of death, memory, extended identity. Four key concepts that meeting, all, the category of mobility.

After a brief exposition about:

  • what the on line rituals of death or grieving are;
  • when are they appeared on the Web;
  • which needs they meet;

I’ll stress the theme of their transformation, that concerns the hybridization and the mobility, especially :

  • the use of the rituals of death as an interpretative key for mobile societies and identity;
  • the highlighting of memory as an interaction of individuals, digital technology, and places;
  • the use of hybridization as the lens through which to understand the transformation of society.


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Petri Kaverma – Images of Life and Death