Memento Mori: Coming to Peace with Death
Maura McInerney-Rowley, a recent graduate from the University of Michigan’s Ross College of Business MBA program, conceptualized the idea for Memento Mori (formally known as WILD) after a series of experiences that brought death, dying, and grief into the forefront of her mind.
Story by Lawryn Fraley
First, Maura was asked to read a poem at a wedding ceremony regarding the loss of a parent – an experience Maura shared with the bride as she had lost her own mother. The morning of the wedding she learned that a wedding guest had unexpectedly died the night before. The shocking and abrupt nature of this death got her thinking about how that family would handle the logistics (e.g., notifying the family, coordinating transportation of the deceased, etc.).
The day after the wedding, Maura left for a trip to Alaska for a mountain hike. Their guide asked the group of young hikers to reflect on the highs and lows of their 20s. She immediately identified the passing of her mother shortly before her 21st birthday as the low of the decade, but struggled to name any highs amidst the intensity of her mother’s death. In that very moment, on the side of an Alaskan mountain in terrible rainy weather and 30 mile per hour winds, Maura spotted a small purple flower growing out of sheer rock face being thrashed by the wind. The moment she identified with that flower’s tenacity, the clouds parted, providing the group with visibility for the first time that day. This moment of profound reflection is credited as the conception of Memento Mori for Maura.
The following week, Maura pitched her rough idea for Memento Mori in one of her courses. With some feedback and more research, she settled on an open marketplace method to provide people with an all-in-one, end-of-life and after-loss guide. This format was inspired by Maura’s previous experiences as a wedding planner and exposure to companies like Zola and the Knot (all-in-one, open marketplaces for wedding planning).
Innovation in Action: Lessons Learned
When Maura joined the 2022 Innovation in Action (IiA) program, she was in a unique position already having a concept and project chosen. In order to make her team feel involved, she met with every team member individually and asked what their goals for the program were. Learning what motivated her teammates and providing opportunities for each member to achieve their goals helped her motivate her team to collaborate without traditional incentives like a course grade or paycheck.
In addition to clarifying her leadership style, Maura also learned the importance of project management. As an intrinsically motivated and task-oriented student, it was hard for Maura to learn to delegate in the beginning.
As for the development of Memento Mori throughout Innovation in Action (IiA), Maura and her team gained insight into the taboo-nature of death during their customer discovery interviews. It became apparent that there was little to no education regarding death and death services currently on the market. Education quickly became one of the core components of Memento Mori.
Originally known as WILD (Whether in Life or Death), the end-of-life and after-loss guide has been rebranded as Memento Mori since IiA. Translating to “remember you are going to die” in Latin, Maura interprets the new name as a reminder that life is fleeting and that we should be more prepared for death and that death is only morbid if you miss the point. In fact, studies show that talking about your mortality actually makes you happier. Memento Mori will serve as a tool to provide anyone with a deeper understanding of death and dying and, ultimately, more clarity with their life purpose. Maura plans to continue contributing to the death positive movement, a new approach to the inevitability of death and dying that rejects the traditionally taboo nature of death in western culture. With more than three million views for #grief on TikTok, it is no surprise that the Millennial and Gen Z demographics are ready for this movement.
In addition to being more death positive, the younger generations are more accustomed to doing everything online and, as an increasingly non-religious generation, lack comforting death rituals generally provided by organized religion. All of these traits, and many more, have only affirmed the need for Memento Mori.
Not only was Maura and her team awarded the first place award in Innovation in Action 2022 of $10,000, but she has also been selected to participate in Dorm Room Fund’s Female Founder Track Program, received a $20,000 grant from SPARK Ann Arbor, participating in Launch House in September, and Antler’s small business launch program in October. Despite her success, Maura has not lost touch with her mission and plans to complete her Death Doula Certification in November. Looking forward, Memento Mori is launching a beta product in Winter 2022 for a limited number of folks. Individuals interested in planning their end-of-life care can request early access to the product as a beta tester here.