Three-Fourths of an Ounce has been a long time coming. There are notes on my computer, in notebooks, in drawers and filed neatly away that date back to before 2007. Many people ask what precipitated the founding of this concept and I struggle to find a succinct and truthful answer. I can say that when the idea hit it was electric: like an exclamation point in a thought bubble from a cartoon. It took a lot of rumination and, finally, the addition of the creative forces behind the design company 2 x 4 and the encouragement and guidance of many dear friends to make it happen.
I have spent a lot of time thinking about why we have such flexible and ample traditions around birth and marriage, but not around death. I know we share a cultural aversion to the topic, but with all of the boundaries that are breaking down in contemporary society it seems as though we are ready for at least a tiny movement of the needle towards creativity in the face of death and some measure of candor when speaking about it.
While Three-Fourths of an Ounce is a company dedicated to helping pave the way for a beautifully designed and secular language of mourning, grieving, commemoration and remembrance, at our very heart we are about gifts. I have always liked to give gifts. You might even call me a bit of a competitive gift giver. I like to give the best gifts: not the most expensive or the cleverest, but the most thoughtful. Sometimes it takes months of planning and sometimes it takes a second of inspiration. But I strive for the gift that the recipient will treasure and save, will repeat in a variation for someone they love, and will become a bond between us—an artifact of our shared affection.
Three Fourths of an Ounce aims for that experience through each product we offer. Something to give a best friend or an office mate at the exact moment when we have nothing to say that will lessen their pain, when we have only our tears to offer in comfort. This journal will welcome you into a bit of our creative process and give you a chance to meet some of our co-creators and some of our inspirations.
If you are here because you have recently lost someone you love, I wish there were words I could share that would help you in this moment. If you are here to support a friend, I welcome you as a kindred spirit. And if you are here to commemorate or remember someone important to you—someone who has recently died or has been gone for so long that their memories have taken on a sepia quality, then I do feel honestly certain that Three-Fourths of an Ounce can help you on this journey and add beautiful design and a thoughtful, modern approach to your process.
Media Vita in Morte Sumus translates from the Latin as In the midst of life we are in death. Our own death, certainly, but before that so many other deaths to face, to overcome and to live through.
Beginning today and moving forward with each new product we produce and each new article we publish, I sincerely hope that Three-Fourths of an Ounce will help all of us feel connected to those we love who are no longer here and those who we wish to support when they are grieving.
Lauri London Freedman/Founder
Three-Fourths of an Ounce was founded with the intention of creating a common language about modern mourning and commemoration by designing and producing beautiful objects, reintroducing forgotten traditions, and prompting the creation of wholly new practices. We plan to introduce an online magazine that will include interviews, memoirs and essays, excerpts from previously published works, and photo essays. Taken together, we hope this collection will encourage a new generation to bring to the act of mourning the same innovation and creativity that has revolutionized celebrations surrounding births and marriage.
When shipped from our small warehouse in Brooklyn, New York, each object comes packaged in a custom made felt pouch, drawstring bag or folio and includes a narrative card. Each narrative card delves briefly into the history of the creation of the object and, when possible, touches upon underlying traditions. In many cases it also provides instruction or a description of the intention behind the object. Some information found on the narrative card can be found on the product page on the website but other information is unique. We have written them with the foreknowledge that some recipients will be introduced to the concept and product when it arrives via UPS while others will have spent considerable time on the website browsing. We think it works and is an elegant addition to the object in both instances.
Each package also includes one of three gift enclosure cards that we created exclusively for this purpose. They can include a hand-written custom message or will be sent blank. Each card features a contemporary, stylized botanical drawing and a single line of text describing the Victorian meaning associated with the featured flora.
“I didn’t want to go to a seminar and have somebody tell me how to cry or tell me what stage I was in.”
I was introduced to the American Widow Project by my friend Kris Connell. The American Widow Project is a community of young military widows created and nurtured by Taryn Davis who became a widow at the age of 21 when her husband, Michael, was killed in service to our country in Iraq. Overwhelmed with grief and without a peer support network to turn to, Taryn found herself surrounded by people who tried comforting her by assuring her that her youthful resilience would get her through and realized that Michael’s name was subtly becoming a taboo for those around her.
Reading about Taryn and her amazing, thoughtful crusade got me thinking about what it means to face a loss that doesn’t follow our widely and deeply held beliefs about how the world is supposed to work. Is the “unthinkable” really so rare or do we somehow push the things we’d rather not face to the margins of our consciousness? Is there an unspoken societal agreement to file the deepest sadnesses that aren’t gruesome enough to be newsworthy completely out of sight? In an article titled Young, Widowed and New to Self-Help in the New York Times on February 11, 1987, it was reported that one-third of all widows lost their spouses before the age of 45–that would be four and a half million widows who lost their life-partners in the prime of their lives. When Taryn says When I thought about a widow I thought about a 90-year old woman in black knitting a sweater for one of her 100 cats, I am certain she’s not alone. That is our collective image. That is the collective illusion. But when the “unthinkable” or the “impossible” happens and each widow is left to feel like the first and each friend who wants to show support and provide comfort is left to feel as though he or she is braving new territory, it makes me wonder: Isn’t there a way to drop some of the veil but still allow each person to have their own unique experience? Shouldn’t there be a way to create a secular template that doesn’t take anything away from the sense of individuality, but nonetheless can allow everyone to create their own unique modern mourning experience? I truly believe there is and that we are on the cusp of major societal shifts that will allow just that to happen. So, thank you, Taryn, for setting such a brave and courageous example.
This idea has lived inside of my head for so long that I started wondering if it would be there forever. Guess what? It isn’t! News of our launch is now available to the 1,865,318 digital and print subscribers to the NY Times. It is a dream come true to be in the Currents column of my hometown paper. What an incredible feeling!
“It may sound greedy to want more days with a person who lived so long, but the fact that my mother was 92 does not diminish–it only magnifies–the enormity of the room whose door has now quietly shut,” Stephen Colbert on the occasion of returning to work after the death of his mother
I have been a long time fan of Stephen Colbert and The Colbert Report is truly Must-See-TV in my house. So when Stephen dropped the veil of his character for three and a half minutes in June 2013 to deliver this moving tribute to his mother I was moved, and I am sure I was not alone in leaning forward and wiping tears from my eyes. It is as honest a picture of loss as I have ever seen and I was and remain honored to have been a part of the audience that night to witness it.
This is a portrait of my Granny Ruth. Ruth was my grandfather Louis’ second wife–the woman he married the year I was born. Ruth was the person who, when I was a young girl and feeling like I had no place in the world, whispered crazy, un-p.c. things to me that, until then, I’d never heard the likes of. She insisted I was her favorite. Not only was I beautiful but I was more beautiful than my sisters. Not only did I have a lovely smile, but I should be so delighted that my mouth didn’t naturally turn down at the corners like so-and-so’s did. And didn’t I notice how perfectly straight my nose was–not rounded on the end like she who I will not name here. This might sound like Gossip-Girl-meets-Flamingo-Kid, but let me be clear: I was the eternally overweight girl with the pajama top tucked into her pajama bottoms. The girl with the headband pushed back and then forward again so there would be the perfectly uncouth bump of hair framing the top of my face like a crooked, broken crown. I was the middle child between two beautiful, thin, athletic, feathered-hair, boyfriend-having, cheerleading, presidents of student government. I needed Ruth’s cutting remarks and bolstering prevarications more than I needed air.
We never saw much of Ruth or my grandfather when we were growing up. They married quickly after my grandmother Lucille died and I imagine the feelings of hurt and betrayal were the ones that won out for my father and his sister. But when we did see them, I looked forward to those whispered moments and when we parted ways I would stand just a bit taller and let my freak-flag wave just a little higher.
When I had children of my own and my grandfather had passed away, the generation between us no longer held much sway, so Great-Granny-Ruth became an enmeshed part of my children’s lives. She was always an extremely petite woman, but in the later years of her life she was shrinking even faster than my eldest, Jack, was growing. Visit after visit the first thing Jack would do was stand back-to-back with Ruth, eagerly anticipating the day he would be taller than her. A day that came when he was not much older than eight and when the idea of being taller than an adult was almost too much delight to bear.
I had this portrait of Ruth painted from one of my favorite photographs about a year after she died in 2010 at the amazing age of 94. It was created by an artist named Elizabeth Mayville who I found on Etsy after falling in love with her totally unexpected gouache portraits of professional basketball players–two of which I immediately grabbed up. I love the idea of a posthumous portrait, perhaps in conjunction with creating a small space for a home shrine, or just as a standalone piece. I’m considering finding a small stable of artists who are similarly interested in the idea and offering their services through the Three-Fourths of an Ounce website. In the meantime, I’m delighted you’ve had a chance to meet Granny Ruth. I miss her and often hear her subversive words of praise whispered to me as I pass her portrait on the wall.
Does not knowing what to say to someone who has received a diagnosis of cancer or another terminal illness keep us from being the friend we want to be? What if you hear about it through the grapevine and aren’t sure he or she wants other people to know? What if, what if, what if? I could go on and on here with all the reasons we don’t get in touch, but instead I want to make a non-expert assertion that Saying Nothing is Worse than Saying the Wrong Thing. I think the same common sense rules apply here as apply to sending a condolence card: be honest; if you don’t know what to say then say, “I don’t know what to say,” and–most importantly–by phone, by email or by an old fashioned card–stay in touch.
When we designed this FUCK CANCER card it was with the thought that a certain kind of person who had just survived a long and unpleasant death of someone with cancer would really appreciate receiving it. I imagined sending it with a note inside that included something along the lines of “You were an incredible caregiver to the very end. I am in awe of the way you took care of your mom and she was lucky to have you there with her.”
But I can also see using the card as an icebreaker when you first hear of that diagnosis. If I wasn’t sure what to say, I’d use the resources of Breast Friends and say something like, “I really don’t know how you feel, but I can only imagine you must be scared right now.” If this was a close friend who shared some of my sensibilities, I’d probably say, “Honestly, this sucks. Fuck cancer indeed. You might get sick of me because I’m going to check in a lot. When can I see you?”
I might say the wrong thing or be too forward sometimes, but I would rather say the wrong thing than say nothing.
Back in 2010 I was sharing the idea for Three-Fourths of an Ounce with my dear friend Melissa (the Robin to my Batman in all undertakings considered follies to most sane minds). Her very first thought was of this eulogy delivered by John Cleese at the memorial service for Graham Chapman—co-founder of Monty Python—back in 1989. Her immediate association was further evidence in my mind that funerals and memorial services need not be dreaded affairs, but rather—even with the wadded tissues, running mascara, red eyes and stuffed noses—rare opportunities to gather with a group of people who share a mutual love for someone who is no longer here. They so often offer a chance for us to hear stories that shed light on a person we thought we knew well or we wished we knew better. As our boundaries around death begin to break down, I have no doubt that funerals and memorial services will become more universally seen as wonderful opportunities to gather. As we create secular and universal traditions, I hope that the fear of saying the wrong thing will be overshadowed by the opportunity to hear stories and create memories.
When Ace Hotel co-founder Alex Calderwood unexpectedly died in November 2013, the company established a simple and moving ongoing memorial for anyone and everyone to share memories. I was immediately taken with the honesty and straightforward beauty of this eulogy. There are many sites that have been and are still being established for people to create online memorials to loved ones, maybe one day there will be a simple and beautiful venue like this for everyone to utilize.
Three-Fourths of an Ounce, in partnership with the amazing design team at 2×4, underwent a truly enlightening and inspirational branding process. I had no idea what a branding process was or even what the language outlined in our contract meant, so I uncharacteristically sat back and waited to see what would happen. We explored many ancient and contemporary symbols that would offer multiple meanings and provide us a powerful and flexible visual identity. We considered symbols of death from manifold cultures and eras:
We considered different types of knots embedded with fascinating symbolism:
While we didn’t choose any of these, or the many others we researched, as our mark, we’ve saved them to appear in other places over time. We’re featuring the elderflower on a condolence card and elegant drawings of balm, rosemary and cypress on the gift enclosure cards included with every purchase.
But it was the acorn, the beautifully simple and elegantly complex acorn, that we chose to represent Three-Fourths of an Ounce. The acorn can stand alone as a single seed, but it is so often found tethered to another in a balanced and beautiful pairing. We found this symbol of potential, strength, life and immortality to be a fitting image in our context of mourning. So, we began looking at photographs:
And then we played around with different drawings:
Until we finally had our very own acorn:
I found this rendering to be simple, but not childlike, visually interesting without being busy. You’ll find this acorn as the focus of some of our items, such as the Compassion Bracelet, and as an adornment–or fetish–on the bottom of the Birthday Remembrance Candle. Keep an eye out for it as we move forward and continue to produce new and beautifully meaningful products.