Objects and death: a tentative taxonomy

Nicole Matthews*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This essay will offer a reflective analysis of the role of inanimate objects in a parent’s experience of sudden death of a child, and that death’s aftermath. Death, in which, it could be argued, subjects become objects, people become things, is a key moment for thinking through the manifold relationships between the living and the not-alive. The essay moves towards a taxonomy of ways in which death and grief might mobilise and enliven the inanimate. Everyday items—pillowcases, a mattress, a child’s shoe—can be investigated, not just by police and coroners, but by grieving family, as evidence of the mysterious thing that has happened here. Symbolic objects like photo albums heal through their invitation to activity, while death can make the grieving resent the ordinary objects that outlast the people we love. This essay engages with object-oriented ontologies and disability studies to open up and reflect on the ways in which objects might be animated and act as part of life-story telling around death and grief. Its essay form will allow an analysis of experiences of the socially awkward, banal or, in the case of the death of a disabled child, politically fraught, aspects to death and grief.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)515-522
Number of pages8
JournalLife Writing
Issue number4
Early online date16 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • autobiography
  • death
  • disability
  • objects


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