CHICAGO — Beside the long blue hearse on the corner of East Grand and North Wabash avenues, the little yellow signs read “No Parking — Funeral.”
Dozens of funerals were underway at the offices of Havas Chicago — one every 11 minutes. The River North ad agency transformed its lobby into a funeral space last Thursday, the pop-up installation dubbed the “11 Minutes Funeral Home.”
It held symbolic services in honor of everyone who has died by suicide in America this year.
According to Centers for Disease Control, about 132 people die by suicide in the United States every day, or one every 11 minutes.
Havas hopes to catch the attention of everyday people whose loved ones could be at risk. Discussions about mental health can be difficult, exhibit signage says, but they’re easier than grieving and simpler than planning a funeral.
“We’re trying to destigmatize it, very overtly,” said Myra Nussbaum, chief creative officer and president. “Suicide shouldn’t be a dirty little secret or a word that people are afraid to say.”
Will Russell, a senior strategist at Havas, was the creative force behind the project. The 10-hour run of the “11 Minutes Funeral Home” marks one year since Russell’s best friend died by suicide, he said.
“The most challenging part of this is that it’s deeply personal to me,” Russell said. “Addressing this head-on has been really important to me.”
The project was staffed on a volunteer basis for about a month. The group also consulted with suicide prevention organizations around Chicago, Nussbaum said.
Many Havas employees who joined the project — which took shape on weekends and nights — slowly shared their own stories of grief, she said. The experience was liberating for some and educational for others, Russell said.
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