Death is not a topic that comes easily to most and yet it will happen to us all at some point. At the age of 16, Maurice was told his father had died. They hadn’t met for some time and there had been several years where there was no contact at all so the impact of this news was profound. Maurice is now on a mission to try and encourage a more open dialogue around death and connect people as they learn to manage grief and the mental struggles that death can induce. This is his story of how he turned tragedy as a teenager, into a mission, to help other young people impacted by death.
How did it all begin and what was your experience of death?
My father died when I was just 16 years old; it hit me very hard. I remember my mother came to me and said, “I see that you have changed because of your father's death. In my eyes you are an adult now.” It really had a very big impact on my life and I was not ready to deal with it. I found some peace in playing music and writing songs that could bring my inner feelings to the outside. So after I finished school I went into music and tried to make a career with my band. I signed a record deal and together we toured across Germany. We played a kind of German-style rock/pop, like the Foo Fighters cross with Kings of Leon that later changed into a more 80s funk-style.
What happened next and did you get to record anything?
During our time touring I met an artist called Dada Peng. We were just hanging out when we discovered a very deep connection about life and death. Dada Peng had written a book on life and death and palliative care so he knew the topic very deeply. He was going into schools and reading extracts of the book to talk about death and dying among young people. He asked if I could provide some support through performing background instrumentals and I agreed. The goal of the program was to convey dying in an open and positive way, as a natural part of life, and something not to be afraid of. That’s what we try to communicate. At a concert I came up with a riff and that led us to come up with a song called ‘Mach et Joot’. It’s a local term in Cologne for goodbye. The music and lyrics we wrote is about having lost a good friend and seeing him positively anchored in one's life through the places and stories we shared. It is both a farewell and a love letter to the city you walked through together.
What inspired the lyrics?
The lyrics were created after speaking with a school class about death. I remember we were just sitting there chatting and we asked them if any of them gained experience with that topic so far. After this question, the room became quiet and the atmosphere around us felt different. Then one kid told us about a classmate who had died just a couple of months before. We were so shocked, we didn’t know before, and all of a sudden, we saw tears in the eyes of the kids. We could feel and sense their uncertainty about death and how to speak about it so we provided a safe space for them and tried to answer their questions as best we could. It was a challenging situation for all and really showed the impact of loss among friendship groups.
Tell me more about the album in which you participated
‘Superhelden Fliegen vor‘ (Superheroes fly ahead) is aimed at young palliative patients and their families and friends. When people think about death, they usually think about older people which means there is very little in the way of support or resources for young people facing death, either directly or indirectly. There is hardly any modern support for young people dying so we wanted to use this record as a chance to change attitudes. Dada Peng made an LP with 22 songs to bring these experiences into lyrics. It was released in February 2022. All the money we raise through the sale of that LP goes into the same named initiative ‘Superheroes fly ahead’. The aim of the initiative is to improve the living conditions for young palliative patients and to make the needs of young dying people visible to the public.
That sounds amazing - what’s next?
The initiative we are currently working on is an app called ‘Helden’. It gives young patients a link to connect with each other in a safe setting. It’s important that people can connect with other young people either facing death or coping with a friend or family member who is very sick. It offers up-to-date information in the form of tutorials and videos and soon there will be online counselling offered by our ‘Superhero Buddies’ who are trained to respond to young people’s needs digitally.
Alongside this project you have a busy job at NTT - how did you get from life as a musician to working for a technology company?
Our band won some TV appearances but we never got to the big bang of being rich and famous so I started to study journalism and web design. I quickly realised journalism was about telling the stories of others and that wasn’t something I could imagine doing for the rest of my life. However, I found I had a talent for designing and building brands and concepts so I changed paths and now work on the Customer Experience and Design field. I still write and play music but just for my own enjoyment. My day-to-day work as a sustainability consultant helps me continue my volunteer work as I think more inclusively and holistically. That is, I also think about the consequences of people feeling alone, or not part of society. Conversely, I can bring experiences from the professional environment back into the initiative - for example in form of new songs or in exchange with other people.
Maurice joined NTT DATA DACH a year ago and works as a Sustainability Consultant in the Strategic Advisory Team. His role is focused on customer experience helping to develop offerings using his experience in design, consulting and design thinking. He is based in Cologne, Germany.