Why I Created Grief Coach
The idea for Grief Coach came to me on my flight home from a friend's funeral in 2015. Gordon & I had been friends since we were teenagers. I was flattered to have been asked to speak at his funeral, but I was also nervous, because Gordon was the best friend (and second cousin) of my husband, who had died by suicide over a decade earlier. So I knew there would be lots of people at Gordon's funeral who I hadn't seen for a long, long time.
As I took my seat at the funeral, the woman next to me in my pew immediately asked how I knew Gordon. When I told her my name, her face collapsed. “Are you Barry’s widow?” she asked. She was visibly shaken. “I’m so sorry I didn’t reach out back then, Emma, I’ve been wondering about you all this time. How are you? Did you re-marry? I don’t know why we didn’t call you,” she explained. She was ashamed and apologetic. Over the next two days, I had dozens of similar conversations and heard an outpouring of regret and embarrassment.
On my flight home from the funeral, I reflected on what had been an emotional, but also eye-opening, weekend. I thought about the fear and discomfort that had kept people from reaching out. I thought about the pain that their distance had caused me — but also the pain that their distance had caused them. For over a decade, people I cared about had been carrying around guilt and shame.
It all seemed so unnecessary. I knew we could do better.
So I started brainstorming about how I could help. At that point in my career I’d spent over 20 years developing online and mobile communities to drive change. I’d created mobile platforms to engage young voters, as well as one of North America’s first online crisis intervention chat lines. I’d seen technology be effective in those areas, and was sure it could also support people through their grief.
I'm so proud of my Grief Coach team, and of the affordable, accessible grief support platform we've built together. I like to think of Gordon as a member of that team too. If I hadn't been invited to deliver his eulogy, I would always have believed that people blamed me for my husband’s death or simply forgot about me after he died. Instead I learned that they loved me, and that it was their fear and uncertainty that kept them away.
And now, each night as I look over the text messages we have queued up for our subscribers the next day, I feel deeply grateful to be doing work that matters. Every day grieving people receive our text messages, personalized based on their loss. And if they have friends and family who want to help, but aren't sure what to say or do, we send them text messages too. Because grief is hard, but it's a little easier when we have people by our side.