Our Story

by Emma Payne, Grief Coach founder

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 all around the world 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.

Emma Payne, Founder & CEO

Emma is a seasoned technology entrepreneur and award-winning change-agent, whose 25 year career leading online and mobile projects has included building tools to register young people to vote, creating online networks of support for families facing health challenges, and launching North America’s first online crisis intervention line. She also founded a scrappy, action-oriented, national non-profit focused on women & technology, that broke boundaries and developed leaders for 17 years.

Grief Coach combines Emma's passion for mobile technology and engagement, with her deep commitment to giving people the confidence and tools they need to support each other through grief. She knows that, while nothing makes grief go away, supporting someone through loss is powerful and transformative for the supporter, and alters the trajectory for the grieving person too.

An MIT graduate and best-selling author, Emma started building online communities before Netscape was born. She’s developed online strategies and products for dozens of fledgling start-ups as well as large corporations such as Nike, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Virgin Mobile.

Emma's first experience with grief is captured in this 30 minute audio piece, where she walks to the park where her husband took his life. You'll also hear from her Mum, as well as from her husband's Aunt, and the man who happened to be out walking his dog that morning.

Robert Ouimet, VP Operations

Robert is a creative technology leader with a background in broadcasting and digital media. An award winning journalist, he was an executive with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for over 25 years and was at the vanguard of their digital distribution and user generated content. Under his leadership, CBC websites and radio programs won over 30 international awards, including the Prix Italia, New York Festival, and multiple Webby awards.

Robert has worked with clients including Microsoft, The National Film Board of Canada, The First Nations Financial Management Board, The British Columbia Maritime Employers Association, Ecole Chocolat, and Just for Laughs Comedy Festival.

Adrian Jones, Lead Developer

Adrian has over 25 years experience in software development. He loves the challenge of building interactive data visualization tools, from the database to the front-end. He has worked with a wide range of businesses, universities, governmental, and non-governmental organizations around the world.

He also enjoys contributing to open source software and avidly follows the latest web and app development tools and frameworks.

One of the things I love about Grief Coach is that it’s non-invasive. My team can be in regular touch with the families we support, without it being awkward. I am also glad that we can customize some of the text messages, so that they come specifically from our hospice.