by Beverly Aarons
Before the pandemic, death brought together mourners — relatives and friends alike — who could offer a warm hug, shed some tears, and hold hands as they remembered the deceased. But the pandemic has changed that — family and friends mourn at a distance and sometimes alone. There is no easy way to bring that plate of comfort food to the bereaved mother or sibling or friend. And for anyone who isn’t part of a “pandemic household pod,” a warm hug or kiss on the cheek is simply out of the question. Losing a loved one is difficult in any circumstance, but this pandemic is compounding grief for many mourners. So how can people offer support to their loved ones experiencing grief and still do so at a safe distance?
Renton entrepreneur Keara Kindelyn’s Foreverly app just might offer a solution. Death isn’t exactly the most welcome topic right now, despite the fact that we continue to receive a daily count of people who have succumbed to this novel coronavirus. When I discovered the Foreverly app, I reached out to founder Kindelyn to find out how she’s helping people make space for the grieving process.
“We live in a day and age where we are bombarded by advertisement — marketing everywhere we look,” Kindelyn said. “Or if we’re on social media, we often don’t realize how these things take up space in our brains, and space can often turn into energy — and you don’t realize how you’re wasting it.”
Kindelyn said that if we want to properly support mourners, the first step is to help make space for their grieving process. We can relieve some of their mental stress by taking responsibility for a few of their needs such as household chores, cooking, or other daily responsibilities. That can be a little difficult to do in person right now, but Foreverly makes it easy to create a registry that lists exactly what the bereaved person needs and allows supporters to simply order services such as household cleaning, a meal, or a much-needed therapy session.
“I have heard so many times, ‘Let me know if there’s anything I can do; let me know if you need anything,’” Kindelyn said. “That’s putting the onus on the griever to let you know what they need when they’re going through a very tumultuous time. It makes you feel good that you offer to help, right? But that’s not actually holding emotional space for somebody in the way that I think Foreverly can help fill that void.”
Much like a baby registry, anyone can create a bereavement registry at Foreverly. And since the bereaved person’s needs are listed in one place, they won’t be overwhelmed by constant questions about what they need. And more importantly, they won’t be inundated with sympathetic but ultimately unhelpful gifts such as flowers and cards sent by well-meaning people. Of course, the registry doesn’t cover every kind of need; there are just some things an app can’t solve. I asked Kindelynn how Foreverly addresses needs that can’t be met with a gift card.
“That’s something that we’re thinking about including in the roadmap,” Kindelynn said. “Something that we’ve definitely given thought to, because we recognize technology can’t disrupt every type of moment — specifically one that is a high touch point in terms of needing human compassion. And so our goal is to include things like babysitting the kids, walking your dogs, mowing your lawn.”
One of the biggest barriers to giving support to a grieving person is the taboo around death. Put frankly, people don’t want to discuss death — it just makes them uncomfortable. Even the founder of Foreverly has had to tackle her own discomfort when thinking about and discussing death, especially after the passing of her grandmother and her experiences of grieving friends who needed her support. To get more comfortable with discussing death, Kindelynn joined a Death Café — a place where people come together to discuss anything related to death.
“Doing work in the end-of-life space requires me to have a higher level of empathy,” Kindelynn said. “And I think the more I could expose myself to topics around death and understand other people’s point-of-view, the better business woman I could become — and just also a better human. I can proudly say that a year ago I was very uncomfortable talking about death or addressing people. You know, people don’t even bring up loved ones who have passed. But now I recognize that people actually want you to talk about their dead loved ones. They want you to remember their legacies. Like, it’s so much bigger than the big pit of this discomfort we feel. And so I think Death Cafés really helped to broaden my point-of-view on death and how other people view it as well.”
So how does one discuss death and support a grieving person? Kindelynn made it clear that she doesn’t think there is any specific “right” way to do that and that it really does depend on the situation and the circumstances of the person’s death.
“It’s hard thinking theoretically. I mean, it just really depends on the death itself,” Kindelynn said. “Someone committing suicide is way different than someone who was 94 and passed. Or someone who died suddenly is different than [dying from] police brutality. There are so many different facets to it that it’s really difficult to say what’s wrong, generally speaking.”
Kindelynn says that those who want to support the bereaved in a helpful way should really focus on overcoming their own discomfort with the death, be a good listener, and ask the bereaved, “How are you dealing with this right now?” or “What memories would you like to talk about?” And supporters for the bereaved shouldn’t be afraid to talk about the good times and good memories for fear of invalidating the current feelings of the grieving loved one.
There are a lot of needs not being met for bereaved individuals in our society, but Kindelynn hopes that Foeverly can help fill in some of those gaps.
“I think Foreverly could help reduce some of the deliberation fatigue,” Kindelynn said. “I think when done well and when done correctly, Foreverly really has an opportunity to help people either reduce anxiety, reduce time spent doing something, or reduce some of that discomfort … it would just make managing grief and coping with loss a little less uncomfortable.”
Beverly Aarons is a writer and game developer. She works across disciplines as a copywriter, journalist, novelist, playwright, screenwriter, and short-story writer. She explores futuristic worlds in fiction but also enjoys discovering the stories of modern-day unsung heroes. She’s currently writing an immersive play about the themes of migration as well as a series of nonfiction stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things in their local communities and the world. In August 2018 she produced a live-action game and event where community members worked together to envision an economic future they truly desired to leave future generations.
Featured image is attributed to B.C. Lorio under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.