Shortly before his death, he helped her make a checklist of all the things she needed to do: call the morgue, Social Security, and the bank; Order as many death certificates; plan what to do with his things. “I sat there with tears falling and I was like, ‘I don’t want to do this,'” says Bidwell Smith. “But when he died, I was so grateful to have that list.”
Now there are new apps and websites with names like Cake, Lantern and Empathy to help people navigate the turmoil and confusion after a loss, offering tools ranging from organized checklists for the early days of funeral planning to resources for later concerns such as closing a deceased person’s credit card account or finding a home for the deceased person’s pet will suffice.
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The makers of these apps and websites say their goal of bringing easily accessible and organized help to those in need has never been more necessary. “The pandemic has increased people’s understanding of why this is important, as well as the real need” for services, says Suelin Chen, who co-founded Cake in 2017.
Cake, which says it visits 40 million people a year on its website, provides a list of tasks people need help with and then creates a checklist, along with guides for tasks like creating an online memorial page for a loved one . The site hosts a library of thousands of articles related to death, including how to express condolences to a friend and how to plan an environmentally friendly funeral. Cake, which is free for users, also offers help with other end-of-life needs such as: B. Advice on talking to elderly parents or making a will.
The websites Lantern, founded in 2018, and Empathy, founded in 2021, also provide guidance on what to do after a death, with information on the options at each step and point in time.
Lantern, whose co-founder Liz Eddy was inspired to create the site after her grandmother died and ended up googling what to do next, aims to be a one-stop shop for grieving people. Among other things, it provides information on how to write a eulogy and “hold an ashes dispersing ceremony” and provides a list of the “best funeral songs” with traditional/religious, somber and joyful options. Empathy’s “Obituary Writer” feature, meanwhile, promises that it “can create a publication-ready tribute based on your answers to a few questions.” For a fee, it also offers one-on-one support from a professional after-loss consultant who essentially acts as a concierge for after-loss tasks.
“We connect people with services and give them tools, but a lot of it is really an educational platform,” says Eddy.
Other companies are working to go beyond simply providing information and developing tools that handle some of the logistical burden after death.
Kat Reed founded EstateGrid after publishing a workbook called Begin Here: Helping Survivors Manage. to help her father cope with the death of her mother.
EstateGrid is developing a service that will automate much of the bureaucratic aftermath of death. It starts with the automated identification of assets, liabilities and accounts, using the identity and death certificate of the deceased to create a list of necessary actions. The platform will offer tiered service levels such as free tools and paid options for the automation processes.
“Every life leaves a mess behind,” says the site, which also offers help with selling a home, locating investment accounts, appraising valuables and finding a new home for a pet.
The mobile app Empathy, which also has an easy-to-navigate checklist, offers premium services like an obituary writer who promises to create a polished obituary based on answering a few questions from the mourner. The paid option, which costs $8.99 for a month or $64.99 for a year, also includes tools that automate the closing of the deceased person’s accounts, memberships, and subscriptions. The app uses software to pre-fill forms and streamline processes that typically require dozens of separate phone calls.
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However, the companies are not only interested in logistics. They also include grief resources as part of their tools.
Experts think that makes sense. It’s hard to separate the logistics after a death and the grief that people have to deal with. The logistics “can be so overwhelming and frightening and sometimes even get in the way of the grieving process,” says psychologist Jordana Jacobs. When tasks after a bereavement take up so much time and energy, it can take the focus away from the grief, at least temporarily. As psychotherapist Megan Devine says, “Logistics support doesn’t change grief, but it does decrease suffering.”
Empathy offers grief meditations, journaling, and chat support (another premium feature). Ron Gura, co-founder of Empathy, says his company has focused on helping people deal with both issues. “We don’t think you can decouple them,” he says.
Text-based company Grief Coach focuses on the emotions that follow a bereavement, using advice from grief experts to send personalized texts to your phone. These messages — which range from describing breathing techniques to how to use them when overwhelmed, to reminders that grief is not a linear process — are intended to provide additional help that family and friends often desire but don’t know how to help.
Founder Emma Payne started Grief Coach after her husband committed suicide and she stopped hearing from many friends and family. Ten years later, she went to a friend’s funeral and learned how devastated many of her people were at losing touch: they just didn’t know what to say. Grief Coach costs $99 per year, which includes adding up to four friends and family members, who also receive texts with suggestions on how to support the grieving person, such as giving a helping hand. B. Reminders of the birthday of the deceased.
Grief Coach does not replace human support; Instead, it teaches grieving people how to find and ask for support, and helps their loved ones to show themselves in meaningful ways. Experts say that logistical support through technology can be helpful on its own, but that digital grief counseling is best used as an adjunct to in-person support or therapy, which is often required to process a profound loss and move forward.
“I’m hesitant about technology, that we just have to make sure we don’t lose the intimacy that’s inherent in what connection heals through grief,” says Jacobs. “We have to make sure that we still make these technological products very human, because it’s through that humanity… that’s actually where we heal most of the losses.”
Bidwell Smith, whose father created this critical checklist for her, believes that while technology cannot replace these healing connections, it can enable people to connect with one another.
“Grief is so lonely and can be very isolating,” she says, but it’s heartening to see people with similar experiences coming together in online communities like social media and new websites and apps after bereavement. “I think anything where someone feels more connected and less alone in what they’re going through is a good thing.”
There is no easy way to deal with what happens when a loved one dies. But by helping to demystify essential tasks and offering resources for both logistics and bereavement, these leading digital service providers hope they can take some of the burden off of mourners by giving them a little more space to to heal and connect to the support they need.