— New apps can offer help.
Creators of the services say their goal of providing easily accessible and organized help for people in distress has never been more necessary
By Sophia Laurenzi
What do you do after someone dies? Most people expect to deal with intense grief, but they might not realize how many logistical details arise after a death. Those tasks can feel overwhelming: deciding who to call, learning where to get death certificates, planning memorials and navigating finances.
“It’s so daunting … to figure out where to even start,” grief therapist and author Claire Bidwell Smith says. Bidwell Smith’s mother died when she was 18, and her father when she was 25.
Shortly before his death, he helped her make a checklist of all the things she would have to do: call the mortuary, Social Security and the bank; order this many death certificates; plan for what to do with his things. “I sat there with tears dripping down, being like, I don’t want to do this,” Bidwell Smith says. “But the minute he died, I was so grateful to have that list.”< Now, new apps and websites with names such as Cake, Lantern and Empathy exist to help people navigate the tumult and confusion after a loss, offering tools that range 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.
The creators of these apps and websites say their goal of providing easily accessible and organized help for people in distress has never been more necessary. “The pandemic has increased people’s understanding of why this is important, as well as the actual need” for services, says Suelin Chen, who co-founded Cake in 2017.
Cake, which says 40 million people a year visit its website, provides a list of what tasks people need help with and then creates a checklist, along with offering guides to tasks like making an online memorial page for a loved one. The website hosts a library of thousands of articles related to death, including how to express condolences to a friend and how to plan an eco-friendly burial service. Cake, which is free to users, also provides help with other end-of-life needs, such as advice for talking to elderly parents or how to create a will.
The website Lantern, founded in 2018, and Empathy, founded in 2021, likewise provide guides on what tasks must be tackled after a death, with information about options at each step and timing.
Lantern, whose co-founder Liz Eddy was inspired to create the website after her grandmother died and ended up Googling what to do next, aims to be a one-stop resources for mourners. Among other things, it provides information about how to write a eulogy and “do an ash scattering ceremony,” and offers a list of “best funeral songs,” with traditional/religious, somber and joyful possibilities. Empathy’s “Obituary Writer” function, meanwhile, promises it “can craft 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 education platform,” Eddy says.
Other companies are working to move beyond just providing information to creating tools that will handle some of the post-death logistical burden.
Kat Reed founded EstateGrid after she published a workbook called “Begin Here: Helping Survivors Manage” to help her father manage the death of her mother.
EstateGrid is working on building a service that will automate much of the bureaucratic aftermath of death. It starts with automated discovery of assets, liabilities and accounts, using the deceased person’s identity and death certificate to generate a list of what needs to be done. The platform will offer tiered levels of services, such as free tools and paid options, for the automation processes.
“Every life leaves a mess,” the website says, which also offers help in selling a house, finding investment accounts, appraising valuables and finding a new home for a pet.
The mobile app Empathy, which also features an easy-to-navigate checklist, offers premium services such as an obituary writer that promises to create a polished obituary based on the mourner answering a few questions. The paid option, which costs $8.99 for one month or $64.99 for a year, also includes tools that automate closing the deceased person’s accounts, memberships and subscriptions. The app uses software to pre-fill forms and streamline processes that usually take dozens of separate phone calls.
The companies are not just about logistics, however. They also include grief resources as part of their tools.
Experts say that makes sense. It’s hard to separate out logistics following a death and the grief people must deal with. The logistics “can be so overwhelming and terrifying, and actually sometimes get in the way of the grieving process,” psychologist Jordana Jacobs says. When the tasks that follow a death take up so much time and energy, it can shift focus away from grief, at least temporarily. As psychotherapist Megan Devine says, “Logistical support doesn’t change grief, but it reduces suffering.”
>Empathy provides grief meditations, journaling and chat support (which is another premium feature). Empathy co-founder Ron Gura says his company has focused on helping people dealing with both issues. “We don’t think you can decouple them,” he says.
The text-based company Grief Coach focuses on the emotions that follow a death, using advice from grief experts to send personalized texts to your phone. These messages — which range from describing breathing techniques to use when feeling overwhelmed to reminders that grief is not a linear process — are designed to provide extra help that family and friends often want to but don’t know how to give.
Founder Emma Payne created Grief Coach after her husband died by suicide and she stopped hearing from many friends and families. Ten years later, she went to a friend’s funeral and learned how devastated many of her people were to have lost touch: They just didn’t know what to say. Grief Coach costs $99 a year, which includes adding up to four friends and family members who also receive texts with suggestions on how they can support the grieving person, such as reminders of the deceased’s birthday.
Grief Coach does not replace human support; instead, it teaches grievers how to find and ask for support and helps their loved ones show up in meaningful ways. Experts say that logistical support from technology can be helpful as a stand-alone, but that digital grief support is best used as a supplement to personal support or therapy that is often needed to process and move forward from profound loss.
“My hesitation around technology is that we just have to make sure we don’t lose the intimacy inherent in what is healing about connection through grief,” Jacobs says. “We have to make sure we still make these technological products very human, because it is through that humanity … that we actually heal the most from loss.
Bidwell Smith, whose father made her that critical checklist, says she believes that even though technology cannot replace those healing connections, it can enable people to connect with each other.
“Grief is so lonely, and it can be very isolating,” she says, but she is encouraged to see people with similar experiences find each other in online communities like social media and new after-loss websites and apps. “I think anything where someone can feel 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 demystify essential tasks and offering resources for both logistics and grief, these digital services leaders say they hope they can help lift some of the burden off mourners, giving them a little more space to heal and connect with the support they need.
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