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Online grief communities offering non-traditional spaces to mourn

grief online
Posted at 1:47 PM, Dec 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-02 14:49:07-05

The last 12 months were some I would rather not repeat, filled with layers of loss and heartache. I can say with certainty 2022 wasn't exactly a banner year for me and maybe it wasn't for you either.

In May, we said goodbye to my dad after he lost a two-year battle with ALS. For anyone who has lost a parent, you can understand the complex range of emotions that come with losing someone like that. My dad was a great guy.

Losses continued.

In August, my partner and I said goodbye to our horse, Mia.

I thought that was it.

But 2022 offered one final sad blow a few weeks back, when we had to say goodbye to our beloved dog, Cooper, a 12-year-old yellow lab with a heart of gold.

I write all this not in search of sympathy.

When we think about loss and grief, death is usually the first thing that comes to our minds. But as so many of us learned during the pandemic, there are plenty of other experiences and things in life we grieve the loss of outside of death.

"Grief is our natural response to loss there are so many things we lose that are not just through death of someone," said Litsa Willians, a licensed clinical social worker and co-founder of a website called What’s Your Grief?.

The website was launched in 2014, long before the pandemic, when online mental health services weren't widely available. Williams and co-founder Eleanor Haley realized most of us only really dealt with grief in traditional settings like cemeteries or funeral homes.

"We really didn’t do a good job as a culture of creating a space for people to know how to be present with losses," Haley said.

So, what are other types of losses we grieve? The loss of friendships is one—it's a loss Williams and Haley have seen more of lately.

"In recent years, we’ve seen friends and families divided over politics and other issues where there have been real estrangements. People are grieving that loss, but also that belief we are able to understand other people in the world," Williams said.

Changes in careers, job loss or retirement also can become a source of grief.

"People look forward to retirement, and then suddenly, they realize there is this huge loss that’s been left where their job once was. There’s a tremendous grief that comes with that," she added.

It’s also possible to grieve the loss of something we don’t have—a future we imagined for ourselves.

"If I always believed I would have children and I’m battling with infertility, I never had that life and it’s a huge loss to say goodbye to that future," Williams explained.

These two women are trying to give all of that grief a platform. On their website are non-traditional avenues for Americans nationwide to express their grief, like expressing grief in six words or expressing grief in a recipe.

The hope is to give people a space to explore mental health options outside of a traditional therapy session.

"People want to do things. They’re less interested in talking about their emotions; they want something to do."