Fran Solomon noticed a shortage of organized grief resources online and became driven to develop a website that would provide support to those in need.
Solomon’s nonprofit organization, HealGrief, is an online community where people from around the world can come together to cope with the deaths of their family members, friends, and public figures.
Solomon experienced the lack of grief resources firsthand when her father died. “It was mind boggling to me how difficult it was to find grief resources,” she said. “That was really the inspiration to what started out as HealGrief, which was essentially a hub of information for individuals to be able to go to find information about grief as it is age and death-specific.”
Around the time when Solomon lost her father, she became involved with Our House Grief Support Center. It was at this agency that Solomon gained the knowledge that would motivate her to create HealGrief.
“Kids as young as 4 years old came together and spoke about their grief over having had a parent die,” Solomon recalled. “It was a rude awakening for me that grief isn’t only for old people. That opened up my mind to really appreciate that death is something that can happen in any moment in any time. It was the one thing that didn’t discriminate.
“If this awareness was all of a sudden hitting me, how many more people are out there that just don’t understand grief, either because they haven’t been through it or because they’ve isolated themselves from the emotions of it, like I had?” she continued.
HealGrief’s website, HealGrief.org, allows its users to write obituaries that are free from advertisements, light virtual candles in memory of deceased loved ones, and create memorials. The site also hosts extensive information on how to financially, emotionally, and socially cope with the deaths of loved ones, as well as resources to help plan funerals, estates, and living wills.
The entirety of HealGrief’s community and resources is accessible free of charge to all of its users. “Death is not something I want to capitalize on,” Solomon stressed.
“For me, it was just a way of giving back. I get so much more giving than I could buy,” Solomon said. “It is really a gift that I get back. This isn’t about money for me. It’s not about establishing a career for myself. It’s about giving others an opportunity to have a little kindness.”
While completing research at the very start of HealGrief, Solomon discovered National Grief Support Services Inc., a dormant 501(c)(3) organization. She contacted the executive director of the agency, looking to rebrand the organization as HealGrief.
“Although [National Grief Support Services Inc.] kept their corporation in good standing, they were never able to really develop the agency. So I said, ‘We’re looking to put a new face on it. We’re looking to make a huge investment in this,’” Solomon said.
In 2010, National Grief Support Services agreed to vote Solomon and two other members of her board of directors into the agency, while the previous board simultaneously resigned.
“We revamped the entire agency, name, website, everything,” Solomon explained. “We were fortunate to have found a dormant 501(c)(3).”
HealGrief’s operations are run entirely by volunteers and are supported solely by donations. Solomon and her board used their own funds to get the website started. “It is all the good hearts of the board members who have put their financial resources into this. I really have to thank my husband, because we put the bulk of the money in to get this started,” Solomon said.
HealGrief recently received a gift of $100,000 from the Matthew Silverman Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit organization started by Ron Silverman after his teenaged son, Matthew, unexpectedly committed suicide.
“[The Matthew Silverman Memorial Foundation] wanted to extend their reach and we were fortunate enough to be one of their beneficiaries,” Solomon explained. “When I went in and had my meeting with Matthew’s father, he looked at the website and, as he put it, chills went through him. He explained that had [HealGrief] been available for him when Matthew died, when the community was coming together and expressing their support, how this would have been so helpful for him and his family.”
The gift from the Matthew Silverman Memorial Foundation is helping HealGrief promote itself through search engine optimization and public relations, so that the public has access to the correct resources when they experience grief.
HealGrief not only aims to help people cope with the deaths of relatives and friends, but also with the deaths of public figures. The recent deaths of Robin Williams and Joan Rivers have affected people worldwide. HealGrief allows fans of celebrities such as Williams and Rivers to join together to grieve in a safe community.
“When there is a public tragedy, for example Robin Williams and Joan Rivers, we put up a memorial and we allow users to express themselves. If you were to go to the Robin Williams memorial, you’ll see posts of people just expressing their thoughts, their wishes, and their sympathies, creating the community around the public grief,” Solomon said.
Solomon hopes that in the future HealGrief can be a place where a community can gather to express their feelings toward the ill. She explained, “Our Share Your Thoughts section, which is a section we’re developing, is an opportunity where when someone is ill, well wishes can be expressed. So for example, prior to Joan Rivers’ death, people could express their well wishes, support, and hope for recovery.”
Solomon’s future plans for HealGrief include changing the way that the public, the government, and employers treat those who are grieving.
“As a 501(c)(3), we cannot legislate or promote bills, but through awareness we are hopeful that one day legislation will be created for bereavement leave. Today there is no bereavement leave. If a family member dies, whether it be a spouse, a child, or a parent, one is expected to be back to work the Monday after the funeral unless your boss says to take more time,” Solomon said.
“Our goal is to have [HealGrief] be the go-to place for anyone who is bereaving or anyone looking to support the bereaved,” she added. “We’re trying to take something that has been typically a subject that people don’t want to talk about and change it into a celebration of life.”
Christina Raus is a creative writing student who plugs her ears with her fingers whenever anybody tries to tell her that a degree in writing is good for nothing more than to guarantee her a lifelong, fulltime job as a barista. She works as a tutor at the Western New England University Writing Center, where she empowers students of all academic disciplines to express themselves through written language. After graduating with her Bachelor of Arts degree, Christina intends to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree in fiction writing.