Connects is featuring stories on selected individuals so that the ADEC community can get to know its members.
An entrepreneur, visionary, developer, and executor, Fran is the Founder of HealGrief,® an all-encompassing virtual platform serving the bereaved. After years in the private sector, Fran’s grief journey led her into the field of bereavement care. She’s a trained group facilitator and served for almost a decade as a Board of Director, former Chair for Our House Grief Support Center, where her private sector experience was instrumental in the turnaround and development of management and policy. During her tenure, Fran saw a need for bereaved family and friends to connect globally. This need inspired her vision for HealGrief®. HealGrief® is serving users from around the globe. Programs include Let’s Talk Death, Loss Project, Actively Moving Forward,® and the AMF App. Fran also serves on the Board of Governors for Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, CA, where she currently resides.
Tell us why you chose this career path.
Actually, I believe it chose me. After my father’s death, I did what I thought I was supposed to do. On the Sunday after my dad’s funeral, I put my grief in a box, wrapped a pretty bow around it, tucked it on a shelf, and prepared myself for work on Monday. I was “moving on,” so I thought.
Years later, the birth of my daughter triggered the grief I thought I had left behind. The one thing my father wanted more than anything in the world was to see a granddaughter. His absence spun me into deep grief. It was then I learned, grief is not something you move on from. It becomes a life-long companion.
Once I accepted this notion, I learned to embrace my grief as a testament to the love I continue to hold, and when a trigger evokes my emotion, I’ve learned to take a deep breath, smile, and remember. I wanted to help guide others to a similar place.
What have you done as a leader to advance the field?
Some common grief themes are isolation, the feeling of loneliness, and a sense that no one understands. We’ve seen the power of healing when grief experiences are shared with others who understand the grief journey. Traditionally, bereavement care centers have been the place this healing begins. We here at HealGrief®, home of Actively Moving Forward®, have taken a more modern approach to address these feelings of grief by providing a virtual community of others who understand because they too are grieving a death loss.
Recognizing that today’s primary means of communication is through our hand-held devices, text messaging and apps have become a direct method to connect. So, to facilitate this best, we created the AMF App. In the App, we offer various communities for like-minded people to connect and share while offering resources available by a finger’s tap.
All our community members are vetted. And once a member, they can connect with others via text messaging and group chats or by posting on our community comment boards. The App is loaded with resources, reading materials, and videos all carefully selected to validate one’s feelings, inform, and inspire hope. We also offer facilitated virtual support conversations and book clubs that allow members to form stronger connections with each other.
We also allow for deeper connections by allowing our members to find others of similar age, who are grieving a similar death loss, and who are at about the same point in time from the date of death.
It’s been a gift to see the connections made and the friendships formed. Because an App has no geographical boundary, we are witnessing relationships develop with members from countries worldwide. Our tagline is…No one ever needs to grieve alone. Our mission to provide community, support, and connections are genuinely realized through our AMF App.
How do you see the impact of your work and its place in the future?
I think we’ve created a whole new paradigm of bereavement care. It’s a great supplement to the great work already being done. Indeed, it doesn’t take the place of human connectivity. Yet, it is an additional support service and easy to access. And let’s be thoughtful; some individuals may be homebound or not have the ability to travel. Or work and time constraints might prohibit one’s ability to access local support. Our App provides those who might not have the ability to participate in local support groups the ability to access support virtually.
We also believe our virtual support group model, seldom seen before COVID-19, will become additional programming offered by bereavement care centers and become a standard way to serve the community at large on a more routine basis.
The Association for Death Education and Counseling®, The Thanatology Association®, is one of the oldest interdisciplinary organizations in the field of dying, death and bereavement. Its nearly 2,000 members include a wide array of psychologists, counselors, social workers, educators, researchers, hospice personnel, clergy, and volunteers.
The primary goal of ADEC is to enhance the ability of professionals to meet the needs of those with whom they work in death education and grief counseling.