Even tech companies like Netflix and PayPal require manual effort and often pages of documentation if the bereaved do not have access to the deceased’s login information. But Empathy, another after-loss software company, wants to change that. A premium feature leverages what technology is good at—financials and prefilling forms—to automate closing the deceased’s accounts. Empathy cofounder Ron Gura says, “We take what’s complex for people and easy for machines, and make it as simple and accessible as possible.” The company hopes to reduce the more than 26 hours a month that 46 percent of families spend on the phone wrapping up a relative’s affairs.
Achieving this goal can involve, as Arthur explains, a combination of technology and personal support. “You have an app or website you can use, but there’s somebody on the phone who can also answer your questions or guide you through.”
After-loss technology providers have integrated some one-on-one support into many services. But an easy-to-navigate user experience centered around informative, clear checklists is the most helpful support a digital platform can provide. Each “to-do” and “how-to” list relieves mental energy, but more importantly, they are all organized by time. Grouping tasks by “Address these first” or “To do in Week Three” visually counters the biggest misconception for people grieving: that everything related to the deceased—their family, belongings, finances, and estate—must be handled as quickly as possible.
“They should take their time,” Arthur says of people who are mourning. “Those accounts are still going to be there. Don’t rush.”
Sheri Kay, a death doula in Asheville, North Carolina, seeks to alleviate her clients’ expectations that they need to move fast. “You can rest into it without the sense of urgency for something to be over and the next step to happen,” she says. “We bring a sense of, hopefully, some essence of control to an uncontrollable situation.”
That space allows families to have more agency in responding to death. They might have time to speak with a death doula in the community, who often connect with mourners by word-of-mouth. They may remember a partnership between their bank and an after-loss app and learn how to plan a graveside service instead of a traditional burial.
Making time for decisions that feel true to the person who died and their loved ones is a way to honor each person’s loss, since every experience is unique. “People say quite often, ‘grief is grief is grief,’” says Melissa Seligman, another death doula from Asheville. “But if we’re not looking at the independent stories of each person’s grief, then we’re not understanding each person’s situation.”
Many who work in the death care industry, from doulas to tech company founders, emphasize the importance of end-of-life planning. The logistical burden after someone dies can be lightened by thorough advance preparation, like keeping track of account information, having updated wills, and talking with trusted individuals about funeral wishes. But Seligman recognizes that such a smooth transition is not the reality for many. She specializes in traumatic loss, such as accidents or suicides, like my father’s. The Covid-19 pandemic showed that even the most careful end-of-life plans can be upended and result in traumatic loss and, consequently, traumatic grief.
When you walk into a traumatic loss, Seligman says, “you’re not really working with that person’s grief yet, you’re working with their shock. You could walk in and say ‘What do you need me to do? They might look at you like you’re crazy, like, ‘Do you think I have a clue what I need right now?’”