The Healing Hands of Strangers
One day after giving birth to daughter Madeline, his wife, Liz, died of a blood clot no one knew she had. Living in Los Angeles and miles away from their families in Minnesota, Logelin turned to his blog, called matt, liz and madeline, as a way to dig himself out from underneath his grief. In short, poem-like stanzas—his writing style has been compared to e.e. cummings—Logelin candidly revealed the pain he felt after losing his young wife and the joy he felt from raising Madeline. Within days, he had tens of thousands of people reading his blog and reaching out to offer him support.
With help from Facebook status updates, e-mails, public message boards and blogs, technology has become a powerful tool in helping people cope with their grief and find hope. Those who are suffering from emotional and physical pain are logging on to their computers and instantly receiving encouragement online, making their roads to recovery shorter and easier to travel in the meantime.
Coping with divorce
After a painful divorce in the mid-1980s, Steve Grissom was devastated.
"It was an awful experience for me," Grissom says. "Luckily, I got great help from my local church, with people who put their arms around me. I wanted to find a way to help people get through divorce, so I cobbled together some resources and formed a group out of my home."
Grissom's home-based group served as the genesis for Divorce Care, an online-based divorce recovery resource. Visitors to Divorce Care can access a database to find local, in-person support groups, as well find an online bookstore and expert advice to deal with separation and divorce.
The heart of Divorce Care lies in its mission to help people find an in-person support group. Grissom says the website database is instrumental in connecting people to such groups, all of which are supported by curriculum and resources developed by Divorce Care. Though the curriculum used by Divorce Care groups are inspired by Christian teachings, Steve says the materials are designed to include those who don't embrace a particular spirituality and people of all beliefs are welcome.
"We've had people who live in Cleveland refer their aunt in Phoenix to our site," Grissom says. "It's amazing how much of what we do [to support people] has moved to the Web. It's been a profound paradigm shift for us."
For those who aren't comfortable attending a group session, Divorce Care offers daily e-mail support to people going through the first year of their divorce. The "1 Day At A Time"newsletter has become a lifeline for its subscribers, Grissom says, and it's allowed his team to encourage visitors to heal from their experiences.
"Divorce is not an experience you can get over in 20 or 60 days," he says. "It takes a while, and we offer a great bridge for people to use to get through it every day."
A circle of prayers
When Beliefnet user ernestine70 lost her son-in-law to suicide, she turned to the site's Prayer Circle community for strength.
"I ask for prayers to make [my daughter] stronger and to continue with her life," she posted on the website. "I ask for strength for her to be able to take care of her baby and to overcome the guilt she feels."
In response, dozens of strangers offered words of compassion, support and love. In addition, many posted additional online resources and shared personal stories of their own. Such instant connection, says Rebecca Phillips, vice president of social networking for Beliefnet, has been the cornerstone of the website since it began in 1999.
"Posting at Prayer Circle automatically gives people a community of support," she says. "They know that someone is thinking about them in their time of need, especially when a lot of people don't know where else to turn."
Beliefnet is a multifaith inspiration and spirituality site that provides community, information and service on a variety of topics. Though religion is a popular subject at Beliefnet, Phillips says concerns surrounding weight loss, quitting smoking and health are also discussed. "We provide support on a wide variety of things," she says. "We want people to be able to find happiness in all areas of their lives."
Since the recession hit, Phillips says Beliefnet has become an outlet for those struggling to find hope while juggling financial difficulties. In response, the site created a regular blog—called Your Daily Spiritual Stimulus—to address these needs in a practical way. "We needed something that told people how exactly to find inspiration in their daily lives," she says.
Since then, stories have poured in from members who were laid off and who have since found jobs. The anonymity, Phillips says, has contributed to the abundance of real-life stories.
"People can be more open online and tell their stories more fully," she says. "By being as anonymous as they want, it allows people to control how much they reveal, and often that leads people to open up even more."
For Logelin, the outpouring he received from strangers online inspired him to do the same in return.
"From the moment I started writing online, people sent clothes for Madeline, money, gift certificates, even beer," Logelin says. "But there are so many people who have it worse off than me. I realized we needed to get these people help."
The Liz Logelin Foundation is the result of that community of people who rallied around Logelin and his newborn daughter. "I wanted to do something with the money and gifts we were getting, because I was going back to work and didn't need the extra help," Logelin says. "In September, I jokingly said we should start a nonprofit. By January, we filled out the official paperwork."
The nonprofit foundation's mission is to ease the financial burden faced by widows and widowers with dependent children. While the Liz Logelin Foundation will help both men and women, Logelin says the group recognizes that the majority of people who are affected by the death of a partner or spouse are women.
"There are a lot of women who are either underemployed or they're stay-at-home moms, and that was the plan for their families," Matt says. "When their partner or spouse died, they lost their insurance, income, everything. Plus, they had to change their world view completely."
Potential recipients are invited to apply online, provided they meet the list of qualifications. The amount of support given to recipients will be determined by the foundation's board of trustees, and eligibility is for a period of up to one year following the death of the partner or spouse.
In October, Logelin will live in India for almost two months in order to write his first book, Adventures with Maddy: A Memoir of Love, Loss and the Extraordinary Community That Healed Us. The book will chronicle his experience online and offer advice in dealing with grief and loss. Logelin says he'll have a nanny with him to help care for Madeline during his time abroad—a woman who was a reader of his blog and became a trusted friend. Watching his home during that time is another blog reader-turned-confidante. Logelin is quick to point out that he trusts his readers "implicitly" and says his life could not have turned out as it has without these strangers by his side.
"I'm a normal guy trying to get through a terrible situation," he says. "I get through it with the help of a lot of people I didn't know before. Now that I know there are other people in that kind of need, I have to help them. That's all that matters to me now."
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