‘Grieving Story Library’ helps bereaved people feel less alone

Every New Year’s Day at 3 a.m., when many people are drunk or sleeping, Alyssa Warmland, an artist and activist based in Port Hope, Ontario, takes a moment to remember her mother.

« It’s kind of a special time for me to take a break, » she told CTVNews.ca. « Usually I like to go for walks and spend some time alone. »

Warmland’s mother died of cancer on January 1, 2007 – at 3 a.m., at a hospice in Burlington, Ontario.

« New Years [Day], for me, is forever a time of mourning,” Warmland said. « It’s been a long time now, and I still really, really miss her over the holidays. »

For many others like Warmland, New Year’s Day is marked by annual grief hidden under a cloak of customary celebration – often making emotional turmoil harder to reconcile.

« The thing about holidays and death is that everything is a reminder, right? » she said. « For example, you can’t escape the holidays, you can’t walk into the store without there being festive songs playing on the PA system. You can’t go anywhere without there being decorations in the street in front of my apartment. There are always constant reminders.

Warmland’s pain is complicated by other tragedies. Years after losing her mother, she suffered three miscarriages in the space of 12 months. It put her in a dark place, she said.

“All this time, I was writing a lot. And a lot of reprocessing of my grief about my mother,” she said.

While exploring ways to artistically express her grief and working with various charities, Warmland came across Grief Stories, a multimedia support website that offers a wide range of content for those who are grieving. The nonprofit organization offers short videos, podcasts and blog posts that aim to inform and unify those who are grieving during difficult times. All content is verified by healthcare experts.

According to the website, Grief Stories offers « a range of resources to help bereaved people explore and express their own stories of grief, and connect with the stories of others, making them feel less alone. »

“Privately accessible anywhere, anytime, this library is a community health resource for those coping with grief and loneliness,” the “About” page reads.

Grief Stories was started by a Toronto filmmaker named Sean Danby, whose wife died of breast cancer in 2012. After losing her, Danby would often stay up late at night, staring at the ceiling, questioning his death and his own life. Turning to his tablet for videos that might make him feel less alone, he saw a lack of content. He set out to create a database of stories that could give people — like Warmland — resources to turn to when most people are asleep.

Warmland is now executive director of Grief Stories, helping to provide content for specific types of grief — whether it’s the death of a parent or the death of a child, she explained.

“We also have sections on loss to suicide and loss of people to drug poisoning and overdose. We just recently worked on a section for people with intellectual disabilities, which I’m really proud of, because there really isn’t much content [on that].”

Warmland, who is now a mother to a three-year-old son, is also working on curating content for people who have lost loved ones to drug overdoses during the pandemic.

For her, Grief Stories is an antidote to a culture that avoids talking about death.

« [Culturally], we really try not to go there. But I think we have to go. For me, Grief Stories allowed me to get comfortable talking about grief and finding the time and space to just sit with [it], » she said.

“Everyone has a unique story. And everyone has a way of surviving.


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