GRIEF SUPPORT ROOTED IN SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY

By: Ben Harris
Friday, March 1, 2024

My earliest memories are of bearing witness to the warmth and hospitality on display at our home-away-from home, Harris Furniture. The furniture store was my parents’ business and a pillar of our small-town community, where “The Store That Gives You More” wasn’t just a slogan, but a promise – a promise my parents made sure we kept. My dad, Phil, was a man whose presence was as commanding as his heart was large, and he taught me the art of making fast friends. Visitors to Harris Furniture were greeted by the aroma of his cigar smoke, the playful chaos of my three brothers and me, and Dad’s booming voice, cutting through the air. “Howdy, howdy!” he’d say to greet guests in our store. I remember watching him from the front office, charming the customers, making up expressions seemingly on the spot, cutting up with new friends, and leaving trails of laughter behind him. But growing up in a small South Georgia town, I also learned about hospitality from the times I experienced its lack. Bullied for years for the lisp I carry to this day, I discovered a deep drive to show respect and kindness to all while doing my best to lift others up, despite their differences. (I trace that back to a core root of Southern hospitality.) My earliest business venture did this to the best of my abilities. “Newsflash” was a community-focused newspaper that explored real stories of teenagers across Coffee County. It was my first experience of holding space for folks, at least in an institutional way, and of helping people to share their stories, hopes, and dreams, their heartaches and triumphs.

United States Marine Corps and travel beyond our shores – all the way to the Sangin Valley of Afghanistan. Joining the brave men of 2/8 Echo Company (“America’s Battalion”) as a Machine Gunner, Michael and the men of 2/8 helped locate and detonate (safely) more IEDs than any other company in the Afghan War. Sadly, the intense months of warfare that Michael experienced left a terrible mark on his life and psyche. He found himself experiencing PTSD, and, at the time, our family was unaware of the warning signs of a man in need. Michael would ultimately die by suicide on February 6, 2012. As you can imagine, experiencing three deaths in our family has reshaped the structure of our family immeasurably — and it’s reshaped me just as much. In the beginning, I was so focused on caring for others that I didn’t take care of myself. As they say, “Put on your own air mask before you help someone else.” Gradually, I began to balance the experience of caring for others with attending to my own needs. And it was the hospitality of others that helped me to truly live again. I experienced tremendous care from innumerable friends in the wake of Christopher’s and Dad’s deaths, but it was following Michael’s military death that I was first introduced to true grief care through the organization TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors). TAPS is a nationally-recognized nonprofit where I would ultimately meet my business partner Gabriel Rao, a fellow Gold Star Family member

And it’s here at TAPS that I first shared Michael’s story, four months after his death. Not of how he died, but of how he’d lived. And I’ve found that sharing his stories, and Chris’ stories, and Dad’s stories gives me new life. So, allow me to introduce my life’s work to you – but as an homage to my father, I think the best way to share Everly with you would be to introduce it through a story. So, if you can, imagine this: a young man has recently lost his father. Maybe it’s 3 weeks later, or maybe it’s 3 years later, but when we find him, he’s going through an assortment of boxes, perhaps in an attic. Looking for something else, possibly, he stumbles upon an old leather-bound journal inside a cardboard box. He removes it from the box and opens it, and the first thing he sees inside it is an envelope with his father’s handwriting. He pauses. His hands tremble, and his eyes begin to fill with tears. He opens the envelope and is met, in his heart and mind, with the voice of his loved and dearly-missed father. “Son, I’m proud of you. I’m grateful for the time I had with you. And I know you’re going to be successful, whatever you do. If you’re reading this, know that all you’ve ever had to do to make me proud is to just trust your heart and keep your word. You’re a good man. I love you.”

That’s the essence of Everly – preserving words for future generations. Here’s how we do that:

  1. 1. We start each purchaser off with an app-based digital Legacy Vault. Through our tutorials and prompts, we guide each purchaser through uploading cherished digital heirlooms like home videos, voicemail recordings, and photos. The Everly platform allows for uploading text, audio, and video messages of love, wisdom, and support, tagged to exactly who you want to receive each artifact or message, and delivered right on time, securely and safely – even posthumously.
  2. 2. When our purchaser passes away, everyone they love is given lifetime access (through a QR code shared in the funeral program, livestream, obituary, social media, etc.) to the digital Legacy Vault contents shared with them.
  3. Further, we provide a one-year subscription for video-based “Grief Care for All” to every single one of the people grieving the purchaser’s passing. 

We hope to repay the warmth and support we’ve received from the funeral industry with our two key differentiators: First, our business model stands out because we don’t rely on charging fees to our partners. Instead, we’ve built Everly to grow our partners’ revenue while offering our market-de fining platform to your preneed clients. The second reason I believe our business stands apart is for our unique approach to grief. Everly is built on the belief that we can positively impact grief ahead of a death. Our users are actively engaging in intentional conversations about their wishes and preserving their words and digital heirlooms* to be delivered to their loved ones when they need them most. This is the first look at the shift from reactive grief care to what we’re calling “proactive grief care”.

Ben Harris is a 3x entrepreneur and 3x survivor of loss. The co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Everly, Ben lives in Decatur, GA, with his wife Gabi, and their two dogs, Lyra and Milo

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