Laura Malcolm is the Founder and CEO of Give InKind, which is a marketplace that connects people to the products and services they want to give or receive during a time of need. Give InKind allows users to “lend a hand, from anywhere.”
IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT THINGS LIKE:
- How repeated losses throughout Laura’s life helped to shape the way she looks at things and inspired her to create Give InKind.
- How Laura was inspired by her father who passed away when she was 23 years old.
- How Laura processed the stillborn death of her daughter in a “different way.”
- Different ways people honor those they love who are grieving or who have passed.
SOME QUESTIONS IRENE ASKS LAURA:
- How did your father acquaint you with death when you were young?
- How is carrying grief like carrying a boulder?
- How can conversations about death inspire us??
Listen to the podcast here
Laura Malcom – Founder Of A Platform Intended To Help Loved Ones Give Bereavement And Other Support From Far Away
Our esteemed guest is Laura Malcolm, the Founder and CEO of Give InKind, which is a marketplace that connects people to the products and services they want to give or receive during a time of need. Give InKind was launched in September 2016, allowing users to lend a hand from anywhere. When someone has a new baby, fights cancer, or loses a loved one, extra support is needed and usually given in the form of hot meals, helping around the house, financial assistance, and then gifts and flowers. Giving this type of support is challenging when you aren’t sure how to help or when support circles are spread around the country. Give InKind provides a comprehensive platform that makes it possible to lend a helping hand from anywhere.
Laura, it was great meeting you in Seattle this summer through Vanessa Laughlin of Banister Advisors, who has also been a guest on the show. Now, it is my true pleasure to personally welcome you to the community. Let’s begin our interview with this question. I know that Give InKind is a social platform that coordinates support for everything from birth to death and in between and that bereavement accounts for about 20% of all pages created on the Give InKind platform. What are examples of things a person can do through the Give InKind platform on behalf of a bereaved loved one?
I’m so happy to be here. Thank you so much for having me. Give InKind, the core of what it’s used for is to coordinate that support through a time of need. Bereavement is a huge time of need, as we will talk about, something that I have experienced multiple times in my life, and understand the ways that families and communities respond during these times.
As we know, we have been through loss, and everybody says, “How can I help?” That can be a challenging question to answer. What Give InKind has done is put together a platform where you can create a page. What we usually see 90% of the time is a page being set up on behalf of someone else. This single page will coordinate a care calendar, a wish list, and donations or crowdfunding all in one place.
What Give InKind set out to do was to make it easier to answer the question, “How can I help?” It makes it easy for loved ones to show up and have easy answers. Here’s the care calendar, here are the meals that need dropping off, the help with the kids, the help with the pets, the help with the house, and see items that might be needed on a wish list. People connect an Amazon wish list, or they connect their crowdfunding, their PayPal, and their GoFundMe.
We also offer lots of information, articles, and products about things that you can send to someone who is grieving because we all have that question too, “How should I respond? What’s most helpful?” The core of Give InKind’s function is to provide a place where loved ones of those who are grieving can set up a place to help triage all of those questions about how people want to help.
This takes a lot of technological knowledge. How about telling us about your career in tech and your willingness to try entrepreneurship? How was all this inspired by your dad who passed away when you were 23 years old? I’m so sorry.
Thank you. My career in tech was inspired by him, and then Give InKind was inspired by the loss of a child. It was stacking losses on top of one another that continued to fuel that inspiration for me. When I was in my twenties, I had just graduated from college. My degree was in Psychology and I was working as a nanny. I have a younger brother who is in his last year of college, and he was headed out to be a teacher. Our father unexpectedly passed away just after his 50th birthday.
He had built a career. He had taken and done a career change in the middle of his life. He spent my childhood on boats as a tugboat captain and then made an abrupt shift into tech. He had built this career as a technical project manager, and then he died. Everybody was shocked. My mom was left a 46-year-old widow. It was completely unexpected. He passed away from a heart attack.
Within a year, my brother and I both found ourselves working in tech, both related to the careers that we had had or they had created that pathway for us and we didn’t look back. I had been working as a product manager in technology for tech companies for several years when we experienced the unexpected loss of our first child in my eighth month of pregnancy.
It was the background and knowledge that I had about how to build tech products for people, it was the acute experience of the way that our friends and family wanted to support us and try to support us from afar that led to the making of Give InKind. If my father hadn’t passed away and I hadn’t developed that career in tech, I would not have had the knowledge or experience that I had to be able to create Give InKind specifically. I needed that time. I needed both of those experiences to happen for Give InKind to truly become what it is.
Talk about making lemonade out of lemons.
Yeah. I think that when you have experienced repeated loss in the way that I have, there’s nothing to do but have to find that inspiration. It would be very easy to just be very sad all the time. We are, but we sure balance that with the hope and inspiration of what we have been able to accomplish because of those experiences.
You just made a speech in favor of grief and rebirth because that’s also what we are all about, to help people find that balance and find their way out of their suffering. How did your dad acquaint you with death so early on? I guess we got that answer but maybe there’s more that you want to contribute. How did these experiences inspire your role modeling about death regarding your young son?
My dad acquainted me with death long before his unexpected passing. I think that people might have questioned why he was always taking his young daughter along when his grandparents were passing and when his mother was passing. I have these memories of being eight-year-old me in the back of a car driving to and from a hospital with my great-grandfather in the front seat, going to see his wife at the end of her life.
Going with my dad as we made funeral preparations and cleaned out the house after my great-grandfather passed away and accompanying my dad when we took his mother off of life support and experiencing that, I don’t think is a time that people loop their kids in. My father was the, I think every family has a spokesman or the one that takes care of the things. It’s amazing when you look back sometimes on the things that people do before they pass, even if it is unexpected. There’s this question of, “Did we know? Did they know? Is there an intuition that we need to do things in our life?” I think that my father had an intuition that he would not always be able to keep the role of family spokesperson or the doer of things.
When I got that call, when I was notified that my father had passed away, I think that it was the familiarity with what that process is like, the work that entails, how you notify people, how you make those phone calls, and how you prepare for a funeral. I was utterly shocked, but not completely caught off guard, and those two things can be different. He did prepare me in that way. I’m grateful for that.
It was the same experience when my daughter died. It was completely unexpected. Most people, in our first pregnancy, and many people bearing children throughout any time, unless you have been touched by pregnancy loss, baby loss, infant loss, or the death of a child, we don’t think that happens. Again, completely surprised and yet able to process it in a different way because of those experiences. In regards to my son, I have two little boys now, thank goodness. It’s been an inadvertent sharing of those experiences with grief with my son.
My father, his older brother, his Irish twin, died in the same year. After my son was just a few months old, my uncle had a very short battle with stomach cancer. Six weeks from the time that he got sick until the time that he passed away, he requested that his family be there once we decided that hospice was going to be the best decision. He wanted his children, his wife, and his niece and nephew, my brother and I, to be there with him. We rented a beautiful house with a view of the water and we just spent those ten days together as a family. I took my three-month-old son, and we laughed and we cried and we made memories and we told stories.
Diego is my son’s name, and he was there for all of that. I believe in imprinting of kids, so he had that experience and he was just a baby. I sat there. We took shifts next to my uncle’s side. Nursing my new baby while I’m sitting with my uncle watching the rise and fall of a chest like you do when you are sitting with someone in their last days, you can’t help but feel and experience the circle of life in that time.
A few years ago, my grandmother passed away unexpectedly. Again, believing that people can sometimes time these things even when they are unexpected, it just so happened that I was leaving the country for months with my family, my two small kids and my husband, and my brother was flying in for a family wedding. Wouldn’t you know, my grandmother, the second time, she was going to have 3 of her great-grandchildren together in one place, she was going to have 2 of her grandkids.
In those hours before we were getting ready to leave and my brother was flying in, she experienced a fatal brain bleed. My son was there with her and sitting there in her lap when she experienced the symptoms that something was wrong. The ambulance came to the house and he climbed up into the ambulance and said goodbye to Gigi Ma, his great-grandmother. She passed away the next day.
The bravery, he was just four at that time, but because he has an older sister that we talk about, his sister Layla, and she’s a part of our conversation, we have these conversations. He knows that there are people who love him. He knows that he has a grandpa Larry, who loves him and who would have loved to be his grandfather. He knows that he has a big sister named Layla, and we talk about her all the time. Her birthday is a week before his. I think that those conversations are constantly happening in our family. It’s both the conversation and the real-life example that makes death a normal and healthy part of our family. If it wasn’t normal and it wasn’t healthy, then it would be something that is interwoven in our story and would be a lot harder to deal with.
I’m looking for a word, you have taken the drama out, and you have made it something not to be feared. You have made a part of life.
Yes, because if we learn that it is something to be feared, then those experiences, bring negative feelings. I say that my daughter’s birth was the most beautiful stillbirth you could imagine. That’s a hard thing for people to imagine, or that my uncle’s death was the best time we have had together as a family. Saying that, and then being sad and understanding the devastation and the impact on family, those two things are not mutually exclusive.
No. You can feel both at the same time. I have experienced that, too. Your story is such an example for so many people. I’m glad we are having this interview. A lot of people need to hear the healthy way that you have addressed this issue in your life with your family. You are welcome, so helpful. You have talked about the last year of your dad’s life and you have talked about how conversations about death are important and can inspire us. Is there anything else you’d like to add to that thought about death inspiring us? We know the conversations are important.
I have been actively involved in the baby loss community since losing my daughter. I have seen so many of the beautiful ways that different people honor those that they love. I created a technology platform in my daughter’s memory. We see people make foundations and have items that they sell and fundraisers. It’s just important that everybody’s way of recognizing and honoring their loved ones is different.
It’s very easy to compare our grief all the time. It’s easy to compare our losses, and then the way that we honor those that we are missing. The most important thing for me is just that, however, it is that we honor those people who are special to us and are important and that there’s no comparison in grief and there’s no comparison in response to grief.
I so agree with that. I find that in so many different aspects of life, people compare themselves or compare their experiences. One size does not fit all.
No, it doesn’t. I get that a lot. People say, “I lost a baby, but it was so much younger.” It doesn’t matter. A loss is a loss. “I didn’t do anything so big as you are doing.” That doesn’t matter either. It is our personal experience with our grief and with our losses, just that it’s deeply personal. Finding those rituals that touch us in the right way, that’s what’s right for you.
In my particular case, my husband died when I was 50, he was 58. As many of our readers know, he died next to me in a car accident. That was a real shock. That was one way to experience grief and loss. Now, I have a mom who’s going to be 95. We just put her in assisted care. I’m starting to get people saying things to me like, “She lived 95 years. She’d be fine, what do you expect?” I’m not making a drama out of it, but it’s still my mom. They don’t know the history between me and my mom. When I was closing down her home and people were talking to me about her, I realized I was beginning to grieve. Just like what you said, it’s the same for your child as it is for my mom. It’s still a loss and in different ways. We process them and deal with them as best we can for who we are.
You made a great point too that grief isn’t just death. You were going through the grieving process of moving your mom to assisted living. I grieved the loss of my father, and I grieved the loss of my family the way that I knew it. My mom moved out of the house that they’d been in. It’s like I no longer had a dad and a mom. That’s a different grief. The anticipatory grief and the grief of moving your mom and closing up her home just go to show that we grieve so many different things. It is all grief and that’s okay.
It is okay. I love what you do because you make it so much easier for people to be able to express themselves, which brings me to your favorite metaphor for grief has to do with the boulder. What is your message about the importance of healing that you’d like to share with our reader?
Once you become an expert in a certain loss and an expert because you have experienced it, then the people come to you. I’m sure that you got calls years after losing your husband. I have a friend who just lost her husband. “What should I do? What should I tell him? Can you talk to them?” That has happened to me now throughout my life in many situations. As we know, those first days and weeks and months of loss, you don’t want to hear many metaphors about how any of it gets easier because it is just hard and it’s just unimaginably difficult.
It’s important to convey that grief and that loss will never go away. As you said, I liken it to a boulder. The boulder is always there. The weight of that loss is always there, but I get stronger. I learned how to carry it. If you have ever carried anything from a kid to a heavy shopping bag, you know that it’s heavy. You pick it up and over time you shift it from one hip, you shift it to the other, maybe you hold it on your shoulder. We can carry that grief in different ways, and our bodies get stronger, our muscles get stronger, our grieving muscles get better at carrying that grief, and we learn to carry it in different ways.
There are some days where grief feels like a little pebble that I carry in my pocket and I rub when I’m sad. There are some days that I wake up and it is still a rock sitting on top of my chest, but I have the tools now. Those tools are the ones that allow me to use my grief muscles and pick up that rock and carry it with me.
In spite of all this, you say that sometimes you still clam up when a friend experiences deep loss. I will bet a lot of our readers can relate to this. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
This is my greatest weakness. The irony about building Give InKind, I was telling someone that my husband and I are not gift-givers at all in any way. We don’t exchange gifts. We do not for each other. We are struggling to figure out how to do holidays with our kids.
You are busy coordinating gifts for the world when they have losses.
That is true. I do struggle. It is a combination of weighing too much of my own experiences and then the experiences that I see of people on Give InKind. As we get older, these situations with our friends and families come up so much more often. It feels like all the time, I have a friend who is going through something and I don’t know why. I’m not good at it. I still clam up. Sometimes, I even turn to my website and say, “What does an article say about this? How should I respond?”
As we all know, one of the hardest things about grief is that everybody shows up in the beginning and then they can fade away as time goes on. There are times when I don’t know how to respond right away, because I realize that even I still go to the defaults, “Should I send flowers? Should I send money?” I have built a business saying, “There are a lot of other ways to show up for people from afar.”
The thing that I tell myself is that even if I don’t feel like I’m responding right away a few months from now, a response from me is going to mean that much more. Even if it’s just reaching out to that person to let them know that I’m thinking of them or offering help at that time helps me even when I struggle to know how to respond right away.
If it takes you three months or so to reach out to a person, do you experience sometimes that people get offended and they think that you don’t care because you didn’t do that immediate, “I’m here for you,” or whatever that is?
I always reach out right away. I think that I struggle with what to do beyond reaching out. Part of that comes from my lack of gift-giving. This is a problem that I’m trying to solve for the world and will only get better at it myself as time goes on.
Can you give us some examples of things people do with that Give InKind page dedicated to the person who is grieving or the person who has left? What are some things that people do besides sending food baskets?
The majority of what people do is sign up in person because the core of a Give InKind page is a care calendar. That’s where people set up the concept we have known for a long time as a meal train, so dropping off the dinners every day, checking on people, especially when there’s a loss of a spouse or a child, driving to and from appointments, helping with the house or helping with pets. The bulk of what’s done on Give InKind is in person on a care calendar, and then people send things.
New York Times wrote an article titled Gift Cards Are the New Sympathy Cards. They talked about how money for on-demand food services, so like Grubhub or Uber Eats, they called them a welcome gesture of practical kindness. What it said was that when somebody is grieving, and I deeply experienced this, you don’t want to cook and you don’t want to leave the house. What are you to do in those days especially if you don’t have somebody dropping dinner off in a cooler at your doorstep every day?
Sending someone a $25 gift card to get Uber Eats delivered to their doorstep can be a nice way to make sure that they are eating and doing it without any burden on them. Gift cards for food delivery and grocery delivery are two of the top things that are sent on Give InKind, anywhere that Instacart is in the country. It doesn’t matter if you are going through grief and loss or cancer treatment or a new baby, in all of those situations, people could use groceries delivered.
In other words, here I am in New Jersey and a dear friend in Oregon loses someone, I can go on that Give InKind website and I can check off or order up what I would like to be done for that person.
Yeah, you can order. Everything is done through third parties on our site. If you are not doing it through a Give InKind page, most people come on to set up a page for someone. We have a lot of ideas about products you can send, articles you can read, specifically about how to help someone after the loss of a child, parent, sibling, or friend, and then unique ideas that go beyond flowers.
We know that flowers and money are an easy way to respond, but we did a lot of surveys before we started Give InKind asking about the kinds of support that people received and the kinds of support that they needed. Flowers and money were at the top of things that people received, and they were not at the top of the things that people needed. What they needed was help with food, and help with childcare, pet care, and their house.
You can find gift cards for everything from grocery and food delivery to Rover to get help with pet care, and Southwest Airlines when you have family flying in for a funeral. It gets expensive. Death is expensive for loved ones. There are lots of ways to help with that. One of my favorite gifts that I received after our daughter passed away was gifts. We do the online star registry so that people can name a star, so all sorts of ideas for things to send or do when someone has passed away.
You know what I love about it is that we are also pressured for time. This is like a one-stop thing. You have got this thing happening and you know this website is there and you can go right there and you can take care of it instead of doing your research for hours and talking to a million friends. It’s like, “What should I do?” It’s right there. I love that.
You are welcome. Laura, please tell our readers how they can reach you and how they can get to the social platform Give InKind.
We are at Give InKind everywhere, GiveInKind.com.
Tell me what is your tip for finding joy in life?
Everybody has their belief system about how they think about those that they have lost. I take my own spiritual beliefs in carrying those that I have lost with me on my journeys everywhere that I go and experience that joy on their behalf.
You processed it where you say, “I’m having this joy. I’m permitting myself to have this joy on behalf of those who have passed.”
I carry them with me. We tell our children that their sister is in our hearts. That is such a simplified explanation for small children. I take it even a little bit more literally. We know that the DNA of children who have been born of their mothers carries on with them for the rest of their lives. I know that I am carrying my daughter around in my cells. When I go on to experience by carrying her with me and carrying those that I love with me in my heart, then I know that as I go out and experience life, it’s all a part of that experience.
Thank you so much. I love how your platform is designed to help loved ones give support to the bereaved from far away. You are making a valuable, loving, and kind contribution to the world. Thank you for sharing both your own inspiring story and Give InKind with all of us. Here’s a reminder to everyone to make sure to follow us and like us on social at @IreneSWeinberg on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Thanks again for joining us. As I love to say, to be continued. Bye for now.
- Give InKind
- Banister Advisors
- The New York Times article Gift Cards Are the New Sympathy Cards referenced in this episode