Reid Peterson is a grief counselor who is the creator and founder of a mobile app for grief support called Grief Refuge. He has a master’s degree in Transpersonal Psychology, and he has been certified in Death & Grief Studies by the Center for Loss & Life Transition. After losing his biological father to suicide in 2006 and his stepfather to cancer in 2016, Reid felt a calling to help the grieving find peace and purpose after loss. His Grief Refuge app is a daily companion that helps navigate the grief journey, providing comfort and solace in a time of need. Its 7 features, including daily audio musings and a tool to track a person’s grief progress, help a person cope with loss and feel supported throughout the grief journey.
IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT THINGS LIKE:
- Reid felt a calling to help the grieving after he lost his biological father to suicide and his stepfather to cancer.
- Counseling and bereavement groups were not able to fill the void of loneliness that Reid experienced in his grief.
- There are moments when it’s normal, appropriate, and proper to experience the sorrow of the soul.
- Reid’s attempt to be a voice on the Calm meditation app.
SOME QUESTIONS IRENE ASKS REID:
- How did the profound loss of your two father figures inspire the creation of the Grief Refuge app?
- What are some of the many benefits and features provided on the Grief Refuge app?
- In what ways does the Grief Refuge mobile app help a person cope with the loss of a loved one physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually?
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Reid Peterson: There Are Times When It Is Normal, Appropriate, And Proper To Experience Sorrow Of The Soul
Everyone, I hope this finds each of you so very well. I’m absolutely delighted to have this opportunity to introduce all of you to Reid Peterson, a grief counselor who is the Creator and Founder of a mobile app for grief support called Grief Refuge. Reid will be speaking to us from Santa Barbara, California. Reid has a Master’s Degree in Transpersonal Psychology, and he has been certified in Death & Grief Studies by the Center for Loss and Life Transition. After losing his biological father to suicide in 2006 and his stepfather to cancer in 2016, he felt a calling to help the grieving find peace and purpose after loss.
Reid’s Grief Refuge app is a daily companion that helps navigate the grief journey, providing comfort and solace in a time of need. Its seven features, including daily audio musings and a tool to track a person’s grief progress, help a person cope with loss and feel supported throughout the grief journey. Right off the top of my head, I know of about five people who could use this Grief app. They have had recent losses and it would be so comforting for them. I’m looking forward to talking with Reid about the loss of his two father figures, his healing journey through grief and loneliness, and the creation of his Grief Refuge app. This will surely be a very informative interview about an app that can provide grieving with great comfort and solace. Reid, welcome.
Thank you, Irene. I’m a lucky person because I feel like I have a strong intuitive sense and I can filter through when somebody’s just talking to talk the lip service, I think we call that here in the States. I can hear the mission in your voice. I can hear your purpose driven and that’s why I feel lucky to be having this conversation with you. Thank you.
Thank you. I think we’re both too lucky and bless people because it’s my pleasure to meet you and I think that your app can help so many people. Let’s have them get to know you better. After losing your biological father to suicide in 2006 and your stepfather to cancer in 2016, you felt a calling to help the grieving find peace and purpose after loss. Could you please tell us about the profound loss of these two father figures in your life, and how did those losses inspire you to create your app?
I’ll try to be brief.
You have some time. It’s okay.
Truthfully, it is a long, complicated story. If you think about it, there are ten years apart between my dad dying and then my stepfather dying.
Can I ask one question before we start? Were you living with your stepdad or your dad?
I was living with my stepdad. My dad lived about 5 miles away. Growing up, my mom and my biological father divorced when I was three. Warren, my stepfather entered my life maybe only a year and a half later. It was crazy, but loving enough to move in because it was also my older sister and my younger brother. He came into basically a family already, and he didn’t have any kids of his own. He embraced us and showed up as a loving father figure in our lives. That’s a little bit about our foundation.
What kind of guy was your dad?
My dad, he was the world’s number one complainant.
Your mom went from complaining to happy?
She actually did find her soulmate. She didn’t find her soulmate in my biological father, but she did find her soulmate in my stepfather Warren. There are a lot of negative perceptions about my dad. He did struggle with post-traumatic stress. He did struggle with alcoholism and he was a violent person. Fortunately, he didn’t take out any physical abuse on me. I had most can be no noble and somewhat positive relationship with my dad. It was tough growing up because it was this stranger that as a sensitive person, I would say, “I’m supposed to know this guy. I’m supposed to love him. He’s supposed to love me.” There always felt like this strong uncomfortable connection between us because I don’t really know much about my dad.
I would see him every week or every two weeks. He lived in town I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and he wasn’t too far away. Dad divorced with visitation rights and spending time with grandparents and his side of the family trying to live normally, I guess. There was a lot of emotional struggle in that. As I became a teenager and a young adult, I’m coming to learn a little bit more about his suffering in his physical form. He, unfortunately, didn’t find a strong sense of healing with his own challenges and hardships.
Post-traumatic stress really affected his life. His identity was, “I’m a Vietnam vet and I’m effed up.” He let that guide him and he struggled with drinking. It’s a complicated story but he did take his life. He was severely under the influence of alcohol at that time. It was tragic as far as what happened in the event that caused his death. It’s been a long year, Irene, and I’ll never know, but I still sometimes wonder if it’s possible that this could have been an accident. This may have not been planned because of the way he died, he actually hit the top of his head on a wall and severed his cervical spine.
This is a very spiritual read, and I know a lot of people who could tell you the answer to that story and tell you all about that. In the end, I will guide you to a few interviews with some people who could probably give you that information.
Sounds good. I’ve contemplated working with mediums to try to talk to him. My brother actually has some gifts of mediumship himself. He’s reserved but he’s shared bits and pieces about his communication with our father. Unfortunately, the perspective my brother shares is it’s still not necessarily all light and it’s interesting. My soul mourns for my dad a lot. It led to a long grief period.
Actually, I started feeling tremendous relief at first because I had such a narrative that my relationship with my dad was like me being present in his suffering. When he physically left his body, I was like, “I no longer have to feel what felt like a burden I carried.” There was a huge relief. Within a few months after that initial experience, I felt a tremendous amount of guilt, and I processed that for quite a few years.
The fact that your father didn’t get healing, probably deep down or maybe not so deep down, is part of the motivation that you want to help people heal with your app.
It very well could be. I’ve tried to ask myself thousands of times, “Why do I do this?” I always want to make sure I understand my purpose and my mission. There is a part of me that feels that you mentioned that calling. It feels like, “I’m on this earth to help people heal.” This is what I know best. I know grief best. I know stories, experiences, and understanding. One thing I’ll say quickly is unfortunately, people that are grieving feel so judged for their experience.
I’ve learned how to show up and have no judgment about where they’re at, no matter what emotion that is. That may be the forefront of their experience. Perhaps, there’s this thing about me wanting to feel so available to help other people in their healing because there’s still something within my soul, my heart, and my mind that I’m probably seeking some healing myself.
It happens to all of us. I think it’s part of that journey. I’m spurred to do this and it started with the death of my husband next to me in a car accident. If we want to hear the calling, we find our purpose. You lost your father to suicide, you went through all that, and we talked about that. Your stepfather, who’s really raised you as his son, dies of cancer in 2016. That’s a whole other experience for you. What was that like for you?
The hardest part I’ll say is I was 2,000 miles away. My stepfather fought multiple myeloma for years and I was in awe of how ambitious he was and positive. I felt a tremendous amount of respect for him for doing everything he can to keep living. He had an affirmation, “I’m going to live another 30-plus years.” I was blown away because, in addition to cancer, he developed so many other illnesses as side effects of all the medications. It really made me question it. I observed him and the deterioration of his physical body. I pondered a lot about when one determines their quality of life and when is there no longer a quality of life. It’s something I continue to think about actually.
I heard in his voice that will to live, so he fought. I remember having one of my last conversations with Warren on the phone where he said, “I’m so tired.” I was reading between the lines and it was almost like me listening to the energy of the way he was saying it. I was like, “I think he’s getting ready to throw in the towel. He’s ready to let go. He is exhausted.” It was beyond physically exhausted. Of course, it was mentally and emotionally too.
Being a sensitive person, your mom is still with you?
You watched her go through all that too. You watched her taking care of him and going through her own breathing process probably also.
That’s part of my story because I’m 1 of 5 children that my mom had. My wife and I are the only ones who don’t have our own children. I say that because I was a little bit more available to help support my mom as she was supporting Warren. My mom was a registered nurse so she became Warren’s full-time caregiver in all aspects. I could tell when I would call to check on both Warren and my mom that my mom needed emotional support. That’s where I felt like my crash course in learning how to companion someone developed because I was no longer my mom’s son. I was my mom’s anticipatory grief companion. There were many conversations in the evenings where my mom cried and I listened.
That’s a beautiful thing that you were there for her. It’s wonderful. It was part of your calling here, here we go. You share that counseling and bereavement groups were not able to till the loneliness for you. After both Warren and your dad died, did you go to counseling and bereavement groups for both of them?
I did. I decided to find a counselor because after Warren died, I felt such immense loneliness that I didn’t understand why because I was comparing a bereavement process with Warren to a bereavement process with my dad. They were so night and day different and I didn’t understand it. Having studied psychology, I thought, “Maybe if I work with a counselor, I might discover some aspects of grieving my biological father and this whole complexity.” That’s why I chose a counselor but then I also chose a bereavement support group in my local community because I thought, “It’d be nice to hear other stories too.”
I was noticing, with the exception of my wife who’s a wonderful listener and 100% supportive, people in my larger community, stuff I did, and recreational social activities weren’t available to hold space. Part of my healing could benefit from other people. It didn’t even have to be a similar loss such as a loss of a parent. It could have been any type of loss but people who were aware that listening and not trying to fix is crucial in helping somebody with their own healing journey.
You were in these groups, but it didn’t really work for you. Even though you went to these groups, you were still lonely and struggling.
I would say it actually worked because it helped me have perspective, but it also didn’t work because I continued to feel lonely. I continued to realize that there must be some source of media or medium or something that would be beneficial to a griever like myself on a more consistent basis. That’s essentially how the Grief Refuge app as a concept started to formulate. What could be available to somebody more on a consistent basis?
That makes a lot of sense. It’s interesting because you still felt lonely. I hear you’re 1 of 5 siblings. You were married at that time and you’re still married. I want to keep that clear. You’re married to your lovely lady and she’s there but you’re still within yourself you felt lonely.
Exactly. That’s really good insight. I did. I couldn’t understand what the source was.
What’s missing? What is this about? There’s another story you talk about. How did your attempt to be a voice on the calm meditation app lead you to create the Grief Refuge app?
At that time, I wasn’t using my degree. I wasn’t a full-time counselor, therapist, or anything. I was talking to my wife and I said, “I think it’s time to start offering healing.” I know that my heart, my soul, and my personality are all the framework of a healer. I was like, “It’s now time. I can’t continue to resist this anymore.” I sought out some training and I found the Center for Loss and Life Transition. They’re based out of Colorado and they provide a Death & Grief study certification. I was doing this training.
You were doing it online?
These are in person.
You’re living in California and you went to Colorado?
Yeah, about 8 or 9 months of the year, their trainings are in Colorado and then 3 months of the year they’re in Scottsdale, Arizona. I was picking and choosing which trainings I was going to. To answer your question, in one of these trainings, I gave a presentation, and after the presentation, three different classmates approached me and said, “I got to tell you something. There’s something very soothing about your voice.” Engaging in the conversation, I was like, “Thank you. I really appreciate that. I’ve heard that my voice can be somewhat hypnotic and help somebody drop down into calming effect.”
That word gets spoken, and then one of the classmates says, “You should be on the Calm App.” I was like, “That’s not a bad idea.” We started looking at her Calm App and looking for grief categories. I’m like, “They could have a whole grief support category on this Calm App. That would be great. Many people already know about it.” I reached out to Calm. I found the head of content there. I reached out to her and I believe it was on LinkedIn. I actually got a response. I thought, “No way.” My idea was entertained for a while, but it eventually didn’t lead anywhere. I was like, “I’m a nobody.” Calm partner with celebrities, sports figures, and people that have a bazillion TikTok followers I don’t even know.
I’m on this hike with my wife and her best friend, and her best friend basically says, “You can do better.” I’m like, “Do better than Calm. Are you kidding me? There’s no way I’m going to do better than Calm.” She’s like, “I’m not talking about numbers as far as downloads. You’ve got a gift. Why don’t you share it? Why don’t you make an app?” I’m like, “I don’t know how to program.” Excluding all the details, it led one step to another.
That’s why you’re talking to me on this show now. One step leads to the next.
It came to fruition.
Please share with our audience some of the many benefits and features provided in your Grief Refuge app that they want to immediately avail themselves of as soon as we’re done with this episode. Tell us about what they get if they get this app.
The thing that people like the most is every day, there’s content that’s published. It’s the content’s audio-based and we call this feature the Daily Refuge. These are Grief Meditations/Grief Reflections. They’re audio narrated by yours truly. I do the audio narration. Every day, somebody gets one of these brand new. It helps them sit with their experience. Some people use it to mourn. They listen to it and they cry. Some people listen to it to feel validated, “What I’m going through is real for me. It’s truthful. I am not crazy.” A lot of people start to think they’re crazy because the grief is so overwhelming.
These messages and musings help validate an experience such as that. That’s the main feature. In addition to that, everybody using the app has journal access. There is a feature called Intentions, and that’s like these self-care tips because a lot of times, our brains are so overwhelmed. Our hearts are shattered when we’re grieving. We do need a little bit of guidance for whatever it is practically speaking for the day. You mentioned the thing about a tool to track progress. I want to pull out and say as far as a grief journey, it’s individual and it’s unique to everyone who experiences it. I don’t believe in stages of progression through grief. I think it’s a complicated spiral that takes twists and turns in every different direction.
Some days, it will feel like 3 steps forward and then the next day it’ll feel like 15 steps backward. However, I will say the tool exists for people who want to look at how they’re doing and get a sense of practically speaking, “Where I’m at now.” It helps answer that question. “Here’s where I’m at now,” and then I can compare it looking backward.
Do you give them healing choices also, or encourage them to do anything like that?
That would be within the intentions features. Some gentle guidance into ways to reach out to a loved one or set boundaries if you feel like your boundaries are being disrespected or something like that.
To the subject of loneliness, how does your app fill in that blank? That’s definitely an intention of yours to help people to overcome that feeling of loneliness.
Two things come to mind. First, the idea that it’s daily content that’s published. In my own experience, as I said, the counseling or the Grief support group would happen once a week. There were essentially five days out of the week when I felt like I was on my own. I felt like, “This is when the loneliness is hitting me the hardest.” It helps fill that void because of the content that’s published daily. The other aspect is the validation piece. I make strong associations with people feeling invalidated by their own personal experiences to help ease and comfort some of the loneliness.
I think that’s so important so that they know that they’re not weird, what they’re going through is pretty normal, and a lot of other people are in the same boat. Tell me in what ways the Grief Refuge mobile app helps a person cope with the loss of a loved one. Let’s talk about physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
It’s a tough question to answer because I perceive them to be all integrated.
Tell us about it in an integrated way.
It’s an application and it’s audio-based. Significantly, a lot of the content is audio. Somebody could go for a walk and listen to the things. It’s helping to get somebody out of the house and getting into nature. I am a huge advocate for anyone grieving and spending time in nature. The app is built to bring nature to the user but physically slight and gentle movements. There’s some help there in the healing process, too. Mentally and cognitively, it’s about gaining insight and perspective. My mentor, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, wrote a book called Understanding Your Grief.
A lot of the concepts of Understanding Your Grief are tied into a lot of the content of the app because it’s that question again, “Am I going crazy? Am I going to be this way for the rest of my life?” These are a lot of mentally challenging questions that impact somebody’s mind. That plays in emotionally too because it helps them address or embrace specific feelings that may be otherwise very uncomfortable to embrace.
The first thing that comes to my mind regarding the spiritual component is it helps people understand that they’re not as alone. It’s because there are stories shared on the app and it helps them understand like, “I may not proactively find a community of people that are grieving and can understand what I’m going through but I can hear that through the app itself. I can hear that messaging through the app.” A lot of the topics are not necessarily geared towards mediumship and communicating with a loved one who’s passed. I believe, in some of my values and beliefs, that there’s so much to our experience in life that connects us all for certain reasons.
That’s a very spiritual concept for you.
I’m sure that as we continue to get to know each other, we’ll fully understand how the dots connect us and that connection. Hearing the stories on the app helps people make those types of connections too.
Speaking about one of those personal stories, have you got one to reflect on that can be found in the Grief Refuge app? Have you got one coming to you so that people can understand the thing that they will hear on the app about people’s stories?
Most of the stories tie into someone feeling validated. A lot of people say, “My sleep patterns got so thrown off before I found your app, and then the app helps me fall asleep. It’s the only thing that helps me fall asleep because it comforts me. It helps me understand I’m living something that is real. This isn’t as surreal as it seems. This helps me ground my own struggle as I navigate the grief.” It also supports someone to say like, “I need to be here right now. Although my steps in whatever direction I’m going, maybe very small right now, I’m still moving. I’m not stuck in my grief.”
Do people come on and talk a little bit about their stories, or do you relate some of the stories to people?
Some people submit their stories after they’ve experienced a sense of healing. I’ll narrate the story and it can be shared.
Tell me, are there truly moments when it’s normal, appropriate, and proper to experience the sorrow of the soul? Do those moments aid the healing process?
I think so. I studied the concept of Dark Night of the Soul in graduate school. For grieving, my best metaphor or analogy is that if the heart or the soul is shattered because some people feel very strong soul connections to someone they love. I know that’s part of your story, Irene. Nobody asked for this, but if there are sole contracts, that’s part of the negotiation. If there’s spiritual evolution and development, which I believe there is, suffering needs to happen because otherwise, our minds are structured in certain ways where we can get comfortable. When we get comfortable, we don’t necessarily look beyond our comfort zones. Grief is not as lenient. It’s a little bit more forced because, as I said, nobody ever asks for a loss.
It throws you into a choice.
Yeah. You come to this choice and it’s almost like a forced way of opening the mind.
I know that, in addition to this app, you have grief retreats. Tell us all about them. Where do they take place? What happens? Are they online? Tell us all about them.
If you remember me companioning my mom, it’s interesting because a lot of people that reach out to me are widowed. They’ve lost a husband, a wife, or their spouse. Their souls are shattered and they’re looking for something. A lot of these retreats are about helping and getting them into nature so it’s physical locations. Our last one was in Southern Indiana in early October 2022 and I’m looking at a space.
Do you hold them in different areas of the country or whatever?
How long do they last?
We start about Thursday late afternoon through Sunday morning. What we do at these retreats is there’s a lot of sharing, space to converse, commune, and share, but there’s also a lot of space to do ceremonies. We do ceremonies to honor, cherish, and be in community with each other for meaningful experiences. That help solidify the love shared although the special person is no longer here.
I’ll bet people make very significant connections and new friendships at your retreats because there’s a commonality that they’ve been through and they understand each other. It’s probably wonderful.
That’s when the retreats have come to a close. When I go home, I could count how many times I’ve thought the people and the participants are all meant to meet each other.
I’ll bet. Tell us how people find out about them. Do they go on the Grief Refuge App website? Where do they go to find out about these retreats?
Either the app or the website. The retreats are listed on both Grief Refuge website and the Grief Refuge app. For people that want the app, you can look up Grief Refuge in your phone’s app store.
What is the Reid tip for finding joy in life?
I’m somebody who’s been more serious. I used to think I laughed at strange things and I used to be a little bit self-conscious about it. What I’ll say is the joy in life is embracing the humor that makes you laugh. What I’ve come to learn in my time on this planet so far is whatever makes you laugh and if it feels authentic, that’ll bring you joy.
It’s true that a lot of people take things so seriously and I look at grief as that’s something to be serious about. Having gone through all this, when I have a chance to laugh and to be light and let it out, I welcome it. In a way, once you get past it, you’ve done a lot of healing. The fact that you can get to that laughter and joy is just wonderful.
I can’t agree with you more.
Reid, your very admirable mission is to help the grieving find peace and purpose after loss. By creating your Grief Refuge healing app, you are certainly making large strides and accomplishing your mission. Thank you for creating the Grief Refuge healing app, which is filled with sage insights and guidance for managing grief. I thank you from my heart for this informative and so helpful interview. Here’s a lovely reminder, everyone. Make sure to follow us and like us on social at @IreneSWeinberg on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. If you’re watching on YouTube, be sure to click subscribe below so you’ll never miss an episode. As I like to say, to be continued. Many blessings. Thank you so much, Reid, and bye for now.
- Reid Peterson’s Website
- Center for Loss and Life Transition
- Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s Understanding Your Grief referenced in this episode
- @IreneSWeinberg on Instagram
- Irene Weinberg on Facebook
- Irene Weinberg on Twitter
- Irene Weinberg – Grief, Rebirth + Healing Podcast on YouTube